How to Actually Keep a Customer: A Lesson From The Coffee Shop


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Offering world-class customer service varies little, in principle, whether you are serving coffee or installing servers. Get it right, and you can keep customers for life.

Today is one of those rare occasions where I’m out on the road (well, train tracks), travelling up to the Midlands to see a client. And that means coffee.

It’s not often that I buy coffee from coffee shops – having bought myself a 1960s Italian espresso machine, I feel the need to get the most out of my investment. But today, I was fascinated at the workings of the coffee shop on platform 9B. It was well-oiled, efficient, the staff were polite and helpful – it was, in short, brilliant customer service through brilliant delivery.

Here’s why:

1 – The Listening

Here’s a totally separate customer experience. A while back I was in a restaurant where the waiter took our order, without taking any notes. He listened attentively, bowed slightly, as if taking everything in, without question.

As he walked away, I said to my partner “He didn’t write a single thing down”, and her response was “Yes, but the waiter behind him did.”

The art of listening is under-rated. In many coffee shops, I’ve had to repeat my order several times, and I’ve equally had to return my order several times because it was wrong. Somebody didn’t listen in the first place…

Let’s broaden this out, because it’s a point worth making. When a customer speaks, we have to listen well. Listening is a skill worth learning and honing. The English language is full of nuance, and the same thing spoken two ways can mean totally different things. When communication is made, the first person may understand the words, but when those words are subsequently communicated to the next person – is the intent behind those words communicated?

2 – The Hand-off

So I ordered my coffee, and that order was barked across to the person at the espresso machine. A pretty simple hand-off, but in this instance, a good one.

When I worked at a Paris restaurant, I was taught the art of barking orders, and it’s not as simple as you may have thought. For instance, you don’t just shout “Two glasses of red wine”, you shout “Two glasses of red wine – TWO” – because the person receiving the hand-off hears the number first, and may forget that number. Therefore – reassert the qualifier – the qualifier in this case being two.

If the coffee is decaffeinated, the qualifier was DECAF – and I was pleased to see the coffee shop reasserting that key qualifier in the hand-off.

We all need to be careful about what is important to our clients, not just in what they say but how they say it, and when the hand-off is made to a third person, they also need to understand the key part of that communication.

3 – The follow-up

Coffee ordered, orders barked across and qualified correctly, the person who took my order has ensured that someone is delivering it, and follows up nicely with the upsell.

No, I don’t want anything to eat, but thanks for asking. No, I don’t want sugar, but again – thanks for asking me and telling me where it is.

An upsell can be made to sound like good customer service. You’re not looking after your clients if you’re leaving something they may want uncommunicated. For instance, many agencies have a range of complementary services, but their clients will only ever see part of that.

Is it good customer service to leave part of your offering out of a client’s reach?

The follow-up is a significant part of your customer service. You have the opportunity to review the order and ensure that nothing is left out, and that everything is correct. You have the opportunity to point the client in the right direction. A professional follow-up results in a happy client – happy that everything is being done correctly and that no stone has been left unturned.

4 – The structure

Go into your local coffee shop during rush hour and watch how the team works together – everyone behind that bar knows their role, and how to work with each other.

So, is structure a key part of delivering excellent customer service?

Without it, the customer experience may well suffer. For instance, take out one of the people actually making the coffee, or take out the person who brings the coffee to your table. The lack of a cog in the system will result in other people making up for it.

Structure isn’t simply limited to people – it’s about processes. An escalation process cannot simply be the domain of one team – it’s anyone who has an interface with the customer. I’ve been in plenty of situations where customer complaints have come through the ‘wrong’ channels – and the response each time is that there is NO wrong channel, simply wrong processes. You need to structure the workflow that brings these people and processes together, so that no customer interactions are lost.

5 – The feedback

Too many people think that sending a Net Promoter Score e-mail after every instance of customer service is the best way of illiciting ‘feedback’.

It’s not.

Look at my local Noodle bar, for instance. Why do they put clothes pegs on every table? So that the waitress knows to go to that table and ask how their meal is going and if they need anything else. Once asked, the peg is removed. Job done.

It’s a simple, yet effective little tool for ensuring that every customer gets asked how their meal is.

More complex feedback can be gathered afterwards, and as I’m British, I’ll never tell any waitress that the food was awful, I’ll wait until that online survey. However, you’ll never know where you stand unless you ask.

Our ability to gather and analyse feedback is sometimes compromised by our own internal systems. The simple things are easy, but amassing that data can be hard. My old colleague Warren Butler wrote in his blog about customer retention that feedback should result in customer service performance reports, which almost gamifies customer service. Indeed, it should provide the backbone to incentive schemes.

And back to the coffee – simply being asked by a passing barista if my coffee was OK was nice. It made me think I’d go back there again. It almost made me feel valued.

Offering world-class customer service varies little, in principle, whether you are serving coffee or installing servers. You need the same components, time after time – listen, hand-off appropriately, follow-up, connect the dots, and get feedback. Get all of those right, and it adds up to value.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Gareth Cartman
Gareth Cartman is Director of Digital Marketing at Clever Little Design, and blogs frequently on tech, marketing, customer service and Human Resources.


  1. Thanks Gareth for this article. Great use of the coffee shop as an example to deliver the best customer service (coffee shops are perfect case studies for demonstrating stellar service).

    From the way you listed down how it’s achieved, it made me believe that good experiences with the business attract customers, turning them into loyal patrons. They happen to enjoy the “rigorous” level of consistency in delivering total customer satisfaction. That’s why if I need a caffeine fix, I know exactly where to go or if I need a massage, I know where I can get a good one. In all, it’s our interaction with an efficient barista (or perhaps a call center agent), combined with a quality product or service that makes for a great experience.


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