Service Questions

This post was inspired by recent Twitter conversations with other local coffee professionals. The catalyst was this tweet, linking to an interview on;

If you haven’t read the interview, definitely do!

Out of the Twitter conversation came some questions that stick with me;

– Is there some responsibility to be placed on a customer during a service interaction? Put another way, is it possible for an interaction in a hospitality situation to go poorly, and the fault lies squarely on the customer? Do we (as coffee professionals) need customers to be in a certain mindset for our hospitality to take root? If so, what does that say about our industry?

– What does it mean to serve a customer? Does it mean to provide them exactly what they want, even if you dislike it? Does it mean to exercise expertise and provide them the best thing you can, even if their (perhaps uninformed) desires point elsewhere? How is it good service to sell something you’re not proud of? How is it good service to deny a customer’s desires? Where do good service and business acumen intersect?

– Do we put too much weight on the actual, personal interaction when we think about service? How positive does an interaction have to be to overcome a bad context? A dirty store? Does lovely latte art outweigh a sloppy barista?



2 thoughts on “Service Questions

  1. I’m really glad you moved this conversation to a site that isn’t limited by characters. There is a lot of context we should define before continuing, however. What type of service are we talking about? Services provided? Customer service? General service to humanity? There are many different types of cafes which provide different levels of all types of service. if these services aren’t clearly communicated upon entrance to establishments, then the cafe is not doing their job in defining their identity. There are many different approaches to this, however. Word of mouth, adverts, signage.

    Take, for instance, your recent first-class plane ride. When you received your “complimentary” drinks, were you expecting them? Did you read about all you were entitled to as a first-class passenger, or have you heard about the amazing treatment you get up in front? Would you have been upset if you didn’t get what you were expecting? Would you have asked for something that is outside their capabilities and have been upset if you couldn’t get that good coffee? The coffee the way you want to have it?

    I guess my point is, every business has services provided, and a certain type of customer service that they provide. As a general service to humanity, I like to go out of my way to make people happy, even if it is an off menu item and could result in me getting yelled at by my boss. As long is it is within my capabilities. The most recent yelp review about my place of employment that sums up my feelings. Here’s an excerpt:

    “Based on other reviews, you should realize that there are at least two types of cafes: One, epitomized by Starbucks, serves drinks that are sweet or bland and appeal to a wide range of palates. They strive to accomodate whatever the customer wants. The other, specializes in perfecting the very specific craft of making traditional espresso drinks. These are two very different types of establishments which really cannot be compared. Both are equally valid. The latter may seem pretentious, but there is nothing pretentious about trying to make something wonderful and share it with others if the customer is willing to try something new.”

    That last sentence vindicates the Specialty Coffee industry, in a way. It is new. It is different and may be hard to swallow. It does require an open mind to something few have an understanding of (and if they do, it could be a misguided understanding). It is up to the cafe to convey the way their service and product should be measured. Cafe’s ambiance is greatly important in changing peoples perception of how we (hopefully) want specialty coffee to be perceived. There are many shops offering the best coffees known to man (and make them well), yet by employee appearance, music, cleanliness etc,…. all the ideas of coffee being a special thing are out the window! I feel, as of now, ambiance is of utter importance to the way of conveying specialty coffee’s worth. (aside from making great drinks, of course). If expectations aren’t met in all departments of what a fine restaurant/cafe is, specialty coffee gets misrepresented.

    Whether I like it or not, coffee is becoming more expensive for everyone. With the added price, goes expectation. These aren’t computers where people expect them to break even though they paid 2K on the newest MacBook Pro. This is coffee, where the 25 cent difference can put someone over the edge. If an espresso is three dollars, it better taste good. Across the board. Can we say “a natural espresso would taste great to everyone?” I don’t think so. This is a specialized industry for people with advanced palates. If a customer wants to learn, great! If a customer wants something comfortable and sweet, there’s always Starbucks.

    This is becoming more ranty than I intended, though hopefully through that stream you could find something useful.

  2. DE:

    1.) I think we’re on to something when we talk about communication and ambiance and context. I think that for many shops & barista teams, their personal intense focus on coffee and the preparation of coffee results in an environment that reflects that. I have been in a number of great shops where that is exactly what happens: the context is odd, maybe a bit unkempt, maybe with a little attitude, but then the resulting cup is really, really good. The problem with that situation is that it is pretty cavalier to leave the product to stand on its own. Our minds don’t work like that. We use cues from our environment to clue us in on what to expect, and we shape our impressions accordingly.

    If you’re being served Espresso X in a paper cup from a crew of folks all wearing the same hat, your impression will be different than if you were served the exact same Espresso X at Intelly Venice. Our surroundings play a role in our expectations. I appreciate a laser-focus on coffee quality, but we lack a meaningful way to communicate that focus to our customers without leaving them out a little.

    2.) You said “This is a specialized industry for people with advanced palates.” I disagree. I think good coffee tastes good. I think people will have preferences within a spectrum of goodness, and when it comes to the cost benefit analysis, some folks will still go with the 99c gas station coffee – but I don’t think an advanced palate or even an interest in tasting things thoughtfully is necessary to appreciate good coffee, no more than an advanced palate is required to know the difference between Keystone Light and Brooklyn Lager.

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