In 2003, I left the world of corporate America and a career in technology to learn how to sling drinks at Starbucks. What started as a coffee break to understand a new industry snowballed into an almost decade-long career with an exceptional company. While adding to my coffee knowledge (and ridiculous caffeine tolerance), I also picked up a few good customer service skills.
This past year I’ve transitioned from coffee back to technology, but my takeaways in customer service have application far beyond the realm of a coffee shop. I’d like to share them with you.
The Barista’s Guide to Good Customer Service Skills
Just Say Yes
Have you ever had a problem and taken your complaint to the proper department only to be stonewalled when it comes to receiving help? It’s maddening and fist-smashingly frustrating!
Starbucks has a long-standing policy of “Just Say Yes”. The concept is simple: If a customer brings up a problem or complaint, offer them a resounding YES. Don’t focus on what you can’t do for a customer, tell them what you can do for them. For instance:
Customer: My drink got cold. Can you microwave it?
Barista: I don’t have a microwave, BUT I CAN add some freshly steamed milk to warm it up.
Translation for the Non-Barista: Be in the habit of offering solutions to your customers. Spend less time talking about what’s not possible and use your creativity to offer up alternatives. Listen to your customers and do your best to identify the real need (which might be different from what the customer asks). Just the act of listening and attempting to offer a solution can go a long, long way.
Check the Customer’s Perspective
Training new partners was one of my favorite aspects of working at Starbucks. On day one, I’d start the training on the sidewalk out front. Together we’d approach the front door and I’d ask, what you see? Is the ground clean, are there fingerprints or spills on the glass? We’d walk in and continue.
Is the music too loud? Is the retail wall neat and organized? Did someone behind the counter look up and greet us when we walked in? On and on the questions would go as we’d approach the counter, order a beverage, wait at the bar and, finally, sit down with a drink to discuss the experience.
The purpose of this exercise was to step out from behind the counter and view the environment through a customer’s eyes. Were we creating an inviting space? A place people would frequent or recommend?
Translation for the Non-Barista: Evaluate your service offerings, price structure, and the overall experience of working with you. Try to learn how you’re perceived by clients and industry peers by asking them to write a testimonial for your website or a recommendation on LinkedIn. This isn’t about begging for praise, it’s about learning what folks have to say about working with you. You may think you’ve got some good customer service skills, but if nobody ever mentions it, that might be telling.
Everybody knows the old Cheers theme song. It’s good to know and be known! After working for Starbucks so long, I’ve lost count of the number of names, food & drink preferences, and personal details of my customers. The data points easily reach in the thousands.
As I’ve transitioned from barista to customer and become a regular at my neighborhood Starbucks, I fully admit that it feels great to be called by name and have baristas remember what I drink (Tall Americano, 1 raw sugar, splash of steamed 2%).
While the coffee is great, I’ve can testify that it’s not the primary reason regulars come to Starbucks. It’s the element of personal connection.
Translation for the Non-Barista: Be human. If your dog barks or toddler screams when you’re on a client call, brush it off with humor. Use those “less than perfect” moments to allow folks to identify with you on a personal level. If you’re bidding a project for a stranger, take 5 minutes to Google them; learn if you have relationships in common on LinkedIn or Facebook. Clearly there are professional boundaries to keep up, but finding a common connection with clients can help establish a baseline of trust.
Surprise and Delight
People expect you to have mediocre, if not actually good customer service skills. After all, offering congenial greetings or common courtesies doesn’t take much effort. What Starbucks empowers baristas to do is “surprise and delight” customers by offering the unexpected. Maybe I buy your drink. Maybe I sing on your birthday. Maybe I tell you a terrible joke while you wait in line, but you leave laughing anyway, having gained more than you expected from our encounter. BOOM! I just zapped you with my customer service skills!
Translation for the Non-Barista: Go above and beyond what you’re asked. Share a relevant link with a customer, even if you’re not actively working on a project with them. Send a thank you note to someone who’s sent business your way. Send business to your customer. You get the idea. Create a love circle with the people in your network. Sow generously. As my mom is fond of saying, “It can’t hurt! Might even help!”
Give it a Shot
What are your good customer service skills & habits that you like to incorporate in your business? Leave a comment and share it!