Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Customer is Always Right?

Last Saturday, I did something I haven't done in quite some time. I walked out of a Starbucks empty-handed.

My favorite Starbucks has undergone a lot of changes lately, and only a handful of the familiar staff members are still there. I know it sounds crazy, but it feels different when I walk in -- kind of like going back to your old neighborhood and finding new people living in all of the houses. But such is life, and I realize I need to go with the flow.

One thing I've always been impressed by at Starbucks is their customer service -- it's one of the reasons I pay $4 for my favorite drink on a regular basis. The baristas at the two stores I frequent have always impressed me in this respect. They seem to genuinely like their jobs and their customers, and the ambiance they create is a big reason I enjoy my trips to Starbucks, where I can settle in and enjoy my favorite drink while tapping away at the keys on my laptop.

And that's what's missing with this new crew at "my" store. Even allowing for the steep learning curve that's inevitable at any new job, I don't feel as though the newbies have that same approach. That day, there were three baristas behind the counter -- one making a cold drink, one starting a new batch of coffee and one cleaning a machine. The store wasn't particularly busy, and when one of the three girls (relative newbies all) said she'd be with me in a minute, I didn't think anything of it.

It took me less than a minute to realize that this wasn't the usual stellar customer service model in action.  And it took me even less than that to decide that if I was paying $4 for my drink, I should rate higher than a machine that needs cleaning.

Maybe I was feeling grouchy. Or hungry, or impatient for a drink I'd been deprived of at the beach, where there isn't a Starbucks on every corner.

But this wasn't the service I'd come to expect, and unlike at the shore, where it's "suck it up or go without," when it comes to my Starbucks fix, there were two other stores I could drive to in less than ten minutes.

And so I did. I ended up a little farther from home, at an outside table twice the size of ones at "my" store, having arguably put my money into the same coffers, sipping the expensive drink I've come to love, wondering if perhaps I should have been a little more tolerant.

But such is the nature of customer service, and smart businesspeople know this. Every customer you deal with every day comes to you with something on his or her plate. And if you want to keep a customer's business, you will make her feel valued and important. You will greet him promptly and with a smile, respond to their needs with some degree of hustle, and make him want to come back again because of not only the goods or service they receive, but because of the way they feel when they deal with you.

Fair or not, I've come to expect stellar service at Starbucks. And fair or not, when I don't get stellar service I will go somewhere else. I'm far from ready to abandon "my" Starbucks over one underwhelming experience, but having  seen what excellent customer service looks like, I'm unwilling to settle for less.

And fair or not, the customer (within reason) is always right.

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