Training Your Customers: The Creation of Service Environment
By Andrea Allen, Onyx Coffee Lab You’ve done the training: slurping hundreds of espresso shots, foaming milk over the side of the pitcher a few times, a couple burns on the back of your hand from the steam wand. Now you’re fresh into the café and suddenly hit with customers that reply to your, “How’s it going?” with, “Latte.” You’re bussing tons of tables. You just got yelled at because a latte sat on the bar for a few minutes and the customer expected you to bring it out to their table. You love being a barista but you feel like you’re working at a fast food burger joint.
You want customers that bus their own tables, know when and where to pick up their drink, ask a coffee question now and again, and recognize that you remember them and have already started making their drink when they walk in the door. Your customers need to be trained.
Unfortunately for you, customers are not to blame. Customers come into our cafés with expectations based on past experiences they’ve had. It’s up to you, the barista, and the rest of your staff to let customers know how to behave in a way that doesn’t involve barking out instructions, being rude, and saying no while still trying to maintain your cafés standards for drink preparation and service.
This all starts with having a customer service philosophy and a vision for service at your café. Before you start trying to get customers on board, there needs to be a plan. Do you make all drinks in ceramic cups? Do you ask each customer if they want it for here or to go? How does the customer know when their drink is ready? Are you taking names? Just calling out drink orders? What happens when things go wrong? Knowing how to serve, what the staff will and will not do, and having your whole staff on board is the beginning of creating a service environment that is pleasant for both you the barista and for your customer.
The next thing is to develop relationships with your customers and to meet them where they are. Not everyone wants to talk to you at 7am, but some people do. Having the discretion to decide when to engage in small talk and when not to will take you a long way. Same thing with giving a customer a long spiel about natural processing when you already know that they order a mocha every day. Winning customers starts with them feeling like you’re on their side. Once a rapport has been established, letting them know that they’re ordering their drink incorrectly or that they should come back to the bar to pick up their drink is going to be received much better. Also, once you have a relationship with your customers, some will start to notice how you do things in your café. They’ll ask questions about what to do with dishes, about what you’re making in the science-y looking brewer, etc. This is the point where you can begin to train your customers–once they’ve come to you with questions.
When you begin to know your customers, you’ll be able to recognize when you have new people in the café. If you’ve been in awhile you know the look: glancing all around, getting in the line at the wrong spot, etc. This is a great opportunity to make a good first impression. You’ll want to start off easy, just take their order with as much simplicity and friendliness as possible. If they order something your café doesn’t have, simply suggest an alternative. Don’t say, “we don’t have that.” That makes customers feel stupid. Instead say, “what we have here is X and will be similar to what you’re looking for, want to try that?” When the order has been completed, let them know that their drink will be out in a few minutes at X spot so they know what to expect. When they pick it up, either bid them good day or ask them how they like it. This is a really simple style of service that lets customers know you are hoping they have a good experience that is also informative–you’ve shown them how to order at your café and where to get their drink, but hopefully have avoided condescension. Should they decide to come back, they’ll feel comfortable knowing that they can get a drink they like without much hassle.
Finally, stick to your philosophy. There’s nothing worse than having an inconsistent service style from barista to barista. Your customer base will be confused and will become hostile to members of your staff that don’t do it “their way.” As much as possible, you’ll want to have “our way,” the café’s consistent standard for taking orders, serving drinks, and dealing with problem customers. Inconsistent service tells customers that they can’t depend on your café to get what they need.
Overall this strategy takes time, effort on the part of the barista, and a management style that backs it. This is a great time to be in coffee. More and more people are interested in how things are made and where what they’re consuming comes from. By creating a hospitable service environment, you’re setting the stage for your customers to feel at home, to learn about coffee, and to become part of the community that is growing all over the country.