Welcome to Day 7 of 30. It has been a week now since we began this journey, so thank you for coming along for the ride. Sharing my thoughts, feelings, and ideas with you has had its ups and downs.
Being a rather introverted person, I tend to think internally a lot. It is natural to observe and analyze everything for me, but when it comes to expressing those observations it can be tough to put it out there. So no matter what you think of my blogging so far, please know that it can be a chore to find the voice and let it all free for others to see. That said, it is getting a little more comfortable to do.
Since this is my first week, I want to look back at the things I talked about over the last 6 days. Don’t worry, I’m not doing one of those crappy “recap” episodes where I just talk about the same things.
Looking at the topics so far, I would group each into one of two categories: Customer Service and Professional Development. There were definitely a few moments where we got more emotional, abstract, etc, but for the most part these two categories sum up the focus. This was far from planned, but I think it can tell a few things about the way my mind works when it comes to my professional outlook.
First let’s look at Customer Service. I have talked a lot about the consumer’s point of view, product differentiation, price, and essentially ways we can serve customers better. I will first say that I began my working life in the restaurant industry. Growing up I wanted to be a chef, because I loved food, cooking, and flavor. I mean I STILL love those things. Learning in those environments back in the 1990s, the very first focus was always the customer. Likely a reflection of “the customer is always right” attitude, I have ever since prided myself on making customers feel good.
I feel that the modern (or at least recent) approach to coffee has almost forgotten the customer, depending on which company and people working. I get it though, we have been exploring and redefining how to make coffee so much that we forgot to pass on how to serve coffee. For this reason I always like to point out those who are not just making great coffee, but making their customers feel wonderful at the same time. This is also why I have had such a huge focus on customer service for so long, because I believe it is vital to the growth of the industry.
I talked yesterday about exceeding the ‘base flavor expectation of coffee’, which doesn’t take much to do in the US. But we must also consider that when it comes to pleasing the guests who walk in the door, we must also exceed the ‘base standard expectation of service’. Guess what? While exceeding the base flavor expectation is as easy as buying slightly better coffee, exceeding standard expectation of service is much more difficult because the expectation is actually quite high! This is where places like Starbucks have excelled. If a person feels good from the interaction they can tolerate quite a bit in the flavor department.
I have a crazy story that showcases this:
A few years ago I was managing a cafe after the manager had left (rather unexpectedly). This was a cafe I had spent time in from time to time and knew a lot of the regular customers. After about a week of running the cafe every day, a young lady came in. I recognized her as a regular from before but had never seen her in the cafe since I took over. Immediately I said “Hi!” and mentioned “I haven’t seen you here since I took over. Have you been on vacation?” She smiled and replied, but her reply broke my heart.
She said “Well, the (person) who was managing before was just awful. Talking down to people and it just made me not want to come in any more. So I’ve been going to the Starbucks across the street.” Of course I said something about the coffee not being nearly as good, but her response was simply that she could deal with bad coffee but she couldn’t deal with being treated poorly. Strangely she began coming back in to the cafe more often after she knew the old manager had left.
This story is a go-to for me now because it very clearly spelled out just how important customer service is, not only from the barista and cashier, but also the management. It is a whole package, and it means everything, because the Coffee Industry is a part of the Service Industry, whether you think so or not!
Now on to the second category, Professional Development. This includes anything that helps us be better professionals, like understanding extraction better, the use of technology, industry events, etc. Interestingly, I still consider customer service to be a part of professionalism. Anyway, one of the big reasons I have focused on professional development is because we really have not figured everything out when it comes to being a professional coffee person. Our standards are elementary at best, and we have a lot to learn and discover still. I like to say that if someone is presenting themselves as knowing everything, they likely know less than they think.
In my opinion a professional barista is one who has extraordinary skill and knowledge about the industry, with a refined presentation of themselves as well as the product. The trick is that they should always be preparing impeccable coffee, and their knowledge should be their tool to improve the experience. The interesting about sharing knowledge, especially about coffee, is that very little is needed to get your point across. So you need large amounts of knowledge and understanding, but must be the gatekeeper to only give as much as is necessary.
I see it time and time again, a barista is excited about a coffee and they start going into immense detail about it with a customer who simply wanted to know basic information like “Is it good?”. That customer then gets overwhelmed and their experience is muddled. It gets even worse if the experience does not give a pleasurable memory. This is why I say these two categories of professionalism and service cross over.
So it is important for you to know that a finer ground coffee extracts faster, or the micro climate of where the coffee grew, or how it was processed, or that you can make multiple drinks at the same time. Those things are important for your execution of the final product more than for the sheer education of the person drinking it.
In the end, not every coffee has an exciting story. Not every coffee needs some romantic explanation. And sometimes customers don’t even want to talk about coffee! Sometimes they just want to be treated well and feel like you care. It is your job as a coffee professional to know which experience is needed, but I can tell you that it will never hurt to start by making them feel good first.
So there you have it, a little insight into why I talk about the things I do. Who knows, next week I might break out of this box more. You will just have to come back to find out!