Customer service is like a dance of which your skills are paramount, but your customer is novice at best. And they’re leading, intentionally or not. You don’t get to break out your best moves until they prompt you to do so because you have to make each step, every sway, all of your movement responsive to their direction. Throughout the song, they can’t be left behind on the dance floor, stepped on, rushed, hindered, embarrassed, confused.
Your customer is your princess in a room of suitors: this is your one chance to keep her in your arms. You’re a spectacle of grace, skill, knowledge, touch, and light. But this isn’t about you. It’s about her. It’s about ensuring she shines in front of her subjects and always remembers this dance.
Only then, can you be king. And kings can leave the ball to conquer grander things.
Customer service can also be a brutal battlefield- your customers ever priming their arsenals with demeaning remarks, piercing glares, impatient disturbances. The shield of manners and patience can only protect you so much before you break. Follow the lead of your generals and seasoned comrades as you craft innovative weapons and tools, own your weaknesses, strategize your methods. Then you can meet your customer blow-for-blow with empathy, solutions, and delight until you reach victory together.
As a valiant warrior, you may return to your place of honor among your people, more adept for the next battle. Or you can harness your laurels to reach new frontiers with mystifying feats that promise your lion’s share.
You know how children believe their teachers live at school? I feel like customers often subconsciously regard food service employees in the same way. Sure, we tend to be in the lowest income brackets, but guess what- we're consumers, too! I also go through awkward moments of finding how the line works or if I need to swipe my card or hand it to the person working the register. I'm very empathetic to your frustrations about long lines and waiting. I don't take any delight when my order is wrong or when I'm told Taco Bell discontinued the Quesalupa or that the bar is out of sangria. Often when I place my order, they have questions for me to verify what I am requesting. Sometimes I'm embarrassed, confused, or unsatisfied, too. But you know what I'm not- like ever? A jerk. Or an arrogant, severely under-informed know-it-all. Not just because I am a decent human being, but because it doesn't do me or anyone else any good.
Your bad attitude is also likely to complete backfire and blow up in your sour face- and that's not limited to being decaffed or someone spitting in your food or another unethical response people who are often degraded day in and day out come up with to respond in kind to the dignity they were denied... But back to the point. Being rude, or down right cruel even, is a good way to slow down operations and hinder productivity. That should be common sense.
Recently, the unthinkable happened: our drive-thru broke. None of us had experienced that before and our shift supervisor was on hold for an hour, while trying to get other pressing work done, to find out how to reset it. In the mean time, I was instructed to put a sign on the box to let customers know they can order at the window. This worked when we had an average of one car every 3-5 minutes, but when the late/post lunch rush hit, it didn't go over well.
It takes about 20 seconds for espresso shots to pull and milk to steam, so a good, tenured barista can crank out up to 40 drinks every half hour. The longest warming time for a panini is about 80 seconds. We use all of this machine time to run around, take orders, collect retail items and pastries, and help on the bar. There's a method to the madness and if we could defy the laws of physics for our customers, we most certainly would. So whereas we can usually get a drive-thru customer on their way within 4 minutes in the very early afternoon, especially with a small order, I'm pretty sure our customers were in our line 20 minutes that day. I was a mess because I couldn't do anything about this. I had to deal with the situation as it was. Most people were kind and understanding. As I mentioned in my previous post, rude customers are the exception and not the rule for me as a Starbucks barista. By the time we finally found out how to reset the thingy magig (I dunno, I just work there.), the last two customers were irate. One even followed up the order with "Can you hurry?! I'm late to a funeral!"-- I ended up throwing a baby tantrum in the back of the house because it upset me so much.
The next time I saw this customer, I apologized. I felt later that it was insensitive to tell a person who is grieving the loss of a loved one "Trust me, we're doing all we can." with several disbelief eye blinks before walking off. Regardless of whether or not I got the apology I felt (and still feel) I deserve, or if that seed of kindness I plant ever reaches fruition, I wanted to do the right thing. The response was unwarranted, unfounded "advice" that made me feel like a scolded slave more than any other moment in all my years in customer service: You should have had someone outside taking orders on the phone! That was just ridiculous! I've never been in a drive-thru that long...
Again, I had to walk away. But at least this time A, I'd taken a Vyvanse that morning so I was pretty much physically incapable of shedding tears of anger, and B, there was plenty of Frappuccinos for me to make to get away from the conversation without abandoning my team. I've learned it does no good to present a verbal case for my competence, education, capability, and just value as a person to a customer- not because they don't care, because most certainly do, but because it's not situationally appropriate or beneficial. But there's something I need society to recognize:
Don't be so arrogant as to assume you understand the carefully designed operations of a multi-million dollar establishment to the degree of being qualified to make managerial decisions or assumptions from your view in the drive thru.
What this customer did not understand is that having someone outside to take orders on the phone means they couldn't be inside doing other work. We'd like to be omnipresent for our customers, too, but darn the humanity! Having someone on the phone inside receiving orders has a hand tied up unable to assist with drinks or gather food items, barely able to complete the POS transaction at the window. Also, literally playing telephone with your orders in this kind of atmosphere just sounds like an accident waiting to happen. So now we have more drinks to remake. This doesn't sound like it's getting anyone to the funeral on time (I'm a horrible person...).
And here's the catch- there are 3 people on the floor this time of day. It's all that is necessary to meet the forecast sales volume, but not enough to allow for two people to be completely monopolized into a role of about half a barista. Also, this leaves no one to take care of our cafe customers in a timely manner or restock and do prep for future customers. Our store is a very, very small store with a large sales volume, so just-in-time inventory and carefully laid out production areas are the only way we can meet demand.
So how this would be visualized...
Just call someone in, you say? Sure, we'll just get one of the high schoolers to leave their AP Chem class to come make sure you get your little drink. Or we'll have the mom bring her 3 month old baby in a Boba wrap under her apron. Or the barista working 3+ jobs to keep their head afloat can leave their other job. Or the grad student who asked off in order to finish his final paper. Or the one who is meeting with a new client or potential retailer for her business. They live at the store, anyway. They live only to serve...
Okay, I'll cut back on the snark...
Here's the thing, as a grad student also desperately trying to break into freelance work, I cover shifts and stay late or come in early way more than I know I should. I often sacrifice my best interest to ensure Starbucks in Trussville is well staffed for nurturing the human spirit and ready to host a warm atmosphere. This isn't a completely unique approach of mine by any means- my partners all jump to help as much as they can, often putting things like school, sleep, family, church, significant others, and health on the back burner. (I've left a date before to respond to an SOS... I'm lucky that didn't end things.) At the other establishments I've worked at, this has been the case to an extent- they didn't care as much about our customers or store performance, but they cared about their coworkers. Its miserable to be understaffed, whether someone calls in or the forecast was missing information or an unforeseen tragedy strikes. If you have never worked in this industry before, or you couldn't stick it out beyond a few weeks, you will never understand how deep it cuts when an unsatisfied customer implies you are lazy, incompetent, uncaring. How do you feel when you pour your heart (and sweat, blood, and tears) into your work only to have outside forces trample it and then you're berated as inferior? Okay, now imagine this happening repetitively- I'm talking every few minutes. If you can't imagine it, you see my point- you don't know what it's like to be in our no-slip shoes. If you can, you see my point- kindness will get you caffeinated with world-class service and smiles.
Again in reference to my last post, I get past these blood boiling moments only because of the abundance of brief inspired moments I get to co-create with such a beautiful variety of humans on their way to do so many great things. The customers who get it are the ones who treat placing and receiving their order as a respectful business transaction with a valuable individual with ambitions- excuse me for getting cheesy and philosophical, but they're the ones who sonder as I sonder. They look through the drive thru window and see a student, a parent, an artist, an aspiring entrepreneur, a skilled craftsman... even if they don't know a single thing about me, they know I matter and I know they matter. Even if they order a Frappé instead of Frappuccino. Or our drive thru gets slowed down while we remake that french vanilla cappuccino into a latte when they learn a bit about espresso beverages. Or they add 2 drinks and a sandwich to their order at the window. Or it takes 30 seconds just to read all the modifications to their mobile order drink. But just like the little child that so sweetly asks for that second story book during bedtime when your eyes are already fluttering and body exhausted, it's hard, but you know that enthusiasm and trust just makes your heart go thump-thump. The look of pure joy when I hand that #PSL to the sweet little old lady who got confused in my drive thru and ordered at the window more than makes up for any inconvenience. I wish I could break the laws of physics and develop super powers and grow a third (maybe fourth) arm and move mountains for my customers. But none of that would validate our right to dignity more than our sheer existence already does.
Even those arrogant jerks matter and I will continue to attempt to kill them with kindness until they one day do respond in kind. I'm choosing to believe that the lady who triggered my tearful, wall-hitting tantrum does not intend to be so cruel. I'm choosing to recognize her value in spite of my disappointment so that I can treat her with the dignity and respect she deserves. I ask that she, and everyone, does the same for the customer service professionals she encounters.
Running a drive-thru makes for many interesting stories. Some cause my blood to boil, some prevent me from being able to speak from laughter, and many just light up my face and soul for days to come. What happened this morning is among the later, but still completely different.
Customer: *pulls up to the window searching briefcase and nooks and crannies in car*
Me: Hi! Having trouble there?
Customer: I can’t find my wallet! Can I pay you with a check?
Me: No, I can’t take a check, but I can give you your drink and let your day go up from here!
Customer: Really? Are you sure? Is that okay?
Me: Absolutely! I really want you to have your white mocha on your way to find your wallet.
Customer: Wow! Thanks so much! What’s your name? *sees nametag* Rebecca, I will be back!
Me: That’s what I like to hear! Have a great day!
I always give a customer their drink or food if they realize they don’t have their funds or their card declines. It’s literally a Starbucks policy the empowers me to do this as my discretion and I’m just going to have to throw away the item anyway (or give it to the next customer). It happens a few times a week at most, really. Obviously it elicits a smile and sincere gratitude every time. Sometimes the customer comes back and requests to pay for their order, we assure them it’s not necessary, but they insist so we concede since that will make them happy, I guess. I can understand wanting to pay for or earn what you get. But I'd rather someone that kind and genuine come back just to get another fix. "Surprise and delight" is a brand relationship asset.
Apparently he was so blown away that I gave him his drink anyway he came back and tried to offer to buy me a drink (which partners get for free while working) and then just requested to speak to me when he found out buying a drink for me was fruitless. The shift superviser covered the drive-thru while I was gone.
(formerly "Bare Barista Threads" and "Memoirs of a Pizza Girl")
With a year of delivering pizza, two and a half years as a barista, and some more time in the trenches, I have plenty of stories, thoughts, and musings. The days that threatened to break me all the while built me. I want to help others in my profession view their work as an opportunity, too. This is my soap box.