Over the past few decades, I’ve worked with many small business owners launching their dreams. What I learned was that the most successful ones all had customer service empathy.
And this was doubly true for coffee shops.
Coffee is, at its core, customer service. And so yes, you have to know about laws and taxes and profit margins – but you also need to make your unique customer experience your unique selling proposition.
Don’t think you can buck the trend on this one just because you’re a third wave (or even fourth wave) café. Your customers can get specialty coffee from almost anywhere, meaning you can’t compete based on product alone. Nor can you compete based on operational excellence – are you going to become renowned for making that coffee five seconds faster than all your competitors? No, you’re not – meaning it’s all about the customer intimacy.
If this sounds tough, don’t worry: I’ve got four ways you can bring customer service empathy to the forefront of your business model, without sacrificing your plans and goals.
SEE ALSO: Service: the Missing Step in Serving Specialty Coffee?
Do your customers know they have time for coffee? Credit: KaboomPics
1. Create a Coffee Community
We live in a go, go, go world – so your customers may not even know that they can slow down for coffee. Some won’t want to: they’ll like the drive-through window and the takeaway cups, especially at 8:30 am on Monday morning.
But others will. They’ll want to be welcomed, to learn, and to become part of a coffee community. And when you help them do that, they’ll crave what you offer – because they can’t get that feeling anywhere else, not for the small price of a coffee.
You have to sort between those who want a quick caffeine kick, those who want a coffee community, and those who think they want the former but actually want the latter. And then you’ll have to give them that.
For some, your café will be a home away from home. Credit: Pexels
2. Serve Local, But Don’t Forget Vanilla
Try incorporating and supporting local customs and ingredients – but remember to offer a vanilla option too. Not everyone will like your unique offerings, and even those who do will probably want something a little less exotic sometimes.
This is something I had to learn from experience when I was working in the American South. Local customs push food and drink towards the very sweet end of the palate, plus several unique fruit and nut crops thrive there. It was an opportunity to source from local farms and develop a distinctive but decidedly Southern menu.
Plus, I love the combination of sweet and spicy.
I first focused on cold brew coffee and found a way to use spices to achieve the subtle sweet and spicy combination I was seeking. Needless to say, I was thrilled.
But then I took samples to my business consultant and coffee mentor, Jacob Orr, Director of Operations at Safehouse Coffee Roasters in Griffin, GA. He’s been a voice of reason in my highly caffeinated path to business success. And his response to my delicious, unusual cold brew? He asked me what my vanilla option was going to be.
I hadn’t even considered that some of my customers wouldn’t want the exciting, unique spicy coffee I would serve. But he shared a story of a friend who launched an ice cream shop with only unique flavors, like jalapeño, only to realise that customers had nothing they could start with to understand – no vanilla option.
Of course, it might surprise you what your vanilla option is. We started serving at events in August, the hottest time of the year, and quickly learned that spicy coffee – regardless of whether it was iced and sweet – took a back seat to Southern-style sweet tea. Yes, that’s right: our vanilla option wasn’t even coffee.
Create that local vibe, but cater for everyone. Credit: Pexels
3. Consider Customer Suggestions
Remember when we said you need to make a coffee community? That’s going to have a knock-on effect: your customers are going to become your fans, and they’ll have ideas to share with you – the kind of ideas that strike them at 2 am, just like your crazy ideas do.
The difference is, you’re a business owner with a vision and they’re customers who may or may not be business-savvy. As of such, you might be tempted to just smile, nod, and forget those suggestions. But I recommend doing otherwise.
As a start-up myself, I write down every single suggestion – regardless of my initial reaction. You may still not use it, but if a customer’s suggesting it, at least one customer wants it. Later on, you can mull it over and decide whether to adopt, discard, or adapt it.
Don’t forget to do your research, though. You may find that another company had already figured out the details and you can just become a wholesale customer. That’s another thing I learned the hard way: one of my customers who enjoyed cold brew coffee wanted to make it at home without transporting bottles or keeping things refrigerated in transit. He suggested coming up with an at home brew kit that uses a pouch or jar. I thought this was a brilliant idea and immediately started work figuring out the aspects of a reusable brew pouch and best ways to package the whole kit.
Then, after creating my working prototype, I got online to see what else was out there – and discovered that many companies already provide attractive reusable brewing devices for cold brew coffee. If I’d spent just one hour researching this before I jumped in, I wouldn’t have wasted so much time.
Research ideas before you reach in. Credit: Pexels
4. Share Your Vision
When you decide how to develop your business, remember your vision. For me, that’s providing a mobile coffee experience/laboratory to new people in new locations. By keeping that in mind, I’m able to stay aligned to my goals when facing a decision between a coffee truck and a brick-and-mortar coffee house, for example.
It may seem strange, in an article about customer service empathy, to talk about your vision. But as I said before, your customers want to share in your goals. Community interaction needs to go both ways. And so as you enable and support a community, they want to support you.
Make a visual roadmap of your goals, even if it’s just bits of paper filled with your caffeinated scribbles. And once you have your vision visible like that, keep it where you can see it – and maybe even where your customers can.
Remember your vision. Credit: Pixabay
We’ve looked at several ways in which you can meet your customers’ needs – in which you can provide customer service empathy. You’ll discover that, over time, a mutual empathy will grow. And as it does, you’ll realise an environment of support and success. Your vision becomes meaningful and, in turn, profitable.
Because, as much as we love the coffee, running a coffee shop is all about the customers.
Edited by T. Newton.
Feature Photo Credit: pexels.com
Perfect Daily Grind.