March 14, 2017

When “Have a Nice Day!” Is Bad Customer Service


What’s a barista to do when a customer’s having a bad day? Adapt. Excellent coffee should be accompanied by great customer service.

However, people don’t just buy coffee when they’re happy. They also buy coffee when they’re experiencing heartbreak, nervous about an exam, or recovering from surgery. And that means that we, as baristas, need to respond to customers differently.

Yes, I hear you, you’re busy! You’re making coffee, cleaning, taking payments, and more. But this doesn’t require a lot of effort. Just a small touch is all that’s needed. So here’s why you should adapt to customers’ moods, and how to do it.

Spanish Version: Cuando “Ten un Buen Día” es un Mal Servicio al Cliente

baristas working behind the bar

High-volume coffee shops require make customer service challenging, but not impossible. Credit: Hacienda San Pedro  

It’s Part of the Job

Making great coffee is crucial, but if people don’t feel comfortable in your coffee shop it won’t matter how good the drinks are.

For me, being the best barista I can be means respecting both the bean and the customer. If that requires playing around with espresso recipes so I can get the most out of a coffee, then that’s what I have to do. And if I have to step outside of my comfort zone to be there for a customer who needs to vent, then that’s one of my duties for the day.

Of course, we also don’t want to neglect our other responsibilities – or other customers! – while we offer a shoulder to cry on. But responding to our customers’ individual needs and quirks to the best of our abilities, while balancing the rest of our workload, is key to outstanding service. And without good service, consumers won’t drink our coffee, they won’t enjoy our coffee, and they won’t be open to learning more about coffee.


What’s more important: the coffee or the service? Credit: Erik Rodriguez Chicho

When Good Customer Service Is Bad Customer Service

Most of the time, good customer service is easy. We greet people with a smile, and make sure to meet their needs. And as we get to know our customers more, we learn about their birthdays, promotions, graduations, and even their newborns. All of these earn a warm congratulations.

When it’s not good news – when it’s a sick pet, or a layoff, or even the loss of a loved one – it’s harder. Most of the time we’re on cruise control, uttering hi-how-can-I-help-yous and have-a-nice-days without thinking. But when someone is grieving, this response isn’t helpful.

I wish I could say that customers rarely have bad days, but I find that life in a coffee shop is unpredictable. I’ve watched breakups happen in the café. I’ve had customers come to let me know that the family member they recently brought in has passed away. And I’ve even seen customers walk in bruised and upset after a car accident.

But when a customer comes to my café on a bad day, I wonder: why did they come here? Was it for good coffee, or was it for a home-away-from-home with friendly baristas?

Hex Coffee

What makes customers go to a café on bad days? Credit: Hex Coffee

SEE ALSO: Service: The Missing Step in Serving Specialty Coffee?

How to Provide Good Service on a Customer’s Bad Day

Let’s not forget that our customers are individuals. Regardless of whether they’ve had a good or bad day, many of them will want different experiences. Some will come ready to share everything, while others are just looking for an aloof welcome and their coffee sans chit-chat.

When someone walks in the door, or approaches the counter, actually look at them. Read what their demeanor is telling you. Do they need quick service? A friendly smile? Some time to rant? By noticing these little details, you can create a more personal relationship with your customers.

If your customers are having a bad day, there are many ways to show you appreciate them. The occasional free coffee or cookie, while it won’t fix their day, will cheer them up. Some coffee shops give baristas a quota for free drinks every month just for this purpose.

There are also other, even more personalised ways to achieve this. You could exchange favorite beers with a customer who brews them at home, or listen to a new song by a customer’s band. One time, a coffee shop I worked at donated the week’s tips to a customer whose daughter was in hospital.

But most of the time, a sympathetic ear or a simple “That sucks, man” is all the customer needs to brighten their day. Good service is just a matter of reading how the customer feels and responding appropriately.

So if we have to modify our job description a little, then let’s do it. Because baristas make coffee, but they can also make customers’ days.

Perfect Daily Grind

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