August 2, 2017

Putting Customers’ Wants First – Without Serving Bad Coffee


Third wave baristas are passionate people. And generally speaking, we’re passionate about one thing: coffee. But what happens when a customer doesn’t share the same love for specialty?

We do our jobs with great gusto; we’re precise with every detail, from the smallest decimal of temperature down to the texture of the grind. We’re purists, in a sense – masters of our trade. From the long hours to the upbeat mood we have to keep, it’s a tough job to do, but we do it all for the love of coffee.

So when a request for an extra hot half-shot soy latte with four sugars and a pump of caramel syrup comes in, it can leave us frustrated. Yet I say we should take this as an opportunity to be both customer-orientated and serve good coffee.

SEE ALSO: Is Adding Sugar to Coffee Really That Bad?

espressoA barista pours those perfect espresso shots.

How Can We Provide Better Customer Service?

“Can I get a half shot, soy latte with four sugars?”
“Why don’t you serve syrups?”

“Get me an extra hot soy flat white to go.”

Living in the social age, where everything we do is affected by the waves and trends of the latest millennium, we’ve probably heard all sorts of requests that could negatively affect the taste of our favorite beverage. I mean, the Starbucks unicorn frappuccino, anyone?

Steaming coffee extra hot burns the beverage, adding too much sugar can obscure the chocolatey full-bodiedness of a single origin El Salvador – but still, we smile, take the customer’s money, and make the drink they order.

What trend does this leave in its wake? Customers never get to try the best coffees we can make, while baristas can wind up getting more jaded about the seemingly low level of appreciation for coffee.

And isn’t part of customer service offering the customer the best possible product? While we don’t want to preach or make our customers uncomfortable, shouldn’t we always be looking for ways to serve even better coffee?

caramelA warm cuppa with heaps of caramel syrup for sweetness.

Understanding How Customers Like Their Coffee

Personally, like many other people, I put my first ever cup of coffee down almost as quickly as I picked it up. It smelled great but the dark liquid in the cup scalded my tongue and left an acrid taste behind. In this way, my impression of coffee was set: I turned down every offer of coffee that followed, for years.

My understanding of coffee has changed drastically since then. The specialty scene has successfully changed the way we think of coffee. Most importantly, it’s changed the way a lot of coffee drinks taste.

So our first step is to understand that different people have different opinions of coffee because of their past experiences with it. One burned, bitter cup could have led a person to order extra syrup as standard.

And for those people, coffee might be merely a necessity for getting through the day – not a moment to relish. Not a luxury product worth savoring.

Customer service, in this case, means understanding a consumer’s attitude towards coffee. It means, rather than simply dismissing their orders as “bad taste”, providing information about coffee as and when they want to hear it. It means being inventive with our offerings so we can put customers’ wants first – while also brewing up great coffee.

latte artA barista pours latte art.

Less Dogma, More Innovation

With all this in mind, we need reevaluate how we can turn something we love into something for everyone. And the answer to this comes in the form of fusions and pairings.

In my time as a barista, I’ve found myself adjusting basket sizes, shot timings, milk brands, and so on, just to make coffee that can be enjoyed by as many target audiences as possible. And it’s only made me love my job more.

Looking into unusual requests or comments from customers gave me a reason to explore different opinions and options. It opened up a spectrum of possibilities. It taught me that we need to move beyond strict definitions of “good coffee”; we need to be innovative and creative.

And at the same time, we can help consumers understand our definitions of good coffee. We can, if they are interested, guide them into a realization that different beans have different profiles. We can show them the impact of roast profiles.

baristaA barista sets the grind. Credit: Alper Çuğun via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Sharing Information

Of course, it isn’t feasible to think that we can lead the whole world to love coffee the way we do – but goodness knows we can try.

With public coffee tastings and education events, informative posters and creative social media campaigns, we can spread more of a consciousness towards appreciating coffee, rather than just drinking it.

SEE ALSO: How to Make Coffee Education Less Boring

If we take on the idea of coffee as a mere necessity and help people turn it into a lifestyle, maybe we can drive the scene to even greater lengths.

More and more individuals who don’t necessarily work in coffee are investing in their own brew equipment or espresso machines. There is so much potential for greater sharing of ideas in a community that consists of both coffee professionals and hobbyists.

cuppingA public cupping at Knockhouse Supply, Singapore. Credit: Knockhouse Supply

Expanding The “Industry Standard”

Each year, the industry grows a little. At our international coffee festivals, competitions and trade shows, we’re constantly meeting and interacting with professionals from all over the world.

As part of the World Barista Championships, there’s a segment completely based on a barista’s “signature beverage”. It involves transforming coffee into something completely unorthodox, all in the name of bettering our industry’s creativity and standards. It involves syrups, infusions, freezing coffee, and more.

Each champion’s barista’s specialty drink has an enthralling story to tell, from bean to cup, from barista to customer, and it’s shared with industry partners and the general public alike. All it takes is one idea to spark improvements in our coffee community.

There was a time when watered down black coffee was the industry standard; just look at how far we’ve come since. Coffee lovers and baristas alike have shown that with coffee, there are no limits or standards. By changing temperatures, pressures, extraction times… everything changes the game.

I think the most important thing is to challenge what we think we know and take that a step further. By fine-tuning our techniques or even incorporating mixology, we can accentuate flavors and aromas of coffee, and create a whole different experience for a consumer. All we have to do is listen to our customers’ wants, and apply a little creative thinking.

Because yes, there is a standard, but why does it have to remain the same?

baristaA barista pours milk into an espresso-based coffee at an event in Argentina. Credit: Mastropablomaria via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Blending Third Wave Coffee With Customer Service

The best thing about working with coffee is that we are more than a profit-orientated workforce – we are powered by the passion for making coffee even better. The entire third wave coffee scene was built on the desire to strive for more than streamlined coffee from successful coffee chains.

So why don’t we turn every odd, “blasphemous” coffee request into a challenge to make something better? Find a middle ground between what we deem “industry standards” and what consumers would picture themselves drinking. And most of all, why don’t we find the will to show our customers how wonderful coffee can really be?

Who’s to say that better ideas can’t come from a well-balanced blend of converging coffee tastes?

All views within this opinion piece belong to the guest writer, and do not reflect Perfect Daily Grind’s stance. Perfect Daily Grind believes in furthering debate over topical issues within the industry, and so seeks to represent the views of all sides.

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