May 2, 2023

Why do specialty coffee brands care about consumer trust so much?


For any successful consumer-facing business, building trust is key. Without this, you struggle to create long-term customer relationships and you can struggle to succeed.

There are many reasons why building trust is essential, but perhaps the most crucial is that it increases brand loyalty. Customers who trust a company are far more likely to continue buying its products and recommend the brand to other people.

To understand why trust is so important for coffee businesses, I spoke with Christos Sotiros, Category Executive & Master Barista at Nestlé Professional, and Anthony Douglas, 2022 World Barista Champion and training manager at Axil Coffee Roasters. Read on for more of their insight.

You may also like our article on whether specialty coffee consumers actually want to be more connected to farmers.

A barista demonstrates how to build consumer trust in a café.

What does “trust” really mean?

In PwC’s 2022 Consumer Intelligence Series Survey on Trust, the accounting firm found that a staggering 91% of US consumers would continue to buy products or use services from a company that gained their trust. Moreover, 14% of people surveyed said they would buy “significantly more” products from a brand that they trust.

The same study shows that a lack of trust can be a deal-breaker for many consumers. In fact, 44% of people surveyed stopped buying from companies that they don’t trust.

Another study conducted by Zeno in 2020 revealed that consumers were four to six times more likely to buy from companies with a “strong brand purpose”, as well as trust and champion them as brands.

However, what does “trust” really mean, especially in the context of the coffee industry?

In simple terms, trust is the belief that a customer has in a business to deliver on its purpose. Furthermore, when a consumer trusts a brand, they have faith that the company operates with their best interests in mind – including manufacturing and selling quality products or providing excellent service.

Christos explains for coffee shops and roasters, maintaining coffee quality and demonstrating care and attention to detail are an essential part of building trust.

“Along with great customer service, coffee businesses need to add value to their products,” he says. “Specialty coffee consumers are looking for high-quality coffees that are both traceable and sustainable.”

Forging trust between baristas and consumers

In many cases, building trust between a coffee brand and its customers is largely the responsibility of the business owner. 

However, during his winning 2022 World Barista Championship routine, Australian barista Anthony Douglas focused heavily on why building trust between baristas and customers is so important.

“A big part of trust is delivering on expectations,” Anthony explains. “The World Barista Championship is a great platform for coffee professionals to develop these skills.

“After all, a big part of the WBC score sheet is based on whether or not the judges experienced the same flavours and service as you said they would,” he adds.

In his routine, Anthony mentioned that in order for customers to understand and appreciate the full extent of specialty coffee, sensory experiences need to match the expectations that the industry sets.

“A customer’s experience in a coffee shop needs to be reflective of green coffee quality, processing techniques, roasting, and method of brewing,” he tells me. “The more that baristas can represent this level of quality, the easier and more motivating it is for customers to expand their knowledge of specialty coffee.

“At the core, consumers are looking for their expectations to be met,” he adds. “When their expectations are met or exceeded, it creates trust and comfort, and opens people up to be more curious and to explore.”

A barista prepares pour over coffee in a café.

How can lack of trust have a negative impact on coffee businesses?

A lack of consumer trust can have a number of negative effects on a coffee company. Perhaps the most obvious is that a customer may decide to start buying from other competing brands.

If people don’t feel as though a coffee shop or roaster can meet certain standards and requirements, it’s likely that they will look for other alternatives.

Moreover, a lack of trust can also damage a coffee company’s reputation. Social media has made it easier than ever for customers to share details of their experiences with companies, whether good or bad.

If a coffee business loses the trust of customers, they’re more likely to post negative reviews or comments online, which can deter other people from purchasing their products.

Accounting for different needs and expectations

Anthony tells me that he has been working at Axil Coffee Roasters since 2013, and has seen just how important consumer trust is for a coffee business.

“When there is a lack of trust between customers and a coffee business, it closes people off,” he says. “It also makes it harder to deliver a great experience as the customer is already in a negative frame of mind, and it ultimately reduces the incentive to return to the coffee shop or roaster. 

“One of the best ways to build trust is to create sensory and customer experiences which accurately reflect the quality of the coffee you’re serving,” he adds.

Clear and concise communication between baristas and customers is key to creating a positive experience, and indicating to consumers what they can expect from their coffee in terms of flavour, quality, and mouthfeel.

However, baristas need to acknowledge that each customer is different, and will therefore have different needs and expectations. These are often informed by:

  • Age
  • Personal preferences
  • Cultural background (for example, when it comes to customer service, Italian consumers are likely to have very different expectations to US coffee drinkers)
  • Interest in and knowledge about specialty coffee

By accounting for these differences, baristas are able to gauge a customer’s needs more accurately and effectively.

“We have seen significant differences in coffee drinking habits between different countries, cities, and consumer lifestyles,” Christos tells me. “Targeting specific age groups with particular menu items could have a positive impact on coffee shops.”

For example, research has shown that younger demographics tend to value more premium and sustainable coffee products, while older consumers are more “traditional” coffee drinkers.  

Furthermore, convenience is also key for many consumers, so offering high-quality ready-to-drink beverage options can help to retain customer loyalty.

World Barista Champion Anthony Douglas speaks to the judges in Melbourne.

Building trust on expectations

As a coffee business owner, it’s important to understand that customers already have a set of expectations when they walk into a café or choose to purchase a product. It’s vital to meet these expectations, but it’s even more important to exceed them whenever possible.

First and foremost, however, it’s crucial that coffee business owners ensure that their employees are in agreement with the company values. According to a Harvard Business Review study, people working at “high-trust” companies reported 74% less stress, 50% higher productivity, and 29% more satisfaction with their lives overall.

Ultimately, creating an internal culture of trust helps to extend this to the customer experience. When baristas and other employees feel more valued and respected, they are likely to perform better at their job – meaning that they provide better customer service.

Price is another key point to consider when it comes to building trust. Generally speaking, customers expect to get what they pay for, so if a cup or bag of coffee has a more premium price, they will expect to receive a higher-quality product.

In line with this, specialty coffee shops and roasters need to make sure that their prices reflect the quality of the products they sell, as well as the quality of the experience they are providing.

The role of the barista

A large part of a barista’s job customer-facing. Anthony explains that this means the responsibility of building trust with the consumer largely lies with them.

“If the ultimate goal is to build trust and deliver on expectations, then more emphasis needs to be placed on moulding those expectations accurately in the first place,” he says. “For example, a barista can develop their skills to taste and describe coffee flavour and quality, so that they can better convey this information to other staff members.

“In turn, these staff members can then better educate consumers with informational cards and recommendations on how to drink certain coffee beverages,” he adds. “I see this being a much bigger focus in the years to come, and I look forward to seeing how creative coffee brands will be with these efforts.”

Baristas interact with customers at a Japanese coffee shop.

It may seem simple, but building trust with consumers is essential to any direct-to-consumer coffee business – whether they’re a coffee shop, roaster, or equipment manufacturer.

By taking the time to understand the unique expectations of different types of customers – and aiming to exceed these expectations – coffee companies have a much higher chance of improving brand loyalty and forming long, trusting purchasing relationships.

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on why specialty coffee must remember that convenience is everything.

Photo credits: Melbourne International Coffee Expo, World Coffee Events

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