It doesn’t Costa lot to deliver considerate service.

I arrived early for a meeting with a local authority, as I often do.  I decided to kill an hour checking over my presentation and generally catching up on some work in Costa Coffee.

I’m in the queue, everything is going fine.  The lady in front asked for a large tea, the staff member that had a nice bubbly personality said, “did you mean a large or a tea pot.”  For less experienced Costa Coffee drinkers, a large tea is the size of a hot tub with a handle on either side.  The staff member grabbed a large cup and showed the lady, who inevitably opted for a tea pot instead.  The experience was nice and fun, with the staff member comparing the cup to a bath, to the amusement of everyone involved.


What impressed me was that the staff member didn’t assume, or  take the “That’s what you ordered” approach, therefore exonerating herself from what would have been a poor decision by the customer.  Instead, she used her experience to check and make sure the customer got the right product.

This is all sounding pretty basic I know.  Let’s carry on.

Next customer was me, I also wanted a tea and opted immediately for the tea pot.  The staff member was waving her hand in front of her face, assumably hot – not overwhelmed by my charm.  “A bit warm in there?” I asked…we chatted for a moment only to be interrupted by the ‘Barista’ “skinny milk or normal?” “Skinny” I said.  At this point he abruptly plonked the tea pot onto the tray, with a good 1/3 of the pot tipping out through the spout, followed by the cup and small jug of milk.  Assuming I’d want the receipt, perhaps by my business attire, the cashier kindly printed it off and placed it on top of the water puddle that was gathering on the tray.

This is sounding very much like a ‘first world problem’, but there are two important lessons we can take form the interaction.

  1. The cashier personalised the experience, for me and the customer before me.  It was memorable, fun, away from a typically scripted approach and thus more engaging.  For the brief 45 second encounter I felt that I know her a little, and I am more than a beverage order on legs.
  2. The way the tea was served by the barista, devalued the product and the overall experience.

I recall a story I was told by a sales rep in the FMCG sector, he sold Jam’s and Chutneys to large supermarket chains.  In the buying call, he would dust the the jars, wipe the lids with a cloth before carefully handing them over to the client.  These £1 products were presented as if they were a luxury piece of jewellery.  The process was designed to add value to the product, and it works.

Costa make pleasant tea and coffee, but charge a premium for the experience.  We are charged between £2-£3 for the opportunity to shop or consume drinks here.  I can buy an equally pleasant cup of tea for 99p elsewhere, but would assumably sacrifice £2 worth of experience, based on Costa’s pricing strategy,

Back to my tea pot and tray.  Water from the tea pot is now sloshing all over the tray and is being soaked up by the receipt I wanted to keep.  This seemingly trivial incident has broader implications:

  • I end up with water on the table
  • I want to use my laptop for some work
  • I will inevitably drip water on my suit trousers, prior to an important meeting with the Policy Board of a District Council.

Of course I can clear this up myself, and did – but it does take a lot of little costa paper serviettes to soak up 1/3 of a tea pot.

Did the Barista give any of this a second thought when serving me – No, because I was an ‘order’ not a ‘person’.  In his mind his job never transcends beyond deliver of a warm drink.

He could learn a lot from his colleague.


Proactive retail selling.

Location: Carphone Warehouse, Selfridge’s London

I’m a big fan of Selfridges London and a moderate fan of Carphone Warehouse, who are one of the better all brand mobile phone retail chains.  So when Carphone Warehouse opened a concession in Selfridges, I had the perception that the experience would be pretty impressive.

“Can I show you this case” the sales assistant asked rhetorically, as he started his demonstration.  Like a market trader in a holiday resort, the concession’s idea of increasing footfall appeared to centre around accosting unsuspecting browsers to endure a silicon case demo.

“The skin comes in 4x colours” he went on to say, seizing the opportunity of my politeness choosing not to ignore him.  He gestured in the loose direction of his concession, that was hidden behind the computer concessions display of Apple MacBooks.  Having recognised from my body language that I wasn’t heading in that direction, he decided to demonstrate how effective the phone ‘skin’ was.  Peeling it back from the phone, he showed me a crack on the top right hand corner of the screen.  “I’ve dropped this phone lots of times” he confessed, “and I only have this small crack, if I didn’t have this case, I would have probably broken my phone”.

Broken phone, better sales approach would have worked

I smiled; for two reasons: firstly I was amused by his sales pitch, and secondly based on his sales pitch I suspected his conversion rate was relatively low and some encouragement would probably be welcome.  “It’s ok buddy” I said “I’ve got a case, but thank you”.

It wasn’t clear who he worked for at that stage, he was wearing black and a Selfridges badge, but was clearly employed by a concession – although most customers would be unaware of this until they got to the till.  I took a long walk round to his concession, to realise it was indeed Carphone Warehouse.

OK, so what can we learn from this brief encounter?

1: I’m not sure we should be jumping on customers unsolicited in this manner.

Shopping would be very tiresome if every brand or seller jumped on us as we passed their stand or shopfront. The exception to this would be when we have something incredibly new, amazing, ground breaking or interesting to share, which may enrich my life or make me a little more interesting on the next outing with the guys.  In this instance, I question whether a silicon skin/case meets this criteria.

That said, with some preparation and theatre we could have made the case demonstration more exciting and interesting.  If as I walked passed, he placed the phone on the floor and stamped on it, or invited me to hit it with a giant mallet it would grab my attention.  He may have gone on to demonstrate that the device still worked by asking me to enter my email address.  Had he, a number of things would have ensued:

  • I’d be entertained, the novelty element of my brain would have lit up like a Christmas tree.  This isn’t something you see every day!
  • I’d be impressed, he let me hit his phone with a mallet and it still works
  • I’d start to like the salesman, he let me hit his phone.  He trusted me, now I am more likely to trust him.
  • I’m involved, not just physically but mentally and emotionally.  It was now my demo, not his, and we know involvement is also very persuasive.

2: Showing or admitting to minor flaws and addressing them with practical compromises or rationale can be very persuasive.  For example, at Kerching Retail we are only a small team, that is a perceived weakness.  However, this means you always get our best consultants working on your business, not the intern.

Demonstrating that the phone cracked it’s screen whilst in a protective case is not a minor flaw, but a fundamental one.  I’m not in the market for a case that limits damage, I need it to eliminates damage.

3: Qualifying customers.  Did I have a need for this case? Perhaps, or I may have needed it for my girls or wife.  A couple of questions may have changed the entire dynamic of the interaction.  “Can I see your phone please sir, and your current case?”  He would have immediately seen I use a Tech21 Impactology case, to protect against frequent and frustrating habit of dropping my phone whilst multi-tasking, typically – in my office, in shopping malls, and more often than not – on a Shopfit site.  “I see your phone’s safety is important to you, are there any other phones in your household?…” Its easy to see where the conversation may have led from this.

In Summary: Although a pretty ineffective demo, there is scope to create a memorable and engaging experience with a little practice, preparation and theatre.