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.
- 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.
- 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.