When ‘good’ service is bad

Posted on February 25, 2011

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Fancy a coffee?

Coffee anyone?

On my daily walk into work I occasionally sojourn in a coffee shop.  Partly this is because I quite like the idea of a coffee, but mostly this is because I am lazy and the thought of breaking up the journey appeals to me.

That said, I have yet to find a coffee shop which I actually want to stay in for more than the time it takes for me to order (after deciphering their ridiculous sizes / names etc) and receive my coffee.  To get to the point (that’s not like me is it?), I just don’t feel very comfortable or welcome in these places.  Maybe it’s because your quintessential coffee shop patron wears a polo neck and tight black jeans combination and I feel comparatively uncool and unsophisticated. Actually, people that wear that kind of garb aren’t cool at all and they invariably have coffee breath, so they can stick their impossibly hip Jack Kerouac novel/Independent paper back in their clutch purse/man bag and go back to whichever shop sold them their ridiculous leather bag.

So, that’s part of the story why I don’t especially like coffee shops, but  I think the nub of my issue is their interpretation of good service, which always serves to ostracise  me.

Take the Starbucks on Bristol Bridge (I’ve mentioned them before now), they were my first option to get coffee on my walks.  That was until they irritated me with their impersonation of sincere good service.  Let me explain.

You see, Starbucks Bristol Bridge is a little different to the average Starbucks.  They’ve built up a loyal following who visit on a daily basis and they even refer to this elite group by name – yes they’ve memorised them, something I’ll talk about with reference to another coffee shop shortly.   The trouble is that if you are not in “the circle of trust” you are treated like a second class citizen.  I’ve been to this coffee shop a lot and yet do I ever get the personal treatment?  No.

Maybe they don’t like me.  That’s fair enough, although actually it isn’t – what have I ever done to them, except point out that “Grande” isn’t medium in any language I know?  I don’t want to be made to feel unliked on my walk into work – there’s enough of that when I get into work.   I don’t want to be their friend either, just serve me the coffee thanks.  They are the ones who have elevated this interaction above the simple transaction by having “friends” which they favour over your average Joe like me.   The trouble is that relationships aren’t based on transactions, just ask Hugh Grant if you want a deeper explanation here.

I really shouldn’t be bothered by this, but they can’t help but rub my face in the dirt by reinforcing my place at the bottom of the pile.  Take the time when they had run out of the little sleeves that stop you scolding your hands on the hot coffee. How did they handle this you ask?  Well, what they did was double cup the drinks of their “friends”.  What a kind gesture, except of course if you receive your coffee in a single cup, like I did.  What are they trying to say there: “We hate you, please burn your hands and leave our establishment.”?

To make matters worse, I discussed this establishment with a colleague who I knew frequented this Starbucks and he agreed that they make you feel unwanted by the sickly ingratiating behaviour they enact for their favoured patrons.  Can you imagine my disgust the following Tuesday when I saw my colleague enter the store, only to be greeted, “Morning Stewart, the usual is it?”.  I’ve never been back!  Actually I have, damn my inconsistent behaviour and the lack of a decent alternative.

Which brings me onto Baristas.

Baristas

Can I have a lump of insincerity with my coffee please?

This establishment is also on my walk into the office so I thought I’d give them a go.  Their approach is a more believable version of the Starbucks experience, but it still has its faults.

When you order your coffee they ask you your name.  Simple you’d think, but not if you have a slight Scottish lilt to your accent it seems.  I must admit, the first time they asked me this question I was really tempted to reply, “Geronimo” and as it transpires I wish I had.  I replied “Neil”, to which the barista responded “Nehuh”, so I repeated “Neil” and she said, “yes Nehe”.

Okay, so not a great start – you’ve succeeded in making me feel like I speak like Col. Gaddafi, I bet he wouldn’t stand for it – but I let it slide and I waited patiently and quietly for my coffee.  I bet you’re one step ahead of me and have worked out how they let you know your coffee is ready.  That’s right, they shout your name out.   Not only that, they do it in a way that suggests they know you and are already your friend.  At least Starbucks doesn’t fake that bit.

So, when my time came the helpful barista shouted out “Neve, coffee for Neve”.  You can imagine the reaction of the uber trendy folks in the coffee shop when I went to collect my coffee.  Actually, I suspect they were a little jealous and were thinking of an equally progressive name they could go by because I got a few acknowledging nods of the heads from the people that didn’t have their heads stuck in something hopelessly pretentious.

Now on my walk to work I don’t buy a coffee.  There is a third alternative called “The Rocking Chair Cafe”, however whoever runs it can’t be bothered to open up until 9:30am, so I’ve never tried them out and I give them a few weeks until they go out of business.

Is there a moral to this tale?  Only I suppose that marketing goes beyond the Four P’s of product, price, place and promotion and always lives or dies by the People involved in the business.  That and I suppose I’m never going to be a coffee shop person and I am quite proud of that very fact, they’ve all got smelly breath and crap clothes anyway.

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Posted in: Marketing