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Thou Shalt Love Thy Customer

August 13, 2008

I love Starbucks. No, I really love Starbucks.

You need to know this about me.

It’s as if Howard Schultz had me specifically in mind when he built the store concept: the serious roast, the eclectic but ever-so-cool music, the aroma, the European Café beatnik ambience. And, Oh, how I love the coffee! Or, maybe it’s just the idea of me drinking coffee at Starbucks is what I love. In any case, I am to the point where I won’t, or can’t, drink anyone else’s coffee but Starbucks, which, I think, was their evil plan all along.

Getting a cup of Starbucks coffee is now a critical part of my daily routine. It’s built into the very fabric of my life. No matter where I am, even if I have to drive 45 minutes to find a local Starbucks to get my coffee, I’ll do it. Good for you, Howard Schultz. Luckily most of the time I don’t have to drive 45 minutes, because there is a Starbucks located just about every ½ mile in every direction from which I live. Which is just fine with me. Even if I don’t stop in, just driving by the Starbucks, seeing the green mermaid logo, and knowing it’s there to serve me whenever I might want a little java is a great comfort to me.

So for three minutes each and every morning, I stand in front of a barista and ask for a venti ¾ decaf. Then I add ½ skim and ½ whole milk to give it just the right color. All the while I am in a cool, hip, relaxing, inviting environment with great music playing in the background. And during that brief moment, I usually want to drop out of all the responsibilities of my life and just hang out for a while.

On to the spiritual-business lesson. As I was getting my morning cup of coffee the other day, I overheard one of the Baristas as she proceeded to establish a new and uncharted pinnacle of customer service. It was Carla, who is one of the long-term managers at my local Starbucks store. She’s great – she makes sure to know your name, she’s friendly, enthusiastic, always has a smile, and is very personable.

So there I was in line, going through my normal coffee routine, and I see Carla in the background taking orders for the drive through. She’s talking on one of those hands-free Britney-Spears headphone things, so I can only hear her side of the conversation. She’s going through the order-taking routine. It sounded like it was with a customer that she had developed a personal relationship with. Here’s what I heard:

“Is that you Barbara? I thought that was you! How was it down at the Shore?”

…………………

“Awesome!” (she says Awesome a lot)

………………….

“OK… Is that decaf? The usual?”

………………..

“Yeah, I know. That must have been great.”

…………………..

“All right hon, that’s $4.50”

The car drives up to the window and she conducts the transaction. I am also conducting mine at the indoor register. I pick up my precious venti coffee, and as I am walking over to the counter for milk, I hear Carla’s parting comment to the customer:

 “Ok, see you soon. I Love ya!”

 Did I hear that correctly? Carla said she loves her? She loves this customer? Are they really that close?

 Probably.

 How’s that for being customer-centric?

If my Starbucks experience wasn’t odd enough, I had another similar experience a couple weeks later. I was with the Chairman of my company, and we were meeting with the owner of another company that we are considering for an acquisition. We know this guy pretty well, so our conversation was fairly informal. As we discuss different aspects of his business, we eventually turn to customers: how to keep them happy, dealing with conflict, war stories about recovering from problems and mistakes that sometimes happen. And guess what he says, kind of casually, in passing?

“Yeah, you know, even if you screw up once in a while, as long as you have developed a relationship with your customer and they know that you really love them, it usually works out.”

 What? Love? You love your customers too?

He was dead serious.

Actually this makes some sense. Isn’t it true that love is the ultimate connection between spirituality and work? Obviously we are not talking romantic love here, but the every-day kind of love that says you care, you are committed to the others’ well-being, giving the best of yourself, being compassionate, caring, really wanting what’s best for them and trying to help them get there. Isn’t that kind of what Paul talks about in I Corinthians 13? Isn’t that more or less the main thing Jesus wants us to try to do more of? To everyone, including our customers? And probably the people we work with, too.

I know. It sounds weird. But actually, it’s pretty straightforward.

Because when you strip out all the formalities and strategies and jargon of doing business, at the end of the day we are all just needy human beings, after all. We all just want to be loved. And I’m thinking, wouldn’t that really lift everyone’s spirits at work, if we tried to love each other?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 14, 2008 2:12 pm

    Hey Brad,
    “Who loves ya baby”

  2. August 14, 2008 7:08 pm

    Yes, it would. Nice post, Bradley.

  3. August 15, 2008 3:01 am

    I can totally relate to this post because I say love a TON and people always give me that weird look (the one I imagined you gave Carla as I read lol).

    In fact, here’s what I LOVE about your post: Starbucks addiction, Carla, the fact that your coffee has a “right color,” and spiritual business lessons from Starbucks!

  4. January 11, 2009 11:50 am

    Greetings! Visiting because of High Calling’s post on the best of 2008. This is great, but what about those “difficult” customers? 🙂 Actually, I see this played out weekly at my daughter’s small, private high school. The kids tell each other “I love you” constantly, even shout it across campus. You can bet that every student there “feels the love” and thrives because of it. So, how awesome to think about bringing that love into the workplace. Thanks for the post.

    P.S. I think Carla deserves a letter of commendation submitted on her behalf to the Starbucks company.

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