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Thou Shalt Love Thy Customer

September 30, 2009

I will be posting a “Best of STC” at the end of each month. Hopefully one that you haven’t seen yet. Here is one of my favorites. Enjoy!

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 our 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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13 Comments leave one →
  1. September 30, 2009 11:52 am

    Keep ’em comin’, Bradley! Old is new .. and faith refreshing.

    Every seems to think business is just business. You’ve busted the spiritual myth on that!

    You are God is a business suit! How totally awesome is that! 🙂
    You rock, brother.

  2. September 30, 2009 3:26 pm

    I hope I don’t get too weird on you here, Brad.

    I navigate the world in multiple roles. In all of them, I see myself as an ambassador of Jesus. Jesus is God. God is love.

    So when it comes right down to it, I see my business occupation as being a love ambassador to all the people God puts in my path. I like to exploit the fact that the English language is ambiguous and I don’t have to specify if my love is agape (unconditional), phileo (brotherly), or storge (among family) when I express love. (As you mentioned, eros is specifically excluded here.)

    Good customer service on behalf of the Lord means EVERYone receives love, a little or a lot. Although I’m not yet as bold as Carla, I like her example. I’m grateful for you sharing it. With the Lord’s leading and empowerment, I think I’m going to start emulating her, and be willing to express love in spoken words with more people.

    I’ve heard it argued that saying “I love you” too often can mitigate its impact. I’m not sure I buy that.

    You don’t hear that going to Starbucks too often desensitizes people from wanting to drink coffee.

  3. September 30, 2009 7:57 pm

    Amen! Love in 1 Corinthians is about patience, kindness, and authenticity. That’s really good business!

    As always, thanks for your insights, and the love that comes through your words. Pat McHenry Sullivan, Spirit and Work Resource Center

  4. September 30, 2009 9:52 pm

    I don’t mind saying that I am a HUGE Starbucks fan. It’s not a very “cool” admission nowadays, what with all the corporate evil that a lot of people associate with it. But they have a great product, a great business plan, and a fantastic way of engaging their customers.

    That was awesome, Bradley.

  5. nancy permalink
    October 1, 2009 12:07 am

    the ultimate connection

  6. October 1, 2009 7:23 am

    Interesting thoughts here Bradley, especially on the screw up part.

    Customers can turn into enemies once in a while. Be sure to love your enemies too.

  7. shrinkingthecamel permalink*
    October 1, 2009 5:29 pm

    Bonnie – God in a business suit?? Thanks for the love!

    Anne – I think it’s so cool the way you take these ideas so deeply into your life. You are my role model.

    Billy – A fellow Starbucks fan – YESSS! One of my board members knows where every Starbucks is within a 90 mile radius. And I thought I was bad.

    Pat- You summed it up so well . I Cor. is good business!

    Nance and Leon – Thanks for dropping by, guys!

  8. October 1, 2009 8:06 pm

    Love as Venti. And what a deal. Love in a cup, $4.50 (no tax?)

    Maybe we could riff on that.

  9. October 1, 2009 11:04 pm

    Bradley,

    Love is a good thing. I wrote an interesting piece on my blog entitled;

    “Happy Marriage 101: It’s Me Again Hun!” It is about love, specifically endurance and understanding.

    The problem with love, endurance, and understanding is that it constantly has to battle with sameness/monotony. Almost nothing threatens the solidarity and strength of a happy relationship than monotony (the milk drips off the spoon in the morning as you stare out the window with ‘what if’ on the brain’.

    Something to think about.

    Matthew

  10. October 2, 2009 6:12 pm

    Hi Bradley – I was recently introduced to you my Matthew Polkinghorne and he directed me to your blog. Matthew says we should be to know each other.

    This is the first post that I read and it is on non-romantic love, a topic that I write a lot about. Here is my latest entry on the topic from just last week. http://tinyurl.com/yer3dmg

    Coincidence – I think not for I don’t believe in Coincidences – I am glad that we are being brought together.

    Andrew

  11. Annie permalink
    October 4, 2009 7:52 pm

    It has been shared by a co-worker that he is financially in some straits due to the economy. Last week, he walked by my desk and I asked how he was doing. He replied, “I am hanging in there.” Without even a giving it a second thought I said, ‘You are on my prayer list.’ Abruptly, he turned and said, ‘That just made my day and now it is really good!’ Simple words…action of love…yea it works.

  12. October 28, 2009 2:30 am

    Bradley,

    Can I start out by saying that I am not sure I can trust someone that drinks 3/4 decaf? 😉

    Your post reminds me of the following verse …

    “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8

    We sin, or miss the mark, in our business dealings all the time. The same goes for relationships with our co-workers, friends, and family.

    If we make it our business to routinely make deposits into the love banks of others then when it comes time to make a withdrawal the check won’t bounce.

    In that respect, I think customer service is all about love.

    Brad

  13. shrinkingthecamel permalink*
    October 28, 2009 4:09 pm

    The bank account analogy is perfect. It’s a great way to think about our relationships at work!

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