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Coffee, Customer Service, & Corporate Transparency

Written by Mark Hammer

I like coffee.

I don’t mean that when coffee’s around, I’ll drink it. I used to drink regular American coffee. Black. And some days I’d have four or five cups. Then I started dating my German wife and found cappuccino. Coffee became somewhat of an obsession – finding good espresso with the just right flavors (and if I admit it, the right colors and texture), squeezing the thickest crema from the beans, frothing the milk just right so that the whole drink is the perfect creaminess…

Once you have the right equipment (and that’s an investment and a process in itself), finding the right beans is critical. I searched all over Austin for good beans. I think I tried nearly every roaster and grocer in town. And then I found the holy grail of beans – the best espresso beans I’d ever had. There was only one catch: the roaster’s customer service.

I first encountered these beans at a coffee shop. I ordered a cappuccino and quickly pronounced it the best cappuccino I’d ever had. I asked what the beans were and the barista told me. I looked up the roaster and found that they had a retail location near downtown. The next day, I visited it and asked for three 8 ounce bags. The woman working the counter told me they only had one and “you really should treat coffee beans like bread anyway. Buy as much as you can use for five days, then come back for more. Otherwise, your beans will go bad.”

As helpful as others may have found that advice, I wasn’t really in the mood for a lecture. Additionally, I wanted three 8oz bags; not one. I bought the one, despite the attitude of the person working there, and was back a few days later for more. When I arrived the second time, I was told they were out of beans.

“You’re not out of beans,” I said. “I can see larger bags behind you. Can I just buy one of those?”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “Those are for the store to brew.”

At this point, I was pretty angry. Why keep beans for the store if you can sell them? Was there a reason to favor those drinking coffee in the store over those wanting beans?

I then took my questions to social media, but rather than broadcasting my frustration with the Twittersphere (public humiliation wasn’t my goal), I tweeted a request for the coffee shop to follow me so that I could send direct messages to them. They quickly responded. And I learned a bit.

What I learned was that the company was trying to expand but were having trouble keeping up with demand. They were now selling beans in several Whole Foods stores, one of which was closer to my house than the retail location. I also learned that their retail location gets shipments in on Wednesday and Friday afternoons, so that’s the best time to get beans there. The person tweeting was extremely helpful and even tweeted a photo of three bags he was having the store set aside for me, with my name on them.

Suddenly, I was less angry. I appreciated knowing the company was having issues. Learning when they receive their coffee each week helped me plan visits to the store, but I didn’t need to make the trip anymore after learning that I could get it at a location even closer to my house.

The experience left me with a newfound appreciation for company transparency. Now I’m challenging myself about how to better bring this transparency to our customers.

You may also be interested in checking out our eBook, “Social Customer Care: How to Use Social Media to Improve Customer Support.” It explores reasons for adding social care to your customer service programs and provides tips from industry experts on how to get there.

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