December 2nd, 2008

Never has a word or an idea so destroyed the good intentions of many cafes, and wrecked an owner’s confidence in their own product.

Over the last few years I’ve done a lot of very varied barista training.  The vast majority of people I met were having their first introduction to brewing coffee carefully and well.  I hope this isn’t an arrogant statement – most of us grew up, myself included, with a “coffee’s just coffee” mentality that had to be shattered at some point when we realised it was a fresh food of variable quality that we could influence through preparation.

Milk texture is the “a-ha” moment for a lot people.  The first time they sip a cappuccino with thick, tight-knit bubbles, with that velvety texture and surprising sweetness a penny drops and they get a little bit excited at how good coffee can be.

Then something terrible happens.  They start worry about their customers expectations.

“This doesn’t look like my normal cappuccino, my customers expect something a bit frothier.”

And that person is right – their customers do.

Let’s re-assess expectations for a moment:  If I chose to eat out in a restaurant in a touristy location in London, let’s say Leicester Square, I expect an average meal, with poor service and an extortionate bill.  Meeting my expectations is not a good thing.  As a consumer I want you to exceed them.

If I walk into a cafe chosen at random then I will likely expect to be served that sea-foam, dry and overheated cappuccino that we see in marketing every day, on tv, on billboards and in lots of other cafes.  Lots of cafes meet my expectations – and those of their customers – but it is worth remembering that those expectations have been set pretty low after years and years of pretty poor coffee being normal.

I think meeting customers expectations has been reinforced by the idea that the customer is always right.

The customer is not always right.

The customer should always be treated with respect, intelligence and made to feel welcome and looked after within your business.  This does not mean that we should bend to their every whim.  I’ve been wrong as a customer countless times, and I will be in the future.

Going to the Fat Duck and expecting roast chicken is wrong.  Asking for your Big Mac medium rare is wrong.  Asking for espresso to go is wrong.

There is a way to say no to me as a customer and to exceed my expectations of you and your business.  I can walk out satisfied and (more importantly) likely a new, loyal 1 for your business.

The benefits of exceeding someone’s expectations are huge, and in an economic climate where business are looking for a competitive edge then offering something different and desirable has rewards that more than compensate the risk.

  1. Customer loyalty, and education, are another topic I want to look at in a future post  ↩︎

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