Educating the customer

December 13th, 2008

Like most people I hate it when I go somewhere and they feel the need to educate me.  I hate being talked down to by whomever is serving me, I hate patronising and irrelevant information and I don’t really ever want to go back to that business again.  However – I love learning, I love being educated – not just about coffee but about anything really.

Does this contradict the goal we have in the coffee industry of trying to educate our consumers?  Whilst contradictory does the above make sense and ring true with any of you reading?

I think one of the gravest mistakes the speciality coffee industry makes is to try and forcefully educate its consumers, putting those of us behind the bar in the position of educator or teacher.  That mental balance of power is why “educating the consumer” often goes so wrong, with strong angry and adverse reactions to our efforts.

I think we need to change the goal, change the mindset around this interaction.  The goal isn’t just to create a consumer with a better understanding, it is to create a loyal consumer.  If you do a great job education is a lot about getting them to appreciate that.

Back to milk again – we fight the constant battle of customers wanting hotter drinks.  We often tell them that overheated milk doesn’t taste as good, and they often feel that they want their drink their way.  Once they understand that milk done this way is sweeter, tastier and feels nicer to drink they aren’t just educated – they are now extremely limited in their choices for where to go and get a good cappuccino.  That is the really great news.

I confess I take a little pride when people come back after an initial training course complaining that they can’t buy coffee anywhere anymore.  Everywhere they look they bad milk, bad technique, terrible and tasteless drinks.  They are now less price sensitive, educated and if I can put great milk drinks in front of them consistently I could well have a very happy customer for life, perhaps even the type of customer who becomes an ambassador for your business or in the term of Kevin Kelly – a true fan.

To turn it back to you being a customer again – think about the formal learning you’ve done, be it school or university or college.  Subject matter was important, but not as much as enjoying the process of education.  We all had teachers that changed our minds from hating a subject to loving it (and doing well in it too) and sadly vice versa.  What is it about those teachers that made their classes a pleasure?

Telling people that what they want is wrong is not education.

Telling people what you think is right and important is not education.

Showing a customer what is great about what you do, and how it matters to them is my kind of education.

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