Crappy Systems – The Reason Why Good Service Is So Elusive

March 15, 2013

Why is it so hard to get good service in a coffee shop in Reno at 7:30 am on a Friday morning? Last week I had an unacceptable service encounter at Starbucks. This morning I once again was near that same Starbucks, and instead of going for the convenient experience, I drove out of my way to a locally owned coffee shop as a matter of principle.

When I entered the store, the customer in front of me was just finishing his order. There were three employees in the store – one taking orders and making coffee and two visible from the front counter preparing baked goods and other food. The owner was not in the store at the time.

I ordered a muffin and a latte. The friendly service provider handed me my muffin and then finished making the specialty drink for the customer in front of me. As he was delivering that drink to the customer seated in the lobby, two more customers entered the store. These were regular customers and each was greeted by name. The service provider then proceeded to fill both of their orders BEFORE he made the latte I had ordered and paid for prior to them entering the store. I stood and watched as both food and drip coffee was ordered, paid for, and delivered to two regular customers. Only then was my latte prepared and presented.

As the service provider was serving the second regular customer, he called for help from the two folks preparing food. One of them replied loud enough that I could hear it that she was busy making food; however, she came over to help even though it was easy to see she was not happy about having to do so.

thumbs-downThis was a clear service failure and more of a crappy system than crappy people issue. There was no one “managing” the service encounter that morning. The person in the back preparing food should have been trained to jump in and help with a smile without being asked. When you are busy, it takes two people to take orders, prepare food, and prepare specialty drinks. One person simply cannot provide impressive customer service when the store is even slightly busy. If they know they do a considerable volume in drip coffee for regulars early in the morning, then they could set up a separate system where those customers could serve themselves and maybe even leave payment. I got crappy service this morning because of failures in staffing, training, design, and management, not because the young man serving me had a bad attitude. He failed me because the system failed him.

Shame I got treated differently than regular customers this morning. They don’t know my name, but they also don’t know I told over 100 students this semester alone that I frequent this business and like it; they don’t know that I wrote them a favorable Yelp! review over a year ago; they don’t know that I’ve even mentioned them favorably by name on this website in another blog post.

And they won’t know me, because I will never show my face in that business again. I work hard for what little money I have, and I want to spend it with local business people. I have reasonable expectations for service (e.g. finish my order before you start the next one), and when those expectations are not met, I always complain as a matter of principle. I sent the owner an e-mail this morning to alert her of my bad experience, and while she was very kind and receptive, her people did not tell her the whole story, so I came off looking unreasonable. Service recovery failure…. that’s enough for me to know I need to spend my money somewhere else.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Comments (8)

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  1. Jesse Stoner says:

    Bad customer service directly affects the bottom line – customers don’t return and there are higher costs associated with higher employee turnover. When leaders realize that in this age of instantaneous communication stories of poor service spread like wildfire, maybe they’ll begin to pay attention. I also have a Starbucks gold card (meaning I am a frequent customer), but your story affected me and recently I chose to go to a different coffee shop instead as a result.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Sorry for the slow reply, Jesse! I think your point is right no. Any business owner that is sleeping through the big social business changes going on right now is making a big mistake. Thanks! Bret

  2. Eric Norman says:

    What a pity. To me, your observations and response appear to be right on. Life is short and we need to make the most of our time and efforts. Some times I wonder if “the customer is always right” going out of style? It does not sound like the manager made an effort to win you back. It’s a pity because she has not simply lost one customer, but a whole slew of potential customers since I suspect you will no longer recommend that Starbucks.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Eric. Slow service is one thing. When I get slow service, I usually simply don’t return. But to watch customers that entered the store after I paid leave before me is something that rarely happens. The owner did make an effort, but frankly I’ve never gotten fast service there, and the parking lot is a nightmare. There are just too many other options.. thanks, Bret

  3. Hi.
    So here is my thought. You said, “I sent the owner an e-mail this morning to alert her of my bad experience, and while she was very kind and receptive, her people did not tell her the whole story, so I came off looking unreasonable.”
    My question to you is, why did you send the owner an email? You apparently have enjoyed your prior experiences at this business. Why would you not take the time to reach out in person or via telephone to the owner?
    Our worlds have become snapshots instead of the multi-image movies they should be. Think what a positive impact you might have made had you truly connected with the business owner.
    It is easy to find fault in any business -in any person. The courage is to do the right thing and kindly engage the person and attempt to make a difference. Email never will replace personal communication, especially for having a positive impact.
    Yes, the service you describe was lacking. But I find it interesting that you don’t seem to have had that kind of experience prior to this occurrence, yet you chose to write off the business based on this one event. I find it hard to believe that you are able to effectively offer the services you suggest on this site; but then again, I am judging based on this one occurrence. Hardly seems fair, does it?
    Thanks for the time.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Michael. I appreciate your very valid thoughts. What I don’t say in the post is I’ve never been thrilled about the service I got there. It’s always been slow, but this day it was also rude. The owner and I exchanged numerous emails so I gave her a lot of my time. I guess I just come from a different perspective – it’s not the customer’s responsibility to be satisfied, but the owner’s responsibility to ensure systems are designed to consistently deliver impressive service. Thanks! Bret

  4. Chris says:

    Too bad they lost a good customer who is capable of either helping or hurting them.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Chris. Yea, I was helping and they never knew it. Now they will be an example in every class I teach, and while I did not name them online, if asked in class I will identify the business. Thanks! Bret