August 31, 2012

My Education Platform

A lot of bandwidth is spent discussing how we should "educate" customers - or for that matter, whether we should at all. There are multiple schools of thought here, with valid arguments to each. Basically, my thoughts come down to this: Tell them what they want to know, no more, and try not to seem like a condescending jerk.

The trick to that, of course, is to bait them in to wanting to know more. Assuming that bribery is out of the question, how do we foster this?

First of all, let's return to that thing about not being a condescending jerk. When a customer asks how you drew that leafy thing on their latte, or why a regular macchiato is nothing like Starbucks' famous caramel drizzled version, answer directly, simply, and politely. Don't take it as an opportunity to mock them, or as the set-up to your punchline. Trust me, I know it can be tempting, but no one wants to be the victim of a barista's bad stand up routine.

This also means that we shouldn't answer questions that aren't asked, or volunteer too much information. Lecturing someone for ordering a vanilla cappuccino when they really wanted a vanilla latte is not a good look, and only serves to perpetuate the "barista as asshole" archetype.

In both of these cases, whether it be "stupid" questions or incorrect ordering, we should first look to our menus. Is their enough information for customers to know what they're ordering? Is it clean, clear, and legible? If not, we're only widening the communication gap, and forcing these awkward exchanges to take place.

Menu boards can also be used to foster conversation, and thus more comfortable questioning, by including what I affectionally call random crap. It's something I've adopted recently, and the results have been fun. What's more, it's incredibly easy to do: Take a chalkboard, and write some sort of trivia (either as a statement or question) on it, either coffee related or not. At best, you can use this to seamlessly insert bits of coffee knowledge in to the customer's experience and strike up a conversation; at worst, it's merely ignored.

Finally, as always, we have to have good product. No one will - or should - treat you as a valid resource on coffee if you can't make good coffee.

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