Do we live in an overly customized culture?

Amy (@amynicsmith) 8 years, 9 months ago

People who know me might describe me as a coffee addict. I prefer the term “connoisseur”—but that’s beside the point. Point blank: I love coffee. I drink it almost every day. (Okay, you got me. Not “almost”. I drink it EVERY day.)

And call me crazy, but a part of what I love about coffee is visiting the coffee shop to get it. There’s a unique joy in the awaited anticipation, the sound of fresh steamed milk, the whole indie-hipster-coffee-shop-vibe, and the taste of a hot latte on my palette. It’s one of my favorite simple pleasures.

I’ve been a coffee and coffee shop connoisseur for a long time. I’ve visited hundreds of venues and carts. In fact, coffee is what got me through college. Over the course of 4 years, I worked at 3 different coffee shops, making thousands of beverages and serving thousands of people of all types.

Not to toot my own horn, but I feel confident in saying I know good coffee. And I know good customer service. At least I think I do.

Let me tell YOU—last month, I visited a small coffee shop in Downtown Denver twice (I’ll refrain from using the name. You’re welcome, coffee nazi’s). Here are what my experiences were like:

Experience #1:

Me: Hi. I’ll have a small cappuccino with a splash of mocha.

Coffee Guy: We don’t do that.

Me: (Raised eyebrow) Uh, Really? Why?

Coffee Guy: Because we don’t put mocha in cappuccinos. It’s not how a cappuccino is supposed to be.

Me: Well, I’ll pay extra I don’t mind. It just tames the intense espresso taste.

Coffee Guy: Nope, you can get a latte with mocha. Not a cappuccino.

My inner voice: LISTEN, A**WHIPE. I AM THE CUSTOMER! DID YOU HAVE A BOWL OF CAPTAIN CRABBY’S THIS MORNING? I’M PAYING YOU! PUT THE MOCHA IN THE STINKIN’ DRINK!

Me: Okay, well I guess I’ll get it without mocha…(shoulders slumped)

Experience #2:

Me: Hi. I’ll have a double espresso to go.

Coffee Guy: We don’t do double espressos to go.

Me: (Oh, gosh not again) Umm, really? Why?

Coffee Guy: Because it compromises the coffee. Espresso is meant be sipped here.

Me: Well, I’ll pay extra for the to-go cup. I’ll sip it right away. I just have to be back to work.

Coffee Guy: Nope, you can get a latte to go. Not espresso.

My inner voice: REALLY?! AGAIN? MY GOODNESS, I’M NOT ASKING YOU TO DO AN EXOTIC TRIBAL DANCE, DUDE. JUST GIVE ME SOME ESPRESSO.

Me: Okay, well I guess I’ll get a latte…(rolled eyes)

After uttering some profanities in my car, the higher (more mature) version of myself started thinking.

I am deeply wired to think that the customer is always right. Who can blame me? In our culture, that value is the nexus of any retail or service business. And as consumers, we are conditioned to believe that we should get what we want—no matter what.

Heck, my customers at Starbucks used to order lattes with 10 Splenda packets…Did I look to them and say “um, we don’t do that cause it tastes like crap”. No. I gave them what they wanted and moved on. Yeah, it compromised the product (10 Splenda’s will ruin just about anything), but who cares, right? If it makes em’ happy.

Maybe.

Here are my questions: Should businesses compromise the integrity of their product and/or tweak their “values” to meet the unique needs of customers (Within reason of course)? Or should they stay firm and strong in their convictions—even if they have to turn away customers?

Even more, do we live in an overly-customized culture, where we expect to get exactly what we want when we want? If so, is that healthy?

I’d love your opinion on this!

March 1, 2013 at 12:14 pm
Anonymous (328) (@) 8 years, 9 months ago ago

Seems like you and Mr. Nazi bartender have more in common than you may think. :]

“Or should they stay firm and strong in their convictions—even if they have to turn away customers?”
Yes, I think it’s bad to spoil people into thinking like little princesses. If service is really bad, people simply wouldn’t go. That compared to giving arrogant people moments of grandeur, even if they are completely in the wrong.

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