Customer service does not occur in a vacuum. It is a dynamic. living thing where the customer, over time, is as important as the employee in enhancing, or destroying, fine attentive service.
Let me give an example. In 1989 Vivace opened a cart in the financial district of downtown Seattle at 5th and Union. I had counted pedestrian foot traffic at over 10,000 people/day walking past the corner and thought I can’t lose here it’s a “no-brainer”.
It was a very left brain analysis and completely devoid of any intuiition. If I had just stood on the corner with my eyes closed, smelling the diesel and hearing the roaring buses climbing past the courtyard, I would have run screaming from this “opportunity”. It was, and is, a dirty stressed out place in the city. No one with any artistry in their soul could work there….but I was all ego and ambition and thought of it a the shining center of Seattle.
Three years later we pulled the plug and built the Roasteria on Capitol Hill. In those three years I gained valuable experience in customer service. (Remember, experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you thought you wanted).
The lessons I learned are what this short essay is about. I worked morning shift before Taylor was born in 1991 and the first thing I noticed was a lack of loyalty. One day they buy my beautiful latte made with sweet espresso and topped with the heart shape from perfectly steamed milk , and the next day the same person would dash by with Charbucks or an SBC cup, and man that personally pissed me off.
Pretty soon no one on my staff wanted to work there. They would do it for Vivace but were clearly unhappy after the first year. We had problems with employee theft, showing up on time, abusing equipment, and running a sloppy cart. It just kept getting harder and harder and culminated with me hiring a opportunistic manager that tried to sue Vivace for a hostile work environment. (We won but not before gaining more “experience”). I thought I was in the wrong business for awhile.
Really, I just had a beautiful business concept in trhe wrong place. The district was largely inhabited by people that felt trapped in dead end jobs shuffling paper for the banks or working the teller lines. They were largely numb to the finer pleasures of life and took no joy in our lovely coffee.
As I have illuminated in my “Culture of Excellence” articles (see www.espressovivace.com/archives ) coffee at the top level can only be made by artistic people motived by the beauty that we find in the perfect extraction or latte art pattern. It is a culinary art first, but like the moves of a master sushi chef it is also performance art. These artists require audience appreciation to remain happy at work.
So my theory is that if you do not have appreciative customers you cannot run the bar, the whole thing just crumbles in your hands. The unhappy people at 5th and Union were vampires draining the joy out of myself and my staff. Location is not a numbers game in the city, it is all about finding happy people that are available for culinary experience.