Customer Service Case Study: Personalized Communication and the Coffee Wars

Want to know what makes an effective customer service strategy? Ask any one of the Fortune 1000 companies and they’ll tell you—it’s building relationships of empathy and goodwill with your customers.

In a study published in the Journal of Business Communciation, L. S. Williams reported that the common factor uniting all Fortune 1000 companies is that their online communications all emphasize personalized relationships with consumers, using expressions of goodwill and a first-person point of view (we/our) to help the audience identify with the company.

This revealing fact offers a lesson for how we approach communications with customers that aim to resolve problems or rectify complaints. As communication with customers becomes more and more digitally mediated (through websites, e-mail, SMS, social media), companies run the risk of losing the personal touch. Consumers begin to see a corporation as a soulless entity—not a collection of people. Certainly not people like them.

Personalizing your communication brings the human element back into your relationships with consumers. Your customers are looking for understanding. Reminding them that there’s a person on the other end of that e-mail or text builds goodwill and brand loyalty. When it comes to resolving customer complaints, this reassures the customer that you care about their needs, not just your bottom line—and it can make all the difference in their perception of your brand.

Let’s see what an impact the personal touch (or lack thereof) can make to your interactions with unhappy customers. Shannon B. of San Carlos recently vented her dissatisfaction with the poor customer service she experienced when visiting a location of a large Bay Area coffee chain:

“Since I visit this neighborhood regularly, I’ve given this particular location plenty of opportunities to disappoint me. You might enjoy this place…but only if you manage to overlook the constant employee jabbering about their late nights at the bar and pretend not to notice them whispering inappropriate comments about their customers. Just today, the staff was so rude that I finally had to yelp my experience.”

Shannon capped her review with a one-star rating. Ouch.

Many customers like Shannon don’t jump to post a negative review—they just don’t feel they have any other way to communicate with a business. Shannon got frustrated when it seemed like no one was listening—no one was doing anything to address the lack of professionalism she observed in staff.

Let’s look at how another coffee shop, a small Bay Area chain, was able to defuse a similar situation before it tanked their online rep.

This is a real conversation that Lily, a corporate manager for the coffee chain, had with a concerned customer via OwnerListens:

Customer: The baristas were talking about totally inappropriate things when I was ordering. I get that they are having fun but I came here for a business lunch. Very unprofessional.

Lily: We are so sorry that this unprofessional behavior was present at your business lunch. It’s not at all what we expect from our baristas. We appreciate you letting us know so we can talk to the team right away. Have a lovely day. Lily

Customer: Hi Lily, thanks for getting back to me. Yeah, I was quite surprised myself. I used to visit [your establishment] at least twice a week. That experience is the single reason I have not returned to [any of your locations] since and have taken all my biz coffee meetings elsewhere in SF – I can’t risk having biz meetings ruined bc of stuff like this. However, your personal response has encouraged me to try again—I just moved my 11 am meeting to your SoMa location. I hope to become a loyal customer again and thanks for reaching out to me.

When this customer was unhappy, the one-on-one conversation enabled by OwnerListens allowed Lily to

  • Empathize with the customer
  • Promise to act on the feedback to address the problem
  • Assure the customer that she was valued
  • Ultimately resolve the customer’s concerns discreetly and assure future patronage

Lily’s prompt, personalized response assured this patron that the management cares about her individual experience and is committed to offering amazing service to each and every customer. What started as a negative experience actually opened the door to communication, allowing Lily to connect with her customer and reinforce a positive relationship.

Not only did OwnerListens help the small chain prevent a negative online review and troubleshoot issues in employee performance, it enabled the leadership team to turn an employee mishap into an opportunity to increase customer loyalty.


Photo Credit: Andreas Kollegger via Compfight cc

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