Saturday, August 1, 2015

Customer Service in Coffee: Apply the B.A.R.I.S.T.A techniques for a continued success to the business by retaining Customers.

Without Customers, there will be NO Customer Service but with NO (or POOR) Customer Service, you will end up with NO Customers.

The success of a specialty coffee business is highly dependent on the consumer demand on a single product - very good coffee! This article will not cover much (or at all) on quality of the actual beverage served but take a reversed focus that continued success also depend on the ability of Cafe Owners and/or Managers in anticipating, identifying and responding to a Customer needs. After all, any business has only one chance to make a good impression. A Coffee Shop is no exception!

Connect, Discover and Respond

In the earlier stage of my career as a young Barista trying to cut my teeth into the industry, I attended a compulsory Communication Skills module with Starbucks Coffee. It left such a lasting impression that until today, I hold on to it and apply this steps in approaching a conversation. Connecting to a customer genuinely, Discovering what they want quickly and Responding by recommending and serving the right beverage to them. It became a 'Starbuck language' and as a manager running a shift with timid Barista who are introverts, my favourite instructions will always be, " Guys, CDR please" and just like that, conversations take place. 
It is a step by step procedures and there is no way Barista can take shortcuts. After all, we can never Respond with the correct order if  we fail to Connect in the first place! Using the letters that make up the word BARISTA, I like to deconstruct my learning and understanding of CDR by simplifying the steps in helping my employees, colleagues and fellow peers in the industry to put the ghost of customer service excellence behind them.


Connect through BAR - 
Most if not all of us are in a relationship. No matter if the relationship is that between a couple, mother to son or colleagues within a company, it is build from effective communication and trust. Without it, there can be no successful relationship.

So in communicating effectively, start off with a warm greeting that is nothing but Genuine and Welcoming. Make an effort to know their names and if they are already regulars, ask how is their day.   Befriend all of your customers because during bad times, friends don't leave you. Before you know it, shitty shifts in days where barista don't turn up and the queue gets long are made easy when these customers turn friends start going around tables helping to clear the empty cups and even some of them jumping into the back of the bar and start to pull shots. (and i dedicate this to a certain Mr James Tan, Mr Aaron Ang and many others that I have befriended in my course of duty.)

(B.A.R)I.S(T.A) - Ask a lot of "INTERACTIVELY SMART" Questions

Discover through IS - 
Ask conversational questions that allow the communication to flow and at the same time, just enough for you to Discover what your customers want. Everybody comes to a Cafe needing a jolt of caffeine boost but individual interperation of coffee differs from one and it is our job to help them discover their needs. Of course you are doing it wrong if you spend more than 5 minutes in the cash register attending to the same customer (and in horror, still not getting their order right!) Conversations are fine as long as it is kept short and friendly.

So what is an example of a conversational question that is Interactively Smart? Here are a few pointers to get started vs non-conversational ones:-

1) "It is such a warm day today and you look like you need an icy cold brewed coffee before I get you started with your regular cappuccino. Will you like it with milk or black?" vs "Can i get you a cold brew?" (and for that the reply will be either Yes or No and the conversation hangs there.)

2) "How do you like your coffee?" vs "Will you like a coffee?"

3) "What do you think about the Colombia La Joyeria which has notes of pineapple, butterscotch and milk chocolate as a Cappuccino?" vs "Do you like your Cappuccino in a single origin or a blend?"

4) "I don't think I have seen you around before so do you mind sharing with me how you usually have your coffee? I have to add though, that our Colombia San Pascual is tasting so heavenly today!" vs "Can i have your order?"

And if you have not even realised, the four questions above has just done enough for you to reflect your friendly character to the customer, building a relationship and discovering what they need all under thirty seconds.

Respond through TA - 
How many times have you or your staffs spend minutes connecting and trying to discover what your customers need only to be left high and dry without ringing a sale and/or not having the customer to come back again even though he or she enjoyed the coffee to the very last drop? If it happens a lot of times, most probably you have failed in your responses.

A good respond after first taking the steps of connecting and discovering is to Take Action (and the right one) in meeting your customer needs. These actions must be correlated to what was in the conversation earlier like making them a iced latte when their need is a cold coffee with milk rather than making them a ice long black or worse still, a hot latte. If you did not even get an order in the first place, it could be probably because you have forgotten to ask for the sale, like asking "Will you be having it here or takeaway?" 

After the two steps above are done (taking action and ringing the sale), show enthusiasm for their business, ask for their feedbacks on how the coffee is (if they are seating in and make changes if it is not meeting their need) and later on, thank them and invite them to come back. At this stage, you are close to winning them over and securing them as your loyal regular.

Coffee Shop Service and the Quality of the Barista are Important

Remember that there are many reasons as to why the customers choose to part with their $5 for a daily cup of joe in your shop. It could be out of convenient in their daily routine of heading to school or work, through marketing campaign, social medias and word of mouth or purely coincidental that they were passing by and decided to check out your coffee when seeing how long the queue for coffee is. 
Whatever the reason may be, remember that you have only that one chance to make it right so start Connecting, Discovering and Responding to their needs by applying the BAR.IS.TA techniques today.


  1. A great article indeed. Tough I didn't start from F&B industry, I can see how B.A.R.I.S.T.A techniques you mentioned touches to the basic of any customer service level that any business trying to achieve. From communicating, connecting, understanding the customer's need, to the next course of action each of the business need to take to respond to customer's need.

    With that said, the techniques will only get better if each of us, whoever it is on the other side of the customer, to proactively make an effort to apply this in daily practice, which may not be hard and may be natural to some extend. Enjoyed this reading!

    1. Thank you Atan. You definitely do not need to start from F&B to know customer service because it is a daily application and there are moments where we are the provider and at times we are the receiver. I do agree though, how do we ensure barista apply this because customer service is common sense.

  2. Coming from Starbucks myself, I understand how CDR really plays an important role in any basic customer service industry and not just from specialty coffee chains.

    This article is quite helpful and interesting too whereby if everyone do his/her part to connect with the customers, I'm quite positive that they will be better equipped with knowledge about how and what they would like their palates fancy.

    1. CDR applies to even industry outside coffee, specialty or not. Apply the BARISTA techniques today.

  3. I really enjoyed reading your blog, and i'm grateful it makes me even more determined to go for the Barista path, but I'm not really sure where to start. Is there any advice you can give? I know papa palheta is offering lessons but it doesn't seem a full course. Is there any academy in Singapore that offers a full course from beginner?

    Would really appreciate your input, thanks!

  4. Hi Jess,

    I don't want to sound like i am hard selling but Dutch Colony does run our own coffee academy and i can share with you the in-house program we have. Also, being a AST trainer with SCAE, i can also provide you the Foundation, Intermediate and Advance course that is available under the Coffee Diploma program. You can reach me at