CRM, coffee cart style

I used to be a loyal Starbucks customer. I started going to Starbucks in the early days of the chain, largely because of their excellent customer service and attitude. It was always a pleasant experience.

When I worked on the east side for another trade magazine, I stopped every morning at a nearby Starbucks for a grande coffee. Every once in awhile, I’d treat myself to a latte (grande skim extra foamy), but most of the time, I ordered the same medium coffee. From the same rotation of clerks. Every day. For months. That was when I began to fall out of love. Every day, I had to repeat my order. In all the time I bought my coffee there, none of those three regular clerks remembered my drink. Never. Not once.

Contrast that with my recent experience with the coffee cart guy on Eighth Avenue. I joined DMNews in mid-June. On my first day of work, with no regular coffee joint yet, I decided to give this guy a try. Ordered a large coffee with skim and three Splendas. In seconds flat, the coffee was poured, lidded and set on the counter. I paid my buck twenty-five and went on my way.

Day 2. Stop at the coffee cart again. It’s convenient. Easy to get it and go. There were a couple of people in line before me. Soon it is my turn. I am about to tell him what I want, but he has already poured my large skim coffee with Splenda and is now putting it on the counter. How’s that for service?

He remembered my drink after the first day! One day a couple of weeks ago, he was out of Splenda. He apologized profusely. I assured him it was fine; I had some in my desk drawer. He put my coffee in a brown paper bag and wordlessly slipped a donut into the bag as well. I guess he wanted to make up for the Splenda lapse. The next day, I go up to the cart and he’s smiling widely. “I have Splenda today!” he said, and poured my coffee.

Yesterday, I veered off course and spontaneously stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee a couple blocks before my now-regular cart. I smiled at the cart guy sheepishly as I walked by. He waved back, smiling, but I felt guilty. I felt like I cheated on him. And I paid $2 for a cup of coffee that was no better than this man’s brew. I was back at the cart this morning, back on track, and feeling good about giving the coffee cart man my business.

He doesn’t have a marketing budget, focus groups, sophisticated marketing technology or consultants on retainer. He’s a man who hitches his business to a car and drives it to his spot on Eighth Avenue at the crack of dawn every day. And he knows plenty about customer relationship management. It may seem obvious and simple, and perhaps old-fashioned, but this kind of basic relationship building is such a powerful strategy for marketers looking to garner loyalty to their brands, products and service.

Are you listening, Starbucks? He had me at, “How do you like your coffee?”

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