Corporate behemoth? Sure. Great customer service? Damn right!

I try not to make it a habit of visiting Starbucks all that often, since the cheap-ass Chinese part of me still thinks blowing Baht 95 on a beverage is bloody wasteful. So even though I’ve walked past the Starbucks in Central Chidlom everyday for the past 7 months on my way to work, I can probably count the number of times I’ve gone in and bought something on one hand. Which made my experience these past 2 days all the more surprising.

I mentioned in a post a few weeks back that when I do happen to find my way into a Starbucks, I’m a total sucker for their raspberry tea frappucino (which can only be a more girly drink if you had Hello Kitty printed on the cups). So those few times I’ve gone into the Chidlom Starbucks, it was a sure bet that this was what I ordered.

Which brings us to yesterday, one of those mornings that I actually decide to stroll in to buy a drink. It must have been my first visit in almost 2 months. So there I am in the queue waiting for the cashier to process the orders for the 2 people in front of me, when one of the baristas, who doesn’t look the slightest bit familiar to me, looks over at me and asks “Grande raspberry frapuccino, right?” Righto, my man. I’m the plainest-looking bastard in the world, so how this guy who’s seen me just a small handful of times the past year can recognize me and remember my regular drink order is beyond me. But remember he did, and damned impressed I was. This morning, I walked in again to order the same drink. I did notice the same barista, but he neither looked my way, nor did he talk to me. But 2 seconds after I paid for my order, he had my drink waiting for me, despite the fact that there must have been a half dozen customers ahead of me waiting for their orders.

Great service? F*ckin’ A right, great customer service! Most companies chant “customer service” like some mantra as if printing it enough times in their corporate glossies meant they were actually paying more than lip service to the concept. But here is a Joe Schmoe line worker at Starbucks defining what customer service means in real terms to real customers: building a one-on-one rapport in order to remember a customer’s needs and preferences and creating a smooth and efficient in-store experience. Thai or otherwise, any company could take a lesson from this guy.

I should probably note that it is likely more than just this one barista at this one Starbucks. When I worked at the Emporium, I used to order tall cappucinos every morning from the store there, and it got to the point where the cashier would ring up my order and ask the barista to start making my cappucino the moment she spotted me walking towards the shop, sometimes from as far as 50 meters away.

I take comfort in knowing that if the Starbucks juggernaut eventually does take over the world, I’ll at least get great customer service.

9 Comments so far

  1. him (unregistered) on April 12th, 2005 @ 4:41 pm

    Even thinking the words “raspberry tea frappucino” make me feel girly.

  2. teaz0r (unregistered) on April 12th, 2005 @ 5:10 pm

    that’s what i drink too. raspberry tea frappucino in the afternoons. and caramel macchiato in the morning. the starbucks people at my building give super great service too :)

    au bon pain isn’t bad.

  3. Baba (unregistered) on April 12th, 2005 @ 8:25 pm

    When I was 18 I worked in this pub outside London and part of my job was to know all the regular’s drinks. As soon as they walked in through the door I was expected to start getting their drinks ready before they reached the bar. Which I did. It amazed me that they never varied their orders. Creatures of habit, I guess.

  4. bj (unregistered) on April 15th, 2005 @ 9:45 am

    Sweet. Even the Starbucks here in singapore are great. But it really depends which outlet that you visit… if youre in central business district, they probably would care =D.
    The more of those who chant “customer service” are likely to be the ones last in the line to actually do it…

  5. Ben Harris (unregistered) on April 15th, 2005 @ 5:04 pm

    I don’t know how many times I’ve felt like I was giving a Thai company the service it should be giving to me. Starbucks sounds like an anomaly and could be sucked into the black hole of impossibility if it isn’t careful.

    What a pity the smell of coffee makes me want to throw up :)

  6. ts (unregistered) on April 18th, 2005 @ 1:47 pm

    Agreed, I hit starbucks@bumrungrad daily, and part of their new staff training involves expalining what kind of coffee i drink in the morning.

    I needn’t ever actual speak i just walk up to the counter and hand them money.

    Au Bon Pain however hires the most dimwitted induividuals on the planet.

  7. Baba (unregistered) on April 18th, 2005 @ 6:03 pm

    Au Bon Pain service SUCKS… and they never have what you want. So you go in for a smoked salmon poppy bagel with cream cheese, and leave with a baguette with chicken on mustard.

  8. Frank (unregistered) on April 22nd, 2005 @ 10:54 pm

    Where in Thailand do they always have what they should have and what you want? Bastards! Should take some lessons!

  9. Josep[h (unregistered) on July 6th, 2005 @ 10:42 pm

    Paul, I would like to interview for a book I am writing in collaboration with Starbucks ddressing, of all things customer service. Your experience of being remembered even though you are aninfrequent customer – is an example of the type of service most of us desire. Can you contact me at my email of or on the website: Thank you in advance. For your participation I will send you a Starbucks gidt card and a copy of the book upon its release…joseph…

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