Skip to main content
Close PromoBar
Access now Access now Access now Accelerate growth as a startup—learn why fast, iterative feedback is critical to startup success with our latest guide   Access now    Accelerate growth as a startup—learn why fast, iterative feedback is critical to startup success with our latest guide Access now Access now Access now

A cold cup o’joe and the importance of customer experience

Jennifer DeRome  |  March 23, 2015


Grabbing a cup of coffee on my way to work is part of my daily commute. Thirty minutes on the train, another 15 to walk to the office, and another 10-20 for coffee. Yes, it’s that important. And I’m not alone. Every morning throngs of other caffeine-deprived commuters and workers join me as we politely try to vie for position in line to get our fix.

To the casual observer, this probably looks like a mob of loyal, caffeine-addicted patrons, ready and willing to part with their money every day. But reality has one major difference: those customers aren’t as loyal as you might think. Customer switching is on the rise, and the customer experience is at the heart of this behavior. In 2014, 53% of consumers took their business elsewhere due to poor service. Ouch.

Those fancy, organic, free-trade coffee beans are great, but that alone won’t keep coffee drinkers coming back. So what will?

A fantastic customer experience cultivates loyal customers.

Every interaction we have with a company impacts our impressions of that brand. And we’re not shy about sharing our feelings, either. When we love ‘em or hate ‘em, companies will hear about it—and so will everyone else. From the first swipe on an app, to visiting a homepage or walking into a brick-and-mortar store, we’re forming an opinion based on each and every moment that will determine if we’ll ever come back.

Customer loyalty doesn’t come from a great product; it comes from a great product paired with a fantastic customer experience.

[Tweet this.]

The coffee shop is a great example of how this can go wrong, and what you can do to avoid making the same mistakes.

Your company is being judged by its cover.

Our parents taught us not to judge a book by its cover. Now imagine a coffee shop that has an entrance covered in litter and urban gunk. If you’re anything like me, it’d be pretty hard not to start wondering if the place was worth going inside.

And that’s exactly what happens with me. Before even setting foot in the store, I’m already not feeling too excited about the cup of coffee I’m about to buy. And after stepping over some questionable material on the street as I walk through the front door, my appetite has disappeared and now I’m definitely not buying breakfast.

I can’t even smell the coffee brewing and I’m starting to question why I’m here. Things aren’t looking good for my coffee shop.

Do all your customers have the same experience?

Companies go to great lengths to design and decorate their spaces to make them appealing. In my coffee shop, it was clear they’d considered this. The soothing color of the walls, the texture of the flooring, and arrangement of seating and tables makes me feel comfortable and at ease—the place looks amazing (at least on the inside).

And then you get in line and all that design work begins to lose its power. It’s crowded, poorly lit, and resembles the queue at the DMV more than an upscale coffeehouse. Yet just beyond the counter I can see the spacious lounge with fluffy chairs, mood lighting, and a happily sipping patron typing away on her laptop. I get the sense I’m being punished for getting my coffee to go.

Why am I getting the feeling the the lounge-drinking coffee patron is more valued than me? My coffee shop did a great job setting up the experience for a fraction of its customers, and completely ignored the needs of the rest. At this point I’ve started to seriously consider sneaking out of line and drinking the office coffee.

Are you making your customers regret their purchase?

When I finally reach the head of the line, my order is taken quickly—and my money even quicker—with barely a thank you, let alone any eye contact. Then I wait in yet another line—more like a mob, really—while my named coffee cup waits in line for the barista’s attention.

I wait with my gaggle of other impatient, and now somewhat frustrated fellow customers as we all watch a single barista try to manage the dozens of orders piling up. She’s clearly busy, yet still finds the time to chat with her colleagues, making our wait feel even longer. None of us can leave now, because they already have our money. I start to feel taken advantage of and a bit foolish for paying for such terrible service.

Are you pushing your customers out the door?

I can see my order coming up (I’m the last one waiting) but my barista prolongs my agony by leaving my completed latte just out of reach while she tends to other orders. I try to make eye contact with her so I can grab my cup and go, but she’s avoiding my gaze. My coffee sits, alone and cooling while I wait.

When my order is finally shouted out—but not by my name, which is printed on the cup—I scoop it up and attempt to thank my barista, even if I don’t really feel she deserved it. Which turns out to be pointless, since she’s still avoiding any eye contact with me.

I walk away feeling awkward and conflicted. I’m pleased to finally have my coffee—even if it isn’t quite as hot as I like it—but a bit annoyed that my patronage seemed more like an inconvenience than something the shop was trying to earn.

So what went wrong here?

The answer clearly lies in the customer experience—which starts well before the sale, and continues after the product is in hand. Provide a positive experience, and a customer will continue to come back again and again. And I’m not just talking coffee shops here. From airlines to etsy shops to SaaS providers, ignoring the full customer experience can convince your customer to go someplace else.

Your customer’s experience can be saved.

While the customer experience is a complex and ever-changing challenge, there’s always something that can be done to improve it. Always. Should you work toward a broad customer experience strategy? Absolutely. Is it going to happen overnight? Obviously not.

Feeling overwhelmed yet? Don’t worry, there are a few simple ways you can motivate your organization and employees to start repairing—or improving—your customer’s experience, right now.

Let’s take a look at how my coffee shop could dramatically improve my experience with just a few tweaks:

  • Make a great first impression - with a quick sweep of a broom, my first experience with the coffee shop would’ve been greatly improved. Your homepage, landing pages and apps are no different. Think about where your company will first interact with a customer. How does it look? Does it invite your customer to come inside, or scare them away? Zero in on your first touchpoints with your customers—whether physically or digitally—and make sure that interaction is as positive as possible.

  • Engage your employees - happy employees lead to happy customers, plain and simple. If my barista had simply looked me in the eyes and thanked me (instead of the other way around) my experience would’ve improved quite a bit. Empower your employees to own the customer experience and recognize and reward them for providing outstanding service.

  • Solicit feedback - here at UserTesting, we’re pretty obsessed with feedback. It helps us continue to improve and innovate, not to mention guides us when we’re trying to address challenges. Even if things seem to be going great, soliciting feedback from your customers on a regular basis will ensure you’re staying ahead of any kinks that may come along down the road. There are lots of ways to do this, from a short online survey, to direct one-on-one feedback onsite, or even running a UserTesting study. Just make sure you’re doing it often—and taking that feedback to heart.

Consumers have more choices than ever before, and their dollars will go to the products and companies that win their hearts and minds. Provide your customers with a great experience from start to finish, and they’ll not only become loyal brand advocates, they’ll probably be a lot more forgiving if they get a cold cup of coffee every once in a while.

Insights that drive innovation

Get our best human insight resources delivered right to your inbox every month. As a bonus, we'll send you our latest industry report: When business is human, insights drive innovation.

Thank you!
Get ready for some great content coming to your inbox from the team at UserTesting!

About the author:

Jennifer is a Senior Content Strategist for UserTesting. When she's not dreaming up new ways to connect with audiences, you can find her traveling around the world or enjoying a glass of wine with friends.