For the past year and a half, I have worked at Starbucks as a barista. It’s an awesome side gig. Free coffee drinks. Connections with our regulars. The power to put a smile on someone’s face by just serving them a coffee. Not too shabby!

 And I have also learned a ton. A few of those lessons include…

  • An incredible amount of work can be accomplished in 30 seconds
  • The difference between a latte, cappuccino, macchiato and flat white 
  • Americans love anything that involves cold-foam and or sweet cream
  • 16 liters of spilled cold-brew takes a very long time mop up 

And lastly… The customer is ALWAYS right. 

I had a family come into my Starbucks a few weeks ago. They were traveling back to Miami from a soccer tournament and had a long drive ahead of them. Each member of the family ordered their coffee, and when their youngest son came to the register he proudly said “one grande iced coffee please”… the whole family looked at this 9 year old like he had just asked for a cup of brussel sprouts. He assured them (in a very grow up voice) that he liked coffee now and was going to drink it. I asked my usual follow up question – “Would you like cream and sugar with that?” He glanced over to his big sister for advice to which she replied with a nod – just cream. 

Now at this point my mind switched to alert customer service barista mode. 

I knew from my experience and past knowledge that VERY rarely a 9 year old would order an iced-coffee let alone an unsweetened one. Normally younger people starting on coffee go for a java chip frappuccino or the infamous tik tok sensation – White-mocha latte, iced, sweet cream cold-foam, light ice, & extra caramel drizzle. But I also knew that if this is what his heart was set on, that’s what he was getting. The customer is always right.

After prepping his coffee, I watched him take one sip and saw the disappointment creep into his face. Bitter. But his pride held strong and he didn’t say a thing. Good thing I had anticipated the problem and was prepared for this. 

When his family wasn’t looking I said- “Hey you know what goes really good with iced coffee?… VANILLA.” He passed his cup over to me and I put in a good 6 pumps of sugar into his cup. His smile afterwards told me I made the right call. His dad gave me a wink and they left happy customers, and I was pleased to have a job well done.

Now since this was coffee, the consequences for my customers’ mistakes were obsolete. He didn’t like what he had ordered and we were able to fix it no problem.

But for us as marketers and designers and web developers, we do not have that luxury. When our clients go astray, it’s going to cost them. Time, money, resources, and even their business is at stake. It’s our job to guide them in the right direction from the get go. 

Apply the same “Iced coffee” scenario to a marketing project…

Lets say for instance that a web client came to me and “ordered” a website that I knew from my experience and knowledge, was not going to serve them well. Maybe it was not geared toward their target audience, or they did not have a clear messaging, or perhaps they wanted imagery that misrepresented their products… It would be a disservice to them to create it without sharing my knowledge of how it could be better or bring up the problematic areas. 

It’s so easy to fall into the mode of pleasing people with our clients, but as their guide, we have to ensure their personal opinions do not override what we know they truly need. We are in our positions for a reason. They want the ice coffee, but we know the right type of sweetener will make it even better.

So here are a few things to remember moving forward:

  1. Customers are not always right.
  1. Find the balance of what your clients wants with what you know they need.
  1. Good customer service doesn’t mean being steamrolled by your clients. It can instead look like being kindly honest and foreseeing flaws in a project.
  1. Be proactive and invested in your work from the very beginning to iron out rough patches before money is spent and time is wasted.
  1. Implementing our experience and knowledge into a project is what we were hired to do, so let’s be smart about our critiques, vocal with our thoughts, and serve our people WELL.

Author: Savannah Guthrie

Designer & Developer at Stratos Creative Marketing (and a coffee loving barista)

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