Friday, October 14, 2011

On Being a "Regular"

I work a block from a Starbucks (these days who doesn't?). This is great news for the world's coffee growers, but bad news for my family's economy. Let's just say I'm in this Starbucks more than I should be. It's not at all stretching it to say I'm a "regular". My wife and I even went in on our wedding day, in our wedding clothes, between the ceremony and the reception (yes, this was partially a cheap ploy to get free coffee - it worked).


Normally I have a great experience in there, but today they screwed up.

I learned a few years ago that if you are going to be a regular at Starbucks, it makes good sense financially to pay with a Starbucks card (Not a credit card, but a gift card you load and reload yourself and use to pay with). If you use a card that you have registered online, you're not charged for flavored syrups in your drinks, and you get free refills on brewed coffee in the store. You also regularly earn free drinks. You can also pretend that it really is a gift card that someone has given you, and then you can feel artificially special every time you pay. The Starbucks card app for IPhone makes this even easier. You can reload your card from your phone, check your balance, and even pay by having them scan your phone. If you pay this way, you will often arouse the curiosity of people in line behind you who still use terribly outdated green slips of paper to barter for goods and services. (The ones who don't express their curiosity are silently judging you for your pretentiousness).

So today I went in to get a coffee and a scone, and the barista who took my order and rang me up has worked there for years and knows me and is one of the only ones who likes to try and anticipate my order (I'm not real consistent). When I went to pay, he scanned my phone but something went wrong and he had to try again. After the second scan, which went through, I glanced at the register and noticed the total seemed kind of steep for what I ordered. I asked about it and he determined that the first time the scanner had actually scanned a packaged cookie near the register and added it to my order. He easily refunded my card for the price of the cookie. When he handed me the scone I got a quick glance in the bag before the top closed and I thought something didn't look right. So as I was walking away I opened it up and found a blueberry scone, instead of the pumpkin scone I had ordered. By that time he was already helping another customer and so I asked another barista to make the swap for me. As I started walking out, the original barista yelled after me and handed me one of their free drink coupons to make up for my troubles.

This should just be a simple story of "business screws up, business makes it up to customer", so I was a bit surprised when I found myself more offended than appeased by this. First, I didn't need to be appeased - at no point in my dealings there today did I convey that I was upset, annoyed, or put out by the experience, because I wasn't. I've been helped by this barista many, many times and I know for a fact that he is competent, friendly, and extremely conscientious. So in one transaction out of 50 he made a couple mistakes, which were quickly rectified. I like to think that I have a relationship with this particular Starbucks and it's employees - a relationship that goes beyond trying to make me happy with one transaction so that I might come back again. In an ongoing business/customer relationship, you don't get worked up about petty things, you forgive. On the flip side of that, this is the kind of relationship where if I ordered a drink and realized i forgot my wallet, they would trust me to take care of it later. One time I got my coffee, got to my office and immediately spilled it all. I headed back over to get a replacement and explained what happened since they were curious why I was back so soon, and they wouldn't let me pay for the replacement. That's the give and take of being in an ongoing relationship with a business. There's kind of an unspoken pledge - if I want to be the kind of regular that gets treated like a friend rather than just a customer, I promise to not act like an impatient idiot when they're a little backed up and my drink is taking longer than normal; I promise not to get bent out of shape if occasionally they mess up my order or my drink just isn't quite right. So today I was just keeping up my end of the relationship, and I got handed a "please don't get mad at us" card that should be reserved for people who might get bent out of shape over one less than perfect experience. They sold me short, and it felt a little demeaning.

Now, having said that, don't misread my intention. This blog post is not at all about "how could they?", but more about "wow, I just got handed a coupon for a free drink and it kind of hurt my feelings - why is that?". Just like I wasn't going to hold it against anyone that I was overcharged or got the wrong scone (#firstworldproblems), I have no intention of holding a free drink coupon against anyone. Every human being screws up in their relationships. How often do we inadvertently  treat our spouses or our children as business partners or employees rather than loved ones? I don't even feel like I had misread my status at this Starbucks and was put in my place; The employee simply misread my needs at this point in our relationship, but I think we'll manage to work through it without seeking professional counseling.

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Deanne said...

Jason! I did not know you where blogging. Reading it makes me miss you. I look forward to reading more =).

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