If You’re Going To Mess Up, Err On The Side Of Friendly

urkelI was recently in the Portland airport on a layover, missing home, and craving a treat.  I headed on over to Starbucks for a soy chai latte, or what I like to call a little cup of Christmas. Shortly after placing my order, the friendly barista asked how my day was going and if I was affected by any of the apparent delays going on.  She smiled and I appreciated the brief but friendly conversation.

Somewhere in the midst of that, she handed the cup to the barista who was making the drinks.  I heard her say “soy latte” and did not hear the all important “chai” in the mix.  That’s a totally different drink.  I clarified my drink order and crisis was averted in that moment.  My drink went on to satisfy my craving for a treat.

After nearly messing up my order, the barista indicated that she was new and still getting the hang of the job.  I said “no problem” and “have a great evening” or some other cliche phrase I regularly use, and went on my way.

As I got to thinking about this experience, I realized a couple things.  First of all, this barista was not hired because she was an expert barista at all.  She was hired because she was extremely friendly and personable.  While it’s not a perfect hiring practice, I resonate deeply with the philosophy that it’s easier to hire friendly people and equip them with the skills necessary to do their job — and not the other way around.  Clearly this is what Starbucks has done here.

Secondly, the friendly attitude on the part of the barista immediately made a deposit into my emotional bank account.  If you aren’t familiar with that concept, read the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  When she nearly messed up my order moments later, and then indicated that she was new, it was easier for me to forgive than if she had been a grouch.

Now, being on the front lines, it’s imperative that she recognize her error and work to improve her listening skills.  Regardless of how friendly the employee, repeated mistakes will eventually become a major problem.  But in general, this serves as a valuable reminder that if you take the time to simply be personable and friendly, and build a relationship with your customers, they are much more likely to forgive the occasional mistake!

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Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Experience at FCR, the premiere provider of outsourced call center and business process solutions. He has more than 17 years of experience as a customer service and experience professional. He is co-founder of the Customer Service Life blog and a regular contributor. Jeremy has been recognized many times for his thought leadership. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn for more awesome customer service and experience insights.

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