Dreary Mornings, Life-Saving Coffee & A Lifetime Customer

Picture this, if you will:

A young working mother, toddler in toe, staggers into the Magpie Cafe that once stood in Main Street, Upwey in the Dandenong Ranges of Melbourne, Australia. It’s early winter morning, dreary and grey. Too early for most to be out and about in the little community of Upwey. Yet here in she comes, trying to smile at me as she comes towards the counter to order. I can tell that she’s at the end of her tether. She’s got that frazzled ‘oh God please help me’ look about her that I see in a lot of people with more than one ‘job’.
Up she comes, and I greet her with a big smile:
“Hi! You look like you need a pick-me-up, what can I get for you?” I ask.
“Do you do take-away coffee?” she asks in a voice that betrays her weariness.
“Definitely,” I assure her cheerfully, hoping to lighten her mood, “I’ve got three sizes: regular, medium and lake.” She blinks and peers at the cups I’ve indicated.
“I’ll have a lake please,” she says after a moment — as expected!
“Flat white?” I ask, having done my ‘I can tell your coffee by your look’ assumption thing — it’s something baristas pick up.
“Yes please.” I smile encouragingly at her as I spin back to the machine and begin to put together her coffee.
“Sugar?” I ask as I tamp the coffee.
“No thanks,” she responds. Her attention has drifted to her son, who has half-crawled, half-walked over to the shelf where I keep the coloring books.
“Michael, don’t touch that, we’re not staying long!”
“He can take one if he likes,” I suggest without taking my eyes off my pour — I don’t want to mess up this shot after all, “that’s why they’re there.”
“Really?” I can almost hear the sagging relief in her voice: here’s something to distract little Michael while she’s trying to down her coffee and get to daycare or wherever she’s going next.
“Please do,” I insist, moving onto the milk. Milk foaming makes it hard to talk, so she takes the opportunity to deal with the colouring book phenomenon. Michael settles on the floor just as I turn back with the ridiculously large coffee that we call ‘lake’. I’ve written ‘Have a great day!’ on the side of the cup, because I think she’ll appreciate it. I get a smile in return. That’s fine, a smile is worth a lot in customer service.
“How much do I owe you?” she asks me, distracted as her phone begins to ring.
“Don’t worry about it,” I tell her, “first coffee of the day is on the house. It’s the Magpie way.” She stares at me in surprise, phone forgotten.
“Really?”
“Yup,” I lie.
“Well, thank you!” she says, and collects her child + colouring book and disappears out the door.
She’s back again the next morning. I learn that her name is M — and she’s a nurse.
That weekend, she brings her book club to the Cafe. Three of her friends tell me they’re going to start competing with who can get to the Cafe first.
The next week…

Well, you can probably see where I’m going.

This happened nearly two years ago now, when the Magpie Cafe was my life and generating good customer service was an obsession. Ironically, this is also where my marketing insanity started and where I started figuring out just how to go about leveraging my networks to get some attention, not just for us but for Upwey. We’ve shut the Cafe down since then, but the memories still stay with us.

Businesses are always trying to find that unique selling point; something that will make them so memorable that they’ll gain a lifetime customer. Trouble is, a lot of places don’t realize that they don’t have to go crazy. It can be as simple as going that extra little step to make a customer feel special, offer them something they’ll appreciate without going too nuts.

My free coffee thing was me actually trying to make M — feel better; it turned out to be a great sales tactic that brought in more customers, but ultimately what it was, was me trying to be a good person.

Funny how that works, isn’t it? Karma really does work. Especially in customer service!


About the Author

Olwen van Dijk is a digital marketer and business development executive at AQ Services International

Follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn

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