Why People who have Worked in Customer Service Make the Best Public Relations Staff

I have worked at Caribou Coffee for the past 3 1/2 years and up until recently I thought the only things it taught me were a severe coffee addiction and the difference between types of chocolate, types of coffee and how to work with people I’m not all that fond of. But, after reading a few public relations job postings, I realized I’d be perfect for them, thanks to my experience at “the Bou”, so much so that I wanted to write about it. So here are the reasons customer service molds great public relations staff members:

1). You learn how to handle negativity and pickiness by problem solving

I will forever be amazed at how people want their coffee: soy milk, 2/3 full with 1/2 of the other third being skim milk and the other 1/2 being whole milk with one scoop of chocolate, 1/2 caf, no foam, extra hot….it’s a never-ending list of pickiness. Regardless of my own opinion on their $6 cup of coffee, I smile and make it exactly how they like it…at the end of the day their purchase funds my job (in an indirect way). I have learned to accept it and try my best to meet whatever need any customer may have.

Working in customer service will forever test your strength. People are inherently condescending to wait staff and those taking their orders. I couldn’t count how many people ignore me to talk on their phone, refused to look at me while ordering, forget to say the words please and thank you, put their money on the counter even though I have my hand out; the people who have yelled at me, insulted me, complained that their coffee wasn’t perfect or spilled on me (yes spilled ON me).  But, working in customer service for so long has taught me to just smile through it, and utilize the feel felt found method…”I understand how you feel and I’m sorry for that, other customers have felt the same way about our prices getting raised, but they found that our delicious product was more than worth it, I hope you’ll feel the same”.

With that, comes the ability to problem solve. There is an endless list of complaints when it comes to people’s food and drinks. As a supervisor it is my job to fix whatever negative experience they are having and restore their faith in Caribou, or at least in our store. Because complaints are traditionally conveyed in real time-when the person is in the store and angrily thrusting their coffee at me or complaining about the food or people working, I have to make a decision then and there on how to make it up to them.

2). You learn to prioritize the customer

In the mornings our line is out the door full of people who aren’t quite awake or perky enough to make conversation. Nevertheless putting the customer first happens frequently; cleaning or organizing or stocking sometimes just have to wait

3). You learn to anticipate the needs of those you’re serving and remember those who frequent your business

We have several regulars that come in daily-some even come in several times a day. As a result almost every staff member at our store knows their drink, their name, their family’s names, what kind of car they drive, what kind of dog they have, the cars they drive, what they do for a living etc. The ones who walk to our store have their drink made before they walk in because we see them coming.

In addition to regulars, you learn to read body language. The mom trying to rally her three children probably wants a drink tray and a bag for her things, the woman with a walker most likely needs help opening the door, the elderly gentleman who struggles to the counter would probably appreciate it if you carried his things out for him. The people who drool over the bakery case (exaggeration…but still) might buy something if you suggest it. Learning to read body language is almost like learning to cater to the unspoken needs of the clients

4). You see what it’s like to be a customer and the one serving them

The most productive day I have ever had at Caribou, I wasn’t even working. My old manager had a meeting where we all met at our store in plain clothes-we were supposed to dress how we would any day. We all piled into his minivan and drove to a Caribou outside of our district and pretended to be customers (we secret shopped them). It amazed me at the things we noticed from the customer perspective that we don’t from working: the rags on the counter, the crumbs in the case, the baseball hat the barista was wearing, the inability to hold a conversation that made the experience unpleasant and several other things. It teaches you to really focus on the customer and not only the product but the environment you’re serving them in. It has also taught me to be as nice as possible to customer service people because they deal with their fair share of complaints. see number one.

5). It teaches you to just let some things go

When I first started at Caribou I used to get sooooooooooo beyond stressed at the line to the door: people weren’t going to want to wait in that so we had to go faster and faster and faster and I wanted to be perfect at the same time. I also used to take every complaint to heart. After a few months of that I realized sometimes you just have to let it go. People know if they come in the mornings it’s going to be busy, so they can wait. I would personally rather wait a little longer and get my drink made correctly than hurry and get something I don’t want. And some people just can’t be satisfied and are going to be picky no matter what…those people you just smile at and keep your thoughts to yourself.

Caribou has prepared me for a lifetime of working with people and being successful in the field of public relations without even knowing it.

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