March 2012
advice, unsolicited By Pete Mihalek

If a letter of criticism from a former customer ended up in your mailbox, how would you react to the sender and the sender’s suggestions?

We have five coffee shops in my neighborhood — the one with the shortest walk we’ve nicknamed “The Bean.”

When we first discovered it, I was pretty excited. And what’s not to be excited about — it’s super close, has a great name, serves good coffee and is locally owned. I so badly wanted to become a regular there.

It wasn’t long, though, until we grew unimpressed with The Bean. Bad smelling plastic lids on their to-go cups, an always empty pastry case, stale music, and a grumpy owner jump-started this falling out.

What sealed the deal for me was a plain $2 bagel I ordered one Saturday morning — that was pulled out of a Thomas’ bagel bag and handed to me wrapped in foil.

We talk about perceived value a lot in this industry. Well, I perceived that for $2 I could have and should have walked down the street to Target and picked up that very same bag of Thomas’ bagels and headed home.

by the letter

It’s now been five months since I last stepped into The Bean. Nowadays the coffee shop has handwritten signs taped to its windows that read “help wanted” and “we’ve lowered our coffee prices.”

Just the other day I had this urge to sit down and write the owner a letter. Not a mean letter — just a letter with some ideas from a former customer who’d like to see this ideally located coffee house succeed instead of close its doors for a lack of trying.

Some suggestions in the letter might be:

1. Instead of a pretty bare pastry case, contact the new cupcake shop three blocks south and work out some sort of deal to carry their goods.

2. Don’t serve the same food (or at least don’t make it obvious you’re serving the same food) I could buy in bulk at a discount grocery store.

3. Consider rewriting your menu boards to be larger, clearer and legible.

4. Friendly is free (something Scott Ginsberg wrote about in our January issue). A grumpy owner or stressed out barista isn’t the best way to start a customer’s day.

5. Check out what people are saying online about your lids. They really do have a funky smell. Maybe consider experimenting with a new line of lids.

6. Change the station. Good coffee shops are generally known for introducing new tunes to patrons, not Top 40.

Am I overstepping my bounds here by offering up some unsolicited advice? If a letter like this ended up in your mailbox, how would you react to the sender and the sender’s suggestions?


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