The Benefit of a Good Latte

By J.P. Reynolds

I’m a Starbucks kind of guy. Although I don’t drink coffee, I do enjoy a latte and my favorite is made by Starbucks. Now, I know that many of you might disagree and argue for Peets or Coffee Bean or some local haunt. My taste loyalties, though, are with Starbucks.

Not that my preferences mean much for the purpose of this column; however, I was intrigued when I recently learned that Starbucks instructs its associates to treat customer complaints with the “latte” rule:

Listen to the customer

Acknowledge the problem

Take action to resolve the problem

Thank the customer for bringing it to your attention

Encourage them to return

This guiding rule is so basic. So simple. So humane. So smart. Yet, far too many places of business don’t have a policy for dealing with customer complaints and don’t have the right instincts for handling those complaints.

Years ago, the Anthropology Department of Harvard University did a joint study researching graffiti. The project’s goal was to determine if there is a common theme among worldwide graffiti artists. They found that there is!

The common theme of all graffiti can be summed up in the phrase, “I am here.” Graffiti artists are not seeking simply attention; they’re seeking acknowledgment of their existence. And this is what we all hunger for: recognition.

A disgruntled customer can be angry for many reasons, but they all can be reduced to the fact that the person feels no one is paying attention to their needs. They think (rightly or wrongly) that they’re being disrespected and ignored. Isn’t this why you become irritated when you can’t find a sales clerk to help you?

Offering a “latte” is the most reassuring thing we can give to an upset customer because it reassures them that we “see” them.

If you think about it, though, you don’t have to be a barista to offer someone a “latte.” A “latte” can be offered to anyone who feels ignored by you: a coworker, friend, relative, partner.  To listen, acknowledge, act, show appreciation, and make normal the relationship are the five keys to dealing with someone in a difficult conversation.

More times than not, a “latte” goes a long way to healing a potentially ugly situation because the other person feels valued and they feel valued because you are taking responsibility and being dynamically pro-active.

Understand what makes the other person tick (and what makes you tick); then you can figure out how to talk to them in a way that increases your chances of getting heard. That’s the genius of a “latte.”

So next time you’re dealing with a complaining customer (or friend), just remember to offer them a “latte”!