“Mindfulness.” That’s the first word Eric Anderson proposes when asked to define customer service. Anderson is owner, along with his wife Anna, of Allgood Coffee; it’s a cafe carved from storybooks and sitcoms, with high ceilings and creaky wooden floors, where bearded retirees sip cappuccinos while a teen strums an acoustic guitar in the corner. It’s a business built on good, hot coffee, but its truest foundations are intangible: incredible customer service.
Which is why we asked Anderson to define the hackneyed phrase. “Serving the customer, of course, but it’s more than that. It’s building relationships, and it can be for five minutes or five years,” Anderson explains. It’s an approach he takes seriously regardless of circumstance—be it a weary traveler in need of a restroom or the daily regular. “Taking that understanding, taking that time to try to meet that person halfway or more than halfway sometimes, to not be fake, to not promise anybody something that you can’t deliver. But certainly to try to understand what they’re coming from. It’s pretty simple.”
Every day, and every customer, is different, but regardless, his job remains the same: to provide an environment where they feel welcome and cared for. It’s an interaction that begins the moment the customer walks through his door. “I would say acknowledging someone’s presence, first of all, because that’s the physical proximity which you share with them and making them comfortable,” Anderson responds when asked about his best practices. “You don’t know what their day has been about, you don’t know if their mom’s dying of cancer, you don’t know if their kids just finished throwing up all over the inside of their car, you don’t know. And to just provide a space, almost opening up a space in that greeting for the opportunity to change, the opportunity to understand.”
So, how does Anderson train his staff to be as open, intentional, and mindful with every customer as he is himself? “You train by example. You can have your employees read manuals. But it’s practice and training. It’s hands on,” he says. Every day, Anderson works on his own skills in customer service, shaping his employees’ in the process. It’s gentle, but it’s effective, because it’s a constant. “I don’t think you ever become completely proficient at customer service any more than you do at coffee or cooking or making the perfect garden or anything else. It’s a process, and it’s a daily process, and the more you practice it, obviously the better you get.”
Anderson also mentions hiring for customer service, one of our most constant pieces of advice here at The Mann Group. Whether you’re selling coffee or camping gear, it’s not the technical knowledge that keeps customers—it’s the service. “I think everyone that works here is a musician,” he says of his employees. “A lot of musicians are very approachable. Especially singer songwriters […] We’ve got some photographers that work with us, and they’re very good at disarming people and making them comfortable within that space so they can do their craft.” In hiring folks already proficient in communication, Anderson guarantees a certain level of customer service; his example then ups the ante.
His intention of mindfulness, the purpose which defines Allgood’s unique brand of customer service, begins not with the customer or with his employees, but with himself. “I come with a heart of gratitude, a heart of service, every day I come to work. That’s how I enter the door; when I unlock this door early in the morning, that’s what I do. My intention is to provide a nice, clean, happy, safe, caffeinated environment for everybody to dialogue, a good community based place.”
So when Anderson considers what advice he’d give to a business owner or manager trying to cultivate an environment of great customer service, it’s with that sense of gratitude and mindfulness in mind. “I guess my first question would be to ask the business owner, ‘Do you come from that place?’ Just because you have the capital to have a business, to me having a business is a privilege,” he says. “I truly don’t know if people are grateful for what they have. I am, I’m very grateful. I wake up every day, and I work hard, I work 12 to 15 hour days every day, but I measure that [success] by different things.”
As business owners or managers, it’s our responsibility to refine our own perspective on our business, because it’s that perspective that trickles down into all the other aspects of our business, especially customer service. We are all so lucky to have the jobs that we do—but how often do we acknowledge that? How often do we pause to revel in our work and to appreciate the impact we have on our communities? When we find genuine gratitude for our business, we find genuine gratitude for our customers, and that is what customer service is all about.