Previously I spoke about comparing yourself to others in Comparisons
The only thing more valuable than comparing yourself is getting feedback from the people who buy your coffee. I.e. the people who have compared you to others without the positive bias you have.
The most valuable of this feedback is the negative stuff, it gives you the rare chance to see where you need to improve. The trouble is getting this feedback, as people are reluctant to hurt your feelings.
In British culture there’s a saying that people will only tell you a negative truth under three conditions – when they’re children, very drunk or angry at you. This makes it difficult to collect negative feedback so you have to be very clear to your customers when asking for it. A simple case of phrasing “what could have been better about your experience? ” helps along with fully listening to their opinion. This may encompass other factors aside from coffee quality as well – for roasteries their delivery speed, packaging quality, choice of coffees and roasting frequency – for shops this will be service, atmosphere and food etc.
The most important thing though is to take feedback in a professional manner.
If someone doesn’t like what you’ve sold them then you have to be apologetic, even if it may be the customers action that have prevented them from enjoying it. Maybe you could have done something to prevent those actions in the first place by being clearer.
“I put two sugars in my espresso and now it tastes sour and weird.”
Firstly, you would obviously filter this negative feedback since it was likely the sugar that caused the problem and not your brew recipe/coffee choice.
The best solution, IMO, would be to still apologise and say that your espresso is brewed to taste best as it is, without the addition of sugar. Give them a new one on the house and they’ll likely be satisfied, plus they now know they shouldn’t add sugar in the future.
I feel you should give this for free, since it is still common practice for people to instinctively add sugar to their coffees. If you offer a coffee that cannot take this sugar then it is your responsibility to let your customers know that.
It’s important to both resolve issues customers raise and reward them for doing so. People who will give you honest feedback are rare and should be nurtured.
There is no doubt that the Glasgow coffee scene has collectively improved due to the sole voice and relentless drive to be served better coffee by of one the most antagonistic, over-opinionated and sadly often correct coffee critics you’ll likely ever meet. Mr Rob Ashton.
I have unquestionably become a far better barista due to his influence as I know if I do not serve him an exceptional coffee he will, without hesitation, call me out loudly and publicly. I have been in his presence when in a busy coffee shop, and we are both served poorly brewed espresso, he has practically shouted “what is this under-extracted guff they are trying to give us?” while we stand next to the machine. It’s a little rude but sometimes people need a wake-up call.
His more recent efforts have seen him call out Squaremile coffee roasters on twitter in a rude, but grounded, way. To their credit Squaremile did not make the sane initial choice to simply block him from all social media but instead took his feedback, talked through the issues as a team and are now working on a solution to what he has raised. Good on them.
Thanks to his feedback he’s now developed a direct line of contact with James Hoffman along with being shipped samples of their range. A win/win for both parties.
Feedback is crucial and should be fostered. I know I’ve become far more engaged with roasters by giving them my unfiltered thoughts, almost all of which have shown they really appreciate it.
Those cafes and roasteries who do not accept feedback, or are offended and offer insults in return, are not worth dealing with. They are obviously happy in their own bubble. How long they will continue to thrive or survive is unknown but not listening to feedback will not serve them well in the long-term.
In order to be professional and continue our development as an industry we need to be far more transparent and open with our views.
So the next time a roaster sends you samples, or a barista asks how your coffee was, try to think of something more constructive to say than “yeah it was good.” Especially if you didn’t actually enjoy it. After all you have to know what’s wrong with your product/service in order to fix it and telling your friends “that place isn’t very good” without letting the people work there know is damaging the business.
It’s difficult to give and receive bad feedback but it’s the most valuable thing we can do for one another.
I know when people give me feedback on my blog posts it’s often some of the most valuable discussions I have.
Someone questioning your beliefs means you have to argue the case and be 100% certain in yourself. Not being able to counter their argument means you may have gaps in your knowledge or have based something on an unfounded assumption.
Even if you agree to disagree you can be happy knowing that you are certain in what you think is true, there will be people who disagree no matter what the issue is. Just learn which feedback is worth listening to.