The Personal Touch

I am confident that the average Starbucks customer has had their name spelled wrong on their cuppa’ Joe more than once so I don’t think they are picking on me, but sometimes it’s hard to be sure.

Granted, “Brent” is not the most common name, but a lot more so than it used to be. I was 18 before I met my first Brent, but I now know a half dozen or more, including one I don’t see often but count as a good friend (you know who you are, “Bad Brent”). It got to the point that I started to both say and spell my name for my Starbucks order, then kept a record of what actually ended up on the cup. In order, I got: Bryan, “She doesn't write down names”, David, Trent, Bren, Brent, Braint, and Brent. 

Two out of eight is better than I expected, but “David”? And no, I didn’t grab someone else’s drink. Instead I watched my tall, fat-free, no-whip mocha grow cold while the place cleared of everyone who was there before me and about a dozen who came later. “She doesn’t write down names” at least gave everyone a chance to guess. 

Starbucks is an international success story, but unless you have their marketing budget a personal touch can go a long way. This applies not only to customer relationships, but relations among your team and the various functions (e.g., operations, marketing, accounting, etc.). Anyone who has been around a few years has seen at least a little head bumping among people who are on the same team but don’t always show it.

People are people, so whether it’s your customers or your team:

  1. Encourage personal relationships (within reason). This doesn’t have to go overboard, and not everyone wants to get too chummy. But show a personal interest in the people you work with, customers and team members alike. “Strictly business” is no fun for anyone; at Morrison we schedule social occasions, assign new employees a mentor for their first year, include all three service lines in our team meetings rather than meet separately, and let team members take others for a meal on our dime (spouses included). This has been impacted by the pandemic, of course, but even that is an opportunity to show personal concern. 
  2. Don’t put people in a box. One-size-fits-all really doesn’t. You have to listen and check in, then address any concerns in a meaningful way. There’s not always a pat answer, so be adaptive. You can’t be all things to all people and be open about that, but to the extent you can, try to make your answer fit the need, not a box.
  3. Keep it real. Phony doesn’t sell, so how you relate with people has to work for you. As noted above there’s not always a pat canned answer – so make up your own. Again, within reason, but a lot of what we do at Morrison we do because it works for us, our team, and our clients, not because we saw it somewhere else. That’s a box we don’t want to live in.

Into each business some cold mocha will fall, but it will be a lot easier to clean up if there is a good relationship to begin with. Invest the time and energy, and don’t see it as a distraction from your real job. For a successful business, this is your real job. 

About the Author

Brent Morrison is the Founding Principal at Morrison. To get in touch with Brent, please find contact information for Morrison here.


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