Recently, I went to my local Starbucks to take advantage of its office and chef services, ie. its free wifi, electric outlets, good music and awesome oatmeal. I was planning to spend a good chunk of the day camped at my favorite table by the window. But I walked into the cafe on a short circuit. And proceeded to kinda lose my shit. Having spent a good portion of the last 20 years in various Starbucks and other caffeine dens, I know I’m not the first to do this and, luckily, my shit-losing only landed at Level One on the Nightmare Customer Scale. Nonetheless, it was a fantastic opportunity to learn some lessons.
The Set-Up: I’d gotten a late start to my day after a restless night of sleep, my cat had given me a huge guilt trip as I’d shut the door on its baleful stare (if you own a cat, or even a dog probably, you know exactly what I’m talking about) and I was feeling overwhelmed by the number of tasks I wanted to accomplish before 6pm. In addition, my mailbox was empty of the check I was expecting. And, perhaps most critically, it was almost noon and I still hadn’t eaten anything. So, I walked into the coffee shop 1) unrested, 2) feeling like a bad mom, 3) stressed about money and 4) with low blood sugar*.
*I’m diabetic so low or high blood sugar really does a doozey on me. But I’m convinced (in an entirely untested, unclinical, unlicensed way) that low blood sugar, in particular, can fuck up anyone’s neurotransmitters and emotional regulators to a degree on par with what drug addiction or psychological issues have done to those homeless dudes rushing cars in the middle of Hollywood Blvd. and screaming at nefarious, invisible hob-goblins. The only difference is that low blood sugar can be eradicated with some soy oatmeal with fruits and nuts.
The Event: Luckily, Starbucks wasn’t too crowded so I got my favorite table and was able to order without much of a wait. But when it came time to pay with my trusty little gold card (that fabulously clever, personalized, frequent customer perk that, among other things, provides for free soy milk or syrup shots), the new kid behind the counter charged me for the soy milk in my oatmeal. I pointed out the error. He said I was wrong. I responded that I’d never been charged like that before. And he shrugged (albeit, nicely) and said every other Starbucks employee must have done it wrong.
At which point, I wanted to simultaneously reach over the counter to rip his head off and burst into tears.
Now, let’s step back a moment. I was planning on spending 5-6 hours at the coffee shop, using their free wifi and listening to their soundtrack. My bill was $5.70 instead of $5.10. What’s 60 cents, right?
This poor kid had no idea that he’d accidentally hit my primed “financial insecurity” panic button or that I was emotionally on edge and simply yearning for the simplicity of my routine and some food given to me exactly as I wanted, and expected, it.
I did not rip his head off. I did not burst into tears. I paid the extra sixty cents. But I grumbled as I did it. And I then proceeded to snap to the employee who made my drink, ask for the manager’s name and tweet my frustrated outrage. (Oh, yes… I can be that person… eek.) I even almost threatened to NEVER RETURN but luckily stopped myself upon realizing what an entirely empty threat it would be.
The Resolution: And then one action transformed my day. The employee who made my drink told the manager that I was upset and, a few minutes later, the manager approached me and introduced herself. Her name is Rachel. She expressed regret that I had had a bad experience and asked what she could do to help.
All anyone wants is to be seen and heard.
Now, Rachel made some brilliant moves:
- She waited a few minutes before approaching me. By the time we talked, I had in me a few bites of oatmeal and a few sips of caffeinated iced tea. I was sitting down. And I was breathing through my emotions. My heightened, purely primal instincts had been bridled.
- She crouched down to my level to begin the conversation. This is a move that any animal handler will recommend. Approach any wild creature with claws and fangs from a place of submission rather than dominance. That way, they are less likely to get defensive and lash out in fear. Since we humans are part of the animal kingdom, despite our great efforts to pretend otherwise, this tactic clearly works on us as well.
- She apologized first and strategically. She didn’t say her employee was wrong. She simply expressed regret that my experience had been unpleasant. This gave us a level playing field and addressed the emotional component of the problem before looking into technical solutions. We were both bummed about the diminished quality of my experience regardless of who was in the right.
- She corrected the mistake.**
** In this instance, the new employee had run up the charge wrong so it didn’t get automatically deducted as it should have. The manager was able to take the opportunity to teach the employee how to process a scenario he hadn’t yet encountered. Getting the 60 cents back, however, was icing on the cake by the time Rachel and I finished talking. The customer doesn’t always have to be right to shift the residual tone of an experience.
The Lesson: Brushing aside my personal reminders that, if I wish to avoid wanting to rip unsuspecting people’s heads off and bursting into tears, I need 1) a new mattress, 2) to remember my cat has 9 lives so if I’m fucking up this one for her, she’ll get me back in the next and I really should stop worrying about her abandonment issues, 3) to use the very effective tools I have (which I’ll start sharing with you soon) to address any fears of financial insecurity, and 4) to not wait until noon to eat, here’s the big take-away:
We are emotional creatures. Everything we do stems from an emotional need.
So, think about it. How can you meet people’s emotional needs more effectively – those of your boss, your best friend, your co-worker, your family, yourself? And how do your emotional needs affect how you interact with those same people?
Tell me what you think, in the comments below. And share this with a couple of friends! Let it spark a great conversation over tea.