I talk about coffee shops a lot. There are two reasons: the first is that I spend a lot of time scribbling notes in coffee shops, and the second is that they often produce customer service anecdotes that can be applied to virtually every kind of business.

I visited a coffee shop recently that just couldn't seem to get it right. The shop itself was fabulous, the location was great, and even the coffee was good, but they had absolutely no idea about customer service. To order your coffee you had to stand in a line that moved at a snail's pace. The staff working the till had to punch so many buttons I thought they must have been writing a novel. After they had taken your order you then had to wait by the counter with the rest of the crowd for your coffee. The silliest part was that there was no way to know whose order was whose. They put a cappuccino on the counter and yelled out 'One cappuccino.' Of course, everyone there ordered one cappuccino, so whose was this one?

The whole process was a mess. People were arguing, the staff had no idea whose order was whose, and the whole time the owner sat at a table and watched the mess unfold. Who is ever going to go back to the counter to order a second coffee and go through all that again? How simple would it be to give people a number? I still don't understand the reasoning behind this coffee shop's service philosophy, but it's a great way to learn what not to do.

This business made it really hard to make a purchase. Many businesses inadvertently put as many obstacles as possible in the way of their customers buying their products. It may be a cluttered counter, or a prerequisite that you purchase a minimum amount of a product. Perhaps you are made to wait on the end of the telephone for half an hour for the privilege of handing over your money, or it may simply be too complicated for a customer to get served.

Whatever the reason, a key to customer service is to remove all obstacles that make it harder for your customers to make a purchase from your business. Every step of the buying process should be as smooth as silk. This applies to everything from our online experience to the way we take orders or make sales in a traditional style business.

Some businesses seem to be experts at making the buying process difficult, unintentionally I'm sure, but in a hugely competitive world, we need to be doing everything we can to remove any obstacle that would get in the way of a customer buying from us.