That was the case recently, when my wife, my daughter, and I showed up at a Starbucks on the way home from an event. We had an hour and a half drive, and we left the event with just enough time to get to the nearest Starbucks. The only problem was, we got in the drive-thru line three minutes before it was supposed to close.
To be honest, I started to feel a little guilty. I mean, as much as we wanted some coffee for the ride home, I've worked in restaurants and retail stores and I know that every employee in that situation is just counting the minutes until they can lock the doors, shut everything down, clean up, and go home. That's understandable -- standing on your feet all day taking care of customers is hard work. At some point, you just want to be done.
So, as I placed our order, I apologized for showing up at closing time. I was mostly trying to avoid the sound of frustration in the voice of the person at the other end and let them know how much we appreciated them accommodating us so late.
Instead, the response from the person at the window was completely unexpected: "No problem. We love making your favorite drink, and we're always happy to make it!"
There are a few things I love about that response, The first is that, as a customer, it made us feel like we were welcome, regardless of the time. It also made us feel like the barista was glad we were there and was glad to have a chance to serve us.
The other reason is that it was completely unexpected. I don't know if you've ever shown up at a restaurant a few minutes before it closes, but that's not the response you typically get. It is absolutely the response you should expect. Still, often you walk into a restaurant or retail store, or anywhere else, only to find employees who would rather be done and go home rather than have to serve one more customer.
That's human nature.
Recently, I was walking through a grocery store about 45 minutes before its scheduled closing time. Overhead, an employee made an announcement that it was time to "make your final selections and proceed to a checkout lane. The store will be closing soon."
I get that you want to let people know that you're closing, but nothing makes you feel less like a guest and more like an imposition than being told to hurry up and get out of the store so we can all go home. If that's the experience your customers have, you're doing it wrong.
I've even been to a restaurant where a sign in the front says "kitchen stops serving 30 minutes before closing." Which isn't actually true. If you stop serving people, you're closed, for all practical purposes. Just because people are still sitting inside, if you can't walk in, get a table, and be served, you might as well be closed. Otherwise, if your doors are unlocked and you're open for business, you should take care of your customers.
For years, Starbucks has said its mission is to be its customers' third place. It has built a business on being where customers go to do things like work, relax, study, talk, read, and yes, drink coffee. If you say that your mission is to be a place where people feel welcome and at home, you have to be intentional about welcoming people. You have to make them feel like you're glad they are there. That's what happened that day when we ordered our three drinks.
I reached out to Starbucks to find out whether this was a response they trained employees to say, but I didn't immediately hear back. Either way, it's a part of Starbucks's culture and it's such a great example of how to provide a great experience for every customer. If your entire business is based on the experience your customers have in your store, you have to be intentional about the type of experience you provide.
It's also a fantastic example for every business. Every interaction with a customer should make them feel as if they are important and welcome, whether they show up as you open the doors or as you're ready to close them.
On the other hand, if your employees make your customers feel like they are an inconvenience, or that they would rather go home, you're doing it wrong. If you make your customers feel like you'd rather shut the doors rather than make one more drink, you probably shouldn't open them in the first place.