What does excellent customer service mean to you? Rapid response? A salesperson who listens? Someone who does what they say they will? All of these traits, to be sure.

But great customer care is also served with a big dollop of empathy.

This was brought home to me recently during what my team now calls “The Great Coffee Spill of 2018.”

A coworker and I were in St. Paul for a meeting and stopped at a Caribou Coffee for a late afternoon pick-me-up. It was a typical summer day in Minnesota: hot and humid. So, I could hardly blame the person who took my Americano order for assuming I meant an iced coffee. They had probably been serving those all day. But I really had my mouth set for a hot drink.

When I explained to the barista that my order was wrong, she immediately apologized and proceeded to make a hot coffee, offering the iced one to my coworker. I expressed my appreciation. Then, when I received my new order, I took it to the accessories station to add cream.

Oops! Somehow I knocked over the cream canister. Which then tipped my coffee cup over. All over. The floor. The station. Me.

I grabbed napkins and asked an employee if he had a mop so I could clean it up myself. But he assured me he would take care of it. When we were on our way out the door, the barista offered – yet again – to make another large hot coffee. I wanted to pay for it but she waved me off.

Naturally, The Great Coffee Spill caused me Great Embarrassment. Yet, even though the employees had essentially made me three coffees for the price of one – and had cleaned up a big mess to boot – they treated us with the utmost respect, good nature, and empathy.

They could have made us feel bad; we’ve all been in similar situations where we’ve left feeling tense and humiliated. Instead, they went out of their way to make sure we left their premises laughing and feeling good.

That’s the power of empathy, which all great customer service requires.

Still, excellent, empathetic customer service doesn’t always just happen. It requires a culture to grow.

A culture that is deliberately created, fostered, and maintained throughout an organization. Top to bottom. It’s what turns customer service into customer loyalty.

And how much is customer loyalty worth?

Statistics show that bad customer service has a high cost. (With the advent of social media, it can be a very high cost indeed. It’s become possible for one unhappy customer to create thousands, even millions, of negative impressions about a company. Just ask United Airlines.) On the other hand, good customer service builds loyalty that can dramatically increase profits.

The biggest effect of The Great Coffee Spill of 2018? The EPI team has shared a lot of laughs over it, for one thing. For another: That coffee shop has a new loyal customer.


lead change well photo of Michelle Kelly

Michelle Kelly, CEO (Chief Enjoyment Officer)


More Good, Good Stuff from EPI

Drawing a line from etiquette to empathy


Get a free 30-minute consultation

Find out how EPI might be the right fit for you.

While we expected you to deliver a good product, we were delighted that you delivered it with commitment and passion.

Director, Talent Management