Paul Butler | The Customer Connection

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile

A Kiwi and a Brit walked into a coffeehouse … I wish this were the beginning of a joke; sadly, it’s not. I’m not a big fan of coffeehouses — to me, it seems ridiculous to pay so much for such a basic commodity. I can see and somewhat admire what these big coffee chains have done, though — they’ve created a “third place” for people, as their marketers call it. 

The assumption is that our “first” and “second” places are our homes and our workplaces. The only issue I see with that picture is that for some people, their first and second place is the same place. To me, it seems sad that someone would rank one of their top three places as a characterless, bland, and cookie-cutter set of four walls branded the coffeehouse chain. 

With this in mind, I reluctantly agreed to meet my friend at a local coffeehouse. 

My friend is from New Zealand, which is a small island off the coast of Australia (sic), so he’s hard enough to understand anyway. What made it even harder was the rather frustrating noise coming from the wheels of a cleaning trolley being pushed along by an associate.  

After about the fourth trolley trip, I resorted to lip-reading the Kiwi, as I just couldn’t hear him. The associate seemed completely oblivious to the noise coming from her trolley cart — I assume because she did this several times a day and had just gotten used to it. This associate seemed to have forgotten why people actually come to the coffeehouse. 

Not only could I not decipher what my friend from down under was saying, but I also could barely hear the beautiful jazz music the store must have carefully selected. I could tell it was Stan Getz, but it might as well have been Iron Maiden, as this iron maiden dragged her heavy metal across the stone flooring again and again. 

Having previously served as a regional director within leisure and hospitality, I felt obliged to draw attention to this service challenge to the store manager. The only problem was I couldn’t find a store manager, nor could I find anyone willing to take any responsibility. I asked one person, “Are you the manager?”  

Her response was “Nope.” That was it. Nothing more crossed her mind. 

I asked the reluctant employee if I could explain a customer frustration I’d had. I waited for her to stop looking at her phone, and then I explained about the noise, but she seemed completely disinterested. I tried to emphasize how the environment of beautiful jazz music and the intoxicating aroma of their coffee beans were significantly spoiled by the trolley runs, but it was as if I was speaking another language. 

At this point, the disinterested, non-manager said, “We have to take the trash out, and that’s the way we’ve always done it.”  

I tried to reason with her on two points to consider — firstly, that maybe a good time to take the trash out was at the end of the shift when the store closed, and secondly, that if trash had to be taken out during open hours, maybe it would be a good idea to use a trolley with rubber wheels.  

I knew I’d lost the customer connection when she flatly responded: “But that’s the trolley we use.” 

So that’s how it went down when a Kiwi and a Brit walked into a local coffeehouse last week. Not only am I sure this isn’t my “third place,” it’s probably the “last place” I would go to for a meeting with another human being with whom I wanted to converse.  

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]. 

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