With its network of cafés across the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong, Blue Bottle prides itself on serving an authentic experience to every customer. Because of this value, employee training is a core component of ensuring a superior guest experience.
“We spend a lot of time training our baristas and [while] it’s very rigorous and expensive, [we find it’s worth it],” says Bryan Meehan, CEO of Blue Bottle Coffee Company. “We realized that you could have the most beautiful product in the world, but if you get bad service when you’re ordering it, that’s what you remember.”
One report from PwC finds that more than 30% of customers would walk away from a brand they love after just one single bad experience, and nearly three-quarters say customer service drives their purchase decisions.
That’s why Blue Bottle invests in a robust employee training effort that includes not only the guest experience but also product and process knowledge. Here are the key areas they focus on during employee training and development that helps set them apart from others.
Hire employees who are aligned with your mission
Creating a strong team starts, Meehan says, by recruiting those who love your product. One of the first interview questions they ask candidates is whether they drink coffee. “I think it’s hard to have people working in your business who don’t drink or like coffee,” he says. “In the same lens, you want people to be able to appreciate the art of making a delicious cup of coffee.”
Instead of looking for relevant experience, Blue Bottle prefers to focus more on hiring the right kind of person. “We know that we can train how to make coffee. We can’t train those personalities to show up,” points out Selena Viguera, a Blue Bottle café leader.
During onboarding, new employees are immersed in the Blue Bottle ethos and heritage. This includes the company’s unwavering commitment to freshness and its focus on sustainability (from responsibly sourced beans to its journey to zero waste). And every employee, regardless of job function, learns to master the perfect Blue Bottle pour-over.
Prioritize hospitality in employee training
For most people, the act of getting a coffee represents a small moment of self-care. It’s the ritual that starts their day off right. That’s why every aspect of the Blue Bottle experience honors that ritual.
Cary Cheng, Blue Bottle’s Prototype and Standards Design Manager explainsthat hospitality starts the second a guest enters a cafe and continues at the Square Point of Sale (POS). That’swhere the barista engages with the customers, makes eye contact and offers a friendly greeting, to reinforce that welcoming spirit.
Walk in your customer’s shoes
While placing a coffee order at the register might be the customer’s key interaction with the brand, Blue Bottle strives to make a good first impression with customers the moment they pass through the front door. Like a well-paced movie, the coffee brand designed its perfect customer experience around five key story arcs or “beats.”
The point they enter the café is the first beat. Are the doors fingerprint-free? Is the dog bowl filled with fresh water? Do customers feel comfortable with the health and safety precautions? The second beat is everything a customer might encounter waiting in line and placing their order, from the volume of the music and vibe of the baristas to the ease of making a payment.
The third beat happens when the customer waits for their beverage. Baristas know to check-in with customers and let them know the progress on their coffee order. This transitions into the fourth beat, the handoff. Here, the baristas focus on the details, like bringing the beverage directly to the customer (iconic Blue Bottle logo facing out!) and personalizing the delivery with a smile and greeting.
The fifth beat covers the remainder of the visit. Whether the customer is lingering or leaving, employees keep a well-trained eye toward maintaining a positive ambiance and thorough cleanliness.
“It’s very specific, and yet very simple,” says Viguera. “If you are a detail-oriented barista, we’ve literally just laid it out so that we all execute the same way at every café.”
Create a consistent customer experience
Across all its locations, these five beats represent the Blue Bottle standard. This standardization is a hallmark of Blue Bottle’s experience and an integral part of employee training. Each café is designed according to detailed specifications, and that uniformity infuses every detail of the barista’s work area.
This creates a straightforward, instructional template, and allows an employee to feel at home in multiple locations. It also helps new team members get trained faster.
“If a person comes to one café and it’s different from another, they have to relearn their movements. By standardizing the café in terms of the bar itself, you’re creating a sort of ‘muscle memory,’” says Cheng. Teaching all baristas the same process and equipping each café with the same tools simplifies execution for every employee, no matter the level of experience or expertise.
While Blue Bottle has had to tweak their customer flow slightly to accommodate health and safety regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve never lost sight of the experience for their customers and making sure they still had positive interactions with their staff.
Empower employee training and development with the right technology
While mastering the perfect pour-over is both an art and science, running the point-of-sale system shouldn’t have to be either one. That’s where Square steps in, with its intuitive technology that supports a user-friendly experience for both the customer and employee.
Employees are tasked with balancing orders from Blue Bottle’s Order Ahead app and from orders placed in the cafe.
“We can see when the app is getting heavy usage throughout the day to better staff our cafes, to better understand what that bar flow looks like in the cafe as well.” explains Oriana Wen, Blue Bottle’s Director of Data and Innovation. “We can increase the number of drinks that we’re producing within a certain timeframe. So that might lead to some changes in equipment, and it might also increase the number of baristas that we can have behind bar.”
Having technology that integrates across all ordering touchpoints simplifies the purchasing process for both customers and baristas. But the real magic is in how easy it is for employees to administer, from conducting speedy transactions to tracking inventory, customer preferences and more. The simplicity of the system helps to improve employee engagement with technology.
“Square is seamless; it’s part of the journey for the customer,” Meehan says.
Reaping the Benefits
Blue Bottle’s comprehensive employee training program makes baristas more effective and more engaged as brand ambassadors. And it enables employees to uphold Blue Bottle’s focus on excellence.
“Once people are trained, there’s just an appreciation of the craft of Blue Bottle,” Meehan says. “Deliciousness is the key to the success of Blue Bottle. If people take shortcuts on how that product is made or how that product should taste, then I don’t think we have a future. So everybody in the company needs to know how to make the perfect cup of coffee.”
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