Creating a Non-Transactional Coffee Shop Customer Experience

In today’s world of convenience and on-demand everything, the customer experience can begin to feel pretty transactional. We order clothes, books, and tools online without asking a sales associate for help. People pull up to a drive thru, speak to a screen, and swap our card for a food order. And we slide into the backseat and stare at our phones during an Uber ride.

If a customer prefers to get what they need quickly and go on their way, that’s just fine. Drive-thrus and mobile ordering make it easy. But what about the regulars who are looking for community? What about the dad who swung by for a coffee after school drop off and just wants to see another adult? Or the work-from-home accountant whose run through the drive-thru is the only human interaction she’ll have all day? 

Can coffee shops build a loyal audience by creating meaningful interactions? They can. (And, they should.)

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Tips for Enhancing Customer Experience

The strategies below can help coffee shops enhance the customer experience—so that it’s not just about the transaction. Tell us in the comments which tips you’ll be trying at your cafe!

Figure out what makes you special—beyond great coffee

The first step in building a coffee shop brand is identifying your unique business concept. Preparing great coffee is the bare minimum. A unique business concept goes deeper—defining what audience you’ll serve and what sets your coffee shop apart from competitors.

Know your audience. It doesn’t matter how interesting or special your coffee shop idea is to you if it doesn’t attract a large enough audience. The way to attract loyal customers and even influencer marketing power is by honing in on a special group of people that your shop will benefit. This audience will influence your choices for location, menu, aesthetic, messaging, and especially your customer experience.

Once you’ve got your audience in mind, you can start building a unique concept around them. For example, if your target audience is suburban parents headed to and from kids’ activities, then a kid-friendly play space might be perfect for the family to take a moment to breathe before the next event. If your audience is college students looking for endless drip coffee and affordable bites while they study, then they’ll also benefit from lots of seating—and maybe even live music events on the weekends. And if you’re located in a heavy foot traffic area with folks headed to work, a grab-and-go station or coffee cart might be perfect. You can also weave your personal passion for community, custom cars, crafts, or even cats—think outside the box here—into your concept.

An outdoor coffee truck enhances the customer experience.

Make your coffee shop an experience (even if it’s a drive-thru)

Now that you’ve got your concept nailed down, it’s time to think about the execution. How will customers experience and enjoy your coffee shop? Things like the menu, ordering process, employees, seating, outdoor aesthetic, and even cups you use will impact how customers remember their visit.

But what about drive-thrus? Can they still offer a non-transactional customer experience? Many companies are doing it already. (And, not all of them are coffee shops.) We like to draw inspiration from every industry. At Andy’s Frozen Custard, for example, you can walk up or drive thru. And in both cases, you can see into the restaurant through large windows. The clean, white counters, staff uniforms, and red accents are recognizable pillars of the brand. Even huge brands like Chick-Fil-A are recreating the drive-thru experience, taking employees outside to talk to customers. Dutch Bros uses this technique as well. And if you’ve been to one, you know the employee will be trained to start a friendly conversation with every car. Even pup cups are a way for drive-thrus to connect to customers.

Build an experience with a hybrid model

A unique customer experience can be baked right into your business model. Hybrid coffee shop businesses offer coffee anlong with another product or service. Galindo’s is a Texas Coffee School Coffeepreneur® owned business in Conroe, Texas, that offers far more than coffee–try a haircut and a facial! Their hybrid business model hosts a coffee shop, barbershop, and aesthetics spa in the same building. Customers have flocked to Galindo’s since the opening to see the experience for themselves.

Galindo's offers a customer experience.

Galindo’s Coffee serves up a customer experience. Source: Facebook

Make an experience entirely your own

When you walk into Davis Street Espresso, you’re greeted by a waft of fresh-baked bread and a simple menu. The coffee shop only serves fresh, whole milk from a local producer in their coffee drinks. And if you want coffee to go, it comes in a reusable cup. The absence of wifi makes customers more likely to chat or read. It’s an experience akin to drinking coffee in Milan, where owner Shannon Neffendorf first fell in love with coffee culture.

Baked goods at Davis Street Espresso.

Baked goods at Davis Street Espresso.

Create a sense of belonging

A Forbes article says that belonging is the new customer loyalty. The author describes the difference between loyalty that’s bought versus loyalty that’s earned through connection and emotional commitment. He suggests three tips to build this sense of belonging: identifying your community and defining your objective (which you’ve already done in the steps above) and giving customers agency.

So how do you make it possible for customers to express themselves? Here are a few ideas we’ve seen work for other coffee shops:

  • Voting on or letting customers name menu items
  • Hosting community events
  • Sponsoring local groups like sports teams or nonprofits
  • Offering networking opportunities for guests
  • Featuring photos of customers on social media
  • Re-sharing customers’ social media posts and responding to comments

Menu at a coffee shop.

Provide over-the-top customer service

When it comes to making the customer experience feel non-transactional, there’s another way to add value to their visit—serve up excellent customer service. This might include asking for the customer’s drink when they order, learning the orders of regular customers, helping baristas have good conversations, and even keeping the store pristine.

Coffeepreneur®-owned Arwa Yemeni Coffee hit the ground running with Yemeni hospitality. There’s a cultural idea that you’d give your guest the last bite of food, so Arwa loves giving customers free samples of everything. They want customers to be able to experience what’s on the menu and decide what they like. And the viral success of Arwa is proof that their customer service (and experience) is gold.

Food and drink at Arwa Coffee improve their customer experience.

Arwa Coffee practices Yemeni hospitality by giving away samples. Source: Facebook

Combine convenience with quality

Finally, there’s a fine line between the need for convenience and still maintaining quality. What’s trending at coffee shops in 2023 is drive-thru coffee that still serves up the same level of excellence that customers would find in the store. Gen-Z in particular values both convenience and creativity. This might look like devoting resources to your drive-thru staff and fine-tuning operations so that every drink comes out to the same high standards.

Kickstart Your Coffee Shop Customer Experience at the 3-Day Coffee Business Master Class

Nearly all of the coffee shops mentioned above got started with an education from Texas Coffee School! In addition to learning the basics of coffee and business, we teach how the industry is changing and ways to keep up (and get ahead). The class investment is far outweighed by the success you could see at your new coffee business.

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