Like many of us , I worked my way through high school and college at various coffee shops and restaurants. Glamorous? Hardly (unless you’re really into pizza). But what I went through during my time in the foodservice industry has had a profound impact on my life. The way I handle situations in the workplace today is influenced by the experiences I had pouring coffee and washing dishes.

What I learned.

stock 1

Lesson 1: Empathy

Nothing irritated my coffee shop customers more than waiting for their caffeine fix. The longer the wait, the more anxious they got. Rather than return their frustration, I put myself in their shoes. How long would I want to wait? Would I be happy right now?

There’s a reason we all know the saying “Treat someone as you would want to be treated.” I learned really quickly how important it is to empathize with customers.  No matter how you feel in any given situation, the customer is having their own day with their own experiences.

How you handle every situation matters. If a customer has been waiting for a while, let them know that you understand their frustration. The result? A customer who feels empathized with and is therefore more willing to wait because they know you understand their frustration.

I’ve traded my green apron for a role in people operations. The job may be different, but the need for empathy is the same. It’s quite literally my job to make sure that my team is as happy and productive as possible. From questions about company benefits to job best practices, empathizing with their situation helps me give them the best advice possible.  

Lesson 2: Patience is a virtue

Not every transaction will go as planned. Whether it’s forgetting the drink recipe for the latest and greatest frappuccino or a glitch in the computer system that forces you to miss an order, mistakes happen. Something will always go wrong. It’s how you handle the situation that will make or break your relationship with the customer.

Startup life can be unpredictable and it’s sometimes hard to remain calm in the eye of the storm. I often have to remind myself to take a step back, take a deep breath, and focus. Texas is in the middle of its rainy season, and our office had an unfortunate flooding situation. Strolling into work and discovering a small waterfall is never fun, but thinking on your feet is a useful skill to have. Rather than panic, I worked with our team to move equipment away from the affected area and create a temporary work station.

Lesson 3: Become a human Wikipedia

One of my favorite things about working at Starbucks was how well they educate each barista about each product. Green apron training can be intense (major brownie points to all of the black aprons out there). It’s that intense process that makes each barista qualified to give customers the recommendations they ask for.

Where are the coffee beans sourced? What’s the secret menu? They have you covered.

Working at a SaaS company has made me so grateful to have this mindset. I want to know anything and everything about our product because there’s a good chance the question will pop up. I’m no longer in a primary customer-facing role, but I am a part of a small team. It’s common to help out with customer service tickets or to sit in on a demo with the sales team. The best part of being involved in a small company is the opportunity to learn.

Lesson 4: Be efficient

Time is money in any business, but when you’re working an hourly position there’s an added pressure to be as efficient as possible. When I wasn’t working on a drink order I was changing out the sanitary buckets or restocking syrups or cups.

Multitasking and the need for efficiency is still a huge part of my daily routine. I take advantage of applications like Trello and Evernote to help stay on track of my to-do list.

Lesson 5: What’s customer experience?

I didn’t have a firm grasp on how much everyone influences the customer experience until I worked in the foodservice industry. Like a machine, if one part doesn’t function well, the whole thing can fall apart. If I didn’t do my job to the best of my ability, the customer may not get the best experience possible.

The customer may not always be right, but they always have a voice. Listening to what they have to say can help your team and product grow.