I have a great story to tell you.

It’s one of fantastic customer service from a brand we all know and love: Starbucks.

Most of you know I had a craaaaazy summer. I was on the road for 25 weeks straight. To say I was exhausted is putting it mildly.

When I’m home, Mr. D comes into my office and announces, “I’m going to go hunt for coffee,” as if we’re living in the wilderness and he’s hunting for the family’s daily meal.

I always get a tall, nonfat latte. But one particular morning in June, after a few weeks of crazy travel, I asked him to upsize me to a grande.

When he returned, there was a note on my cup:

The fact that the barista at Starbucks knew I was in for a long day because I ordered a larger drink was pretty incredible. I took a picture of it and uploaded to Facebook, but thought that was the end of that.

About a month later, Mr. D came home with another personalized cup:

He explained they didn’t think I was real – that he was making me up – because they’d never seen me.

So, of course, I checked “maybe,” wrote “depends on your definition of real,” and sent the cup back the next day.

In order to determine whether or not our definition of real was the same, he sent me another cup:

And so began our four month relationship, communicating only through cups that Mr. D delivered back and forth a couple of times a week.

It became a great source of entertainment on Facebook, while my friends all voted on how I should answer each question.

Then, after three U.S. trips and one trip to Canada, I made my return – via the cups and Mr. D – to Starbucks.

He continued to keep me on my toes, even as I answered his questions and sent back some of my own, with a new “feature” of our cup relationship.

And then sadness. About a month ago, I learned his last day at Starbucks was coming soon.

I had Mr. D find out when his last day was (this past Sunday) and I went in to meet him.

And now, without any further ado, I’d like to introduce Dan the Starbucks barista who totally rocks, gave me a ton of great fodder for Facebook updates for months, and made me feel like he truly cared about both Mr. D and me as regular customers.

He moved to Chicago to go to The French Pastry School and now has a full-time job as a pastry chef at Sixteen at the Trump Hotel. And you can bet on your life that we will be visiting him there, which never would have happened without the personalized cups.

He took regular Starbucks customers and had such an effect on us, we’ll become dessert patrons at a fancy schmancy restaurant.

The Experts Say

We’ve been talking a lot here about treating customers like people, no matter what your job, and while it’s interesting conversation, I’m not a customer experience expert.

So I asked Jeannie Walters and Adam Toporek to give us their take on why these little things matter so much in today’s 24/7, real-time, digital world.

Jeannie said:

This is a perfect example of how a small thing, a microinteraction, can have a much bigger affect. Customers are people. As people, we each like to be treated as an individual. This small act of interaction recognized you as a unique person, plus it created a relationship when there was no requirement to go beyond the transaction. By interacting in this incredibly human, not to mention charming, way, he gave you a reason to be loyal beyond the coffee. It’s a wonderful reward for loyalty, too. We all want to be recognized.

And, as a side note, this is the topic of Jeannie’s TedX talk on November 9, if you want to learn more.

And Adam said:

We live in a low touch economy. We bounce from transaction to transaction sometimes without any human contact at all. Most of the personalization we do experience falls under the rubric of mass customization — it’s faux-personalization such as reading the name off a credit card or off a Starbucks cup. These gestures are important because they help us feel recognized, but they are not enough to make us feel truly valued.

The reality is everyone wants to feel appreciated. What is so cool about your barista is that he went beyond his job to make you feel special, to take extra time to show that he valued you enough as a customer and person to notice and to care.

So there you have it. A very personal, fantastic story of customer experience and a series of microinteractions that worked phenomenally well.

What experiences have you had or seen that lend to really great customer experience?

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich