Target fails, Starbucks thrills in real world customer service

Top Ten Real World Customer Experiences

Sometimes it’s fun (and helpful) to take our customer service classroom to the streets and see how real people are getting treated as customers. So today I will share with you my top ten list of real world customer experiences: nine winners and one sinner in the battle for delivering Amazing Customer Service.

The Customer Service Winners

Jensen’s Cafe

We wrapped up our dinner on a Sunday night. As we left Debbie forgot to bring her leftovers. By the time she went back in to claim them, they had been trashed as the staff cleared the table.

But, rather than send her home disappointed, the manager walked her back to the kitchen, asked her what she had ordered, and had the cooks make her another one. About 5 minutes later she walked out (beaming) with a brand new, full order.

JoJo’s Rise and Wine

Every time I go to JoJo’s I get something enjoyable yet surprisingly rare : a friendly conversation. The people there always take time to chat. They greet everyone who walks in. They pay attention to and actually care about their customers.  And if you’ve not been there for a while, they’ll notice next time you come in. In my city it’s probably as close to Cheers as it gets. (But don’t you dare call me Norm!)

Caribou Coffee

Caribou Coffee (Minnesota’s answer to Starbucks) is a winner because they are consistent. The people are always friendly and the coffee is always good. Plus I love the sign on their door as you leave: “See you tomorrow.” (Gotta love their optimism!)

Jimmy Johns

Their #1 corporate goal must be to greet every customer with a hearty hello. I love this. No matter what Jimmy John’s you go to you always get acknowledged and greeted as you walk in the front door. Some Jimmy Johners do it with more gusto than others. But it’s always there. They’re not just freaky fast. They are freaky friendly!

This might seem to trivial to even mention. And it should be. But think of how many retail businesses you walk in and you feel invisible.

Pilgrim Cleaners

I stopped by the local Pilgrim drycleaners one day after leaving my office.  Not long after I got a friendly letter from the store manager thanking me for choosing Pilgrim. This was a PAPER LETTER mailed in an ENVELOPE. With a real signature (in blue ink).

This might be another “huh?”. Why would such a simple act make this company a customer service winner? And that tells us how our customer service world has changed.

I am surprised thrilled amazed when someone takes the time to write, sign and mail a letter thanking me for spending $23 at their business. Because nobody does this anymore. (Or so I thought.)

Barnes & Noble

It was a busy night at the Barnes & Noble store in the Mall of America. Nothing unusual there. From a customer perspective, this mall is almost recession proof. I heard about a new book and I wanted to see if they had it yet. The lady at the customer service island was fast yet friendly and genuine. We talked about books and travel and the upcoming holidays all while she tracked down this book for me.

You might ask, “Isn’t that her job?” And it’s a fair question. But too often the people we deal with do much less than “their job”. So this lady’s charm and grace, while doing her job, makes her a customer service winner.

Starbucks, Arby’s and Potbelly Sandwich Shop (all in Maple Grove, MN)

I think there’s something in the water in Maple Grove. Or at least in the retail area that includes Starbucks, Arbys and the Potbelly Sandwich Shop. Their employees are all monumentally happy. Every time I visit one of these shops the people are not just friendly. They really seem to enjoy their work and their customers. They smile, they talk, they laugh. And not like scripted robots either. They are real. (It’s easy to tell the difference.)

The Customer Service Sinner

Target Corporation

Since the good people at Target Corporation were kind enough to drop a brand new SuperTarget about a mile from our house, we’ve rewarded them with tenacious loyalty. (My wife calls Target her “happy place”.) The Target brand plus the convenient location, relevant product mix and competitive pricing make it a winner. My only ongoing complaint is their employees (usually) do a lousy job bagging our groceries. Just chaos in paper bags!

Because they don’t pay attention.

What makes this sadly funny is I do all the hard work for them. I literally arrange our groceries on the conveyor belt exactly as I want them bagged. My goal is to have them bagged according where they will live in our kitchen.  One bag for refrigerated items. Another for the pantry, etc. So it makes the unbagging job go faster once we get home.

Yet almost every time, my neatly arranged flow of groceries gets torn up as if a hurricane passed through. No order, no logic no rhyme, no reason.

In the grand scheme, this is not a big deal. But its frustrating because the cure is so simple. And it does earn Target a “Fail” for this edition of our Top Ten Real World Customer Experiences.


You can see the winners here all have people who care about customers. They engage with them, they go the extra mile without being asked, they recognize them. They are human and they treat people well. And this seems to permeate their businesses.

In some cases, maybe they got lucky and scored some fantastic employees. But I think the majority of these companies have built a culture of caring in their organizations. They’ve discovered the secret sauce of how to treat people consistently well. And they spread it liberally on every customer experience.

That makes them winners in the real world of customer service.

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The article was written by Kevin Stirtz