In 1859 Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities, where citizens rise up in revolution. As a teenager studying for A-levels, I spent many hours tearing my hair out trying to decipher it!

This is not a tale of two cities, but rather of two cafes, and a quiet revolution where small businesses cannot escape customer scrutiny on social media.

The cafes in question are located in a pretty village about 30-mins drive from here. I needed to meet a colleague to plan for a meeting later that week. We live about 15 miles apart, so decided to meet for coffee half way. If we needed longer, we would maybe stay on and have some lunch.

As usual, Google helped find us a venue. A café run by a foodie, passionate about food quality. Very much my kind of thing. The meeting was arranged.

On the day it was drizzly, grey, and chilly for July. So we turned up at the meeting place, only to find it was completely full up! I stuck my head round the door and got an apologetic look from the waiting staff. “Sorry! We’re full – but please do try again later!”.

What a shame – it looked amazing. People cosied up around lovely wooden, farmhouse tables loaded with fresh flowers in jugs, and mugs full of what looked and smelled like fantastic coffee. Even in the few seconds I stuck my head around the door I could see it had a lovely ambience, and was somewhere I would want to come back to.

As luck would have it, there are plenty of cafes in this particular village. In fact, there was another only a few doors away. Strangely, as we approached we could see it was completely empty. Apart from a mum and her young children. “That’s lucky”, we said.

We walked in and noticed a gentleman – who we assumed to be the owner – sat at a table reading his paper. As we hovered in the doorway, it took him a full 10-seconds to speak to us (count it in your head – it’s a long time). He invited us to take a seat, but barely glanced up. A couple of minutes later, he shouted across the café into the kitchen, from where another member of the team emerged. She took our orders and so on.

I won’t go into the detail of what happened next, but it was OK. The drinks were OK, the service was functional. The café was very clean. The price was roughly what you’d expect. There was nothing wrong, but it wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience either. If I had to put it into words, I’d say it felt as though we were interrupting something.

Our original plan that morning had been to see how things went a maybe stay on for lunch. If we’d been successful getting into café no.1 this would have been a definite and we would have spent a lot more money that day. But although lunchtime customers were arriving at café no.2 as we left, we had no inclination to stay and spend more money with them.

I know I am a very fussy customer. Doing the job I do, it’s inevitable. But I realise that sometimes things just are not to my taste. Certain shops frequented by teenage members of my family are excruciating for me – terrible music, bright lights, clutter, clothes hanging on rails above your head which no normal human being could never reach. You get the picture.

I pondered over this on the drive home. And decided that I probably wasn’t the target customer for café no.2. Or maybe they were having an off day. Or maybe – being in a very well to do village – they have regulars who come in every day and actually did want to us to finish our drinks and vacate a table.

So, I decided to consult TripAdvisor and Google+ to find out what others thought.

The scores are not so far apart. 4.5 out of 5 vs 4 out of 5. Café no. 2 is doing well. Both have nice reviews. But café no. 2 is getting it right less often, as you can see.

The great thing about TripAdvisor is that it gives you free access to customer insight. Every customer comment is an opportunity to find out (for free) what customers expect. They will tell you what you’re brilliant at, and where you could improve.

It appears my customer experience ‘radar’ is working perfectly well. The two café owners have very different attitudes towards customer feedback.

Café no. 1 thanks customers for positive feedback, and hopes they will visit again. Negative reviews are not so easy to find, but they are met with “oh no! we will try to improve” and “hope you give us another chance to show you our best” .

Café no.2 thanks customers for positive feedback, and looks forward to seeing them again soon. But negative reviews are met with negative responses. “I’m sorry but I think you need to manage your expectations.” And “the atmosphere is normally very nice, although clearly I can’t speak for your table”.

To state the obvious, that’s not how I’d recommend anyone treats their customers! Really it all comes down to intent – how you as a business owner want to present yourself to the world, and the role you believe your customers play in that. Whether you say it explicitly or not, it comes across in everything you say and do. It’s called a brand!

Café no. 2 does not have a unique product or proposition. And most certainly does not have a monopoly. The owner, whether they realise it or not, is in the experience business, and stands to gain a lot from listening to what people are saying and improving their offering.

As ever we’d love to hear your thoughts on this blog, or your experiences in general. Please get in touch

Like me, Beth is a Customer Experience Specialist and proud to be a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP).
Beth started out in internal communications, journalism, and knowledge management. It was during her time working in a commercial team in financial services that she first spotted the link between Customer Experience Management and business results – she never looked back.

She has worked with businesses of all shapes and sizes, helping them to understand, and think like, customers. I am delighted that she is a part of the growing Customer Experience Consultancy family! Reach out to Beth at