Costa Coffee – In hot water, bottle feeding woes

Costa Coffee in Hot Water www.grumpymum.co.uk

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For several years now I’ve been having a love affair with Costa Coffee. It’s not the weekend until we’ve trotted off to Costa for a hot chocolate and a latte, but just recently the relationship has turned as sour!

It all started one fateful Saturday in October. We headed off for out first Costa since Grumpy Baby had been born. The branch we chose was Costa, Greenbridge in Swindon. We’d just been in the Mothercare store next door buying Grunpy Baby all manner of cute things that I couldn’t resist, and were looking forward to a nice relaxing drink and a naughty cake. As I placed my order and asked for a cup of hot water to warm a bottle, I had no idea that I was about to enter a battle of wills with Costa managers everywhere. Trundling off to take my seat, it was only when Grumpy Dad arrived with our drinks but no hot water that things started to go wrong. He hadn’t noticed the missing water so he headed back up to the counter to get it only to be told that for health and safety reasons we couldn’t have it. When he relayed this message I just couldn’t believe it, we’d ordered two hot drinks which were apparently not a health and safety risk so why was a simple cup of hot water?

I headed back to the counter myself with my grumpy hat on, only to be told the same. On politely pointing out that I could buy a cup of tea made from the same water, I was informed that it was different. I can only assume that their tea bags have magical properties which transform the hot water in some mystical way that makes it less likely to scold, but I decided that it would be a good idea to speak to the manager just to be sure.

The manager was either having the worse day of her life, or is perpetually in a bad mood, as after making me wait at the bar for several minutes she insisted we talk behind a coffee machine, where she once again told me that I couldn’t have hot water in a coffee shop because I might burn myself. I unhelpfully stood my ground and eventually she agreed to give me the hot water, rather than stand there trying to come up with a sensible reason why the hot water was so much more dangerous than a cup of tea. On returning to the counter she poured me a cup of hot water (while glaring at me as if I’d kicked her puppy), after which she pushed it across the counter at me with such force that half of it slopped out of the cup while exclaiming “Don’t blame me if you spill it”.

Well, as you could imagine, that particular Costa visit wasn’t the relaxing experience we usually enjoy so I decided to take action and email Costa customer service. The following is the email I received in response to my complaint.

“Please accept my sincere apologies for any disappointment caused following your recent visit. I do apologise that you were not provided with a cup of hot water as requested. There does appear to be some confusion as this should have been provided for you.

Please be assured I will be raising your concerns with the Area Manager of this store so that these issues that you have raised can be picked up with the store manager to help improve our service.

We completely understand your disappointment and hope you will appreciate that your experiences were not typical of the usual high standards offered.

Thank you for taking the time to contact us with your feedback.”

Fantastic! I now had email proof should this happen again and their word that the area manager would be on it. With that in mind I thought nothing of going into Costa in Next at The Orbital Shopping Centre, Swindon. Here I was told by the server that under no circumstances were they allowed to give out hot water for the purpose of warming bottles. With a sigh, I explained that I had spoken to their head office and the content of their reply, I even offered to show her the email. She refused and with quite a rude manner she informed me that I could have the water “this time”. By comparison the young man making our drinks was very interested in the email. He asked if he could see the email (while the server snapped over his shoulder that she “didn’t want to see it”) and explained that he’d long thought the rule was silly and that having experienced the inconvenience first hand while out with his sister and her baby, he found it quite frustrating. He’d even raised it with his manager a few times but had always been shouted down.

After this second experience I emailed Costa again and received the following reply.

Thank you for contacting Costa Customer Services regarding your recent visit to our store in Next, Swindon.

Please accept our sincere apologies for the poor level of customer service that you received on your recent visit. At Costa we aim to provide a family friendly atmosphere in which parents are welcome to relax with their children.  Our brand policy is to keep the bottle warmer or jug behind the counter and ask the accompanying adult to come back for the bottle, or alternatively wait for it to be warmed for the length of time as requested.

Should you wish to take the hot water back to your table you are more than welcome to do so however this is done at your own risk.  I have spoken with the store directly and they are aware of this.

We would like to assure you that your comments regarding your visit will be passed onto our Brand Managers so that these issues that you have raised can be reviewed.

We completely understand your disappointment and hope you will appreciate that your experiences were not typical of the usual high standards offered.

As a token of apology we are sending you an E-Gift voucher to your email address (to the value of £3) so that you can enjoy a Complimentary drink on us when you’re next in one of our stores.  You will shortly receive a further e-mail with a Costa E-Gift attached, please either print out the voucher or display it on your smart phone. Simply present it to the team member in store at point of payment. Please note that Costa E-Gift vouchers can be redeemed in the majority of our High Street stores, and do not have to be redeemed in full in a single transaction.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to contact us, feedback, whether positive or negative is always very important to us and our success as a brand.

Fair enough, I just had to tell the staff that I am more than happy to take responsibility for the hot water and the heating of my baby’s bottle myself. No problem…

By this point you can probably guess what happened when I walked into Costa on the High Street in Swindon Town. I had hoped to spend some time there drinking hot chocolate and eating cake while I waited for my car to be serviced, but no such luck!

Once again I asked for a cup of hot water with my order and as with the first instance, there was no objection at the point of sale. There was however a problem with my free drink voucher. The server didn’t know how to process it… neither did two other staff members and the store manager. Eventually the store manager fudged it and I went to collect my drink, and once again, no hot water.

Now, by this point I was getting a little miffed. I was told again that I couldn’t have the hot water for health and safety reasons and once again I pointed out that firstly I now had two emails stating I could have the water and secondly that it was no different than my ordering a cup of tea. Unfortunately this branch appeared to have the same magic tea bags as the first branch as they advised me that tea was definitely different and not a health and safety risk. After insisting on the hot water for several minutes the staff member went to collect the manager who read my emails from the Costa customer service team and then point blank argued that they were wrong. He once again argued that hot water is far more dangerous than hot water with a tea bag in it and after a couple of minutes informed me that he would go and call the area manager to confirm that the Costa customer service team were wrong.

By this point my drink had been sitting on the counter cooling for quite some time and I was on the verge of insisting on a refund for rest of my order and leaving when he returned to tell me he couldn’t get hold of the area manager, so he would let me have the water “just this once”. The manager and the server then stood around for a few minutes making a point of how I really shouldn’t be getting the hot water because it’s dangerous, before giving me the water and leaving me to it.

Once Grumpy Baby had been fed I wrote another email to Costa customers services while I drank my (cold) hot chocolate. The response I received was as follows.

Thank you for your email and once again I would like to apologise for the experience that you have had.  I have spoken with the manager of the store concerned and explained what we had agreed in previous emails.

She is going to speak with all of her team members and make them aware of what has been discussed.

This is also something that I have forwarded to the area manager and asked them to look into with the stores in their area in order to improve this service.

Once again I apologies for any embarrassment and inconvenience this has caused you.

Surely now, over two weeks later, the area manager has passed the message to all her stores?

Well, if she has she didn’t tell Costa at the Designer Outlet Village, Swindon, as today, once again I was refused hot water. This time at least the server was extremely polite and apologetic. Once I explained about the emails she informed me that she had been specifically trained not to give out hot water for bottle warming, but she thought it was a silly rule and happily gave me the water and told me she would speak to the area manager as soon as possible.

While the server was very polite, I’m starting to feel like it’s Groundhog Day every time I step into a Costa. So, you guessed it, another email has winged its way to Costa customer services, once again advising them of the disconnect between what they are assuring me and what is being done in their branches. I’m now getting used to the exhausting, repetitive argument that hot water in a coffee shop is a health and safety risk (As an aside Case 36 on the HSE website would suggest otherwise). It’s appalling customer service and it makes me feel like my custom isn’t welcome, but I refuse to give in. One day I will be able to enter a Costa without thinking “Here we go again…”

 

Continue reading about my experiences with Costa Coffee by following the links below.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

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