Dutch Bros is a drive-thru coffee company launched in 1992 by brothers Dane and Travis Boersma. Looking to start a new venture, the brothers—grandsons of Dutch immigrants—started serving espresso from a pushcart by the railroad tracks in downtown Grants Pass, Oregon.
With a focus on providing great coffee (with a side of rock music) and exceptionally friendly service, the company grew throughout the Northwest. Dutch Bros has experienced extensive growth in the past few years and is on track to open 1,000+ locations.
The brand’s motto is, “We may sell coffee, but we’re in the relationship business.” Dutch Bros’ Angie Veek, Senior Director of Customer Experience, and Sonia Martin, Senior Manager of Customer Success, are living examples of that ethos.
As part of Zendesk’s CX Moment virtual event series, we spoke with Veek and Martin about how they focus on building relationships with their customers—and why it’s their #1 priority.
From a lone pushcart to almost 750 stores in 14 states
Dutch Bros had humble beginnings, and the company aims to replicate the same intimacy the Boersma brothers created when they personally served their first customers cups of espresso.
“They knew everyone’s drink, they knew their names, and they knew their dogs’ names—and it was all about investing in the community and giving back,” Veek explains. “It was great music, and everyone was just having fun.”
Today, Veek and her team view the Boersma brothers as the “original customer service agents” who established the company’s values. “Dane created these building blocks for customer service, and we still refer to them daily,” says Veek. “All our agents are aware of the importance of what our customers bring to the equation.”
As the company has grown, the evolution of customer service has focused on finding a balance between the art of customer engagement and the science of metrics, reporting, systems, and strategy.
“For me, it’s continuing to invest in the right people, giving them the tools, and empowering them to do right by our customers,” Veek explains. “Because I think that is what we’re all about—and making sure we’re getting the right balance of art and science for our brand.”
A “broista” rises
Customer service skills are often developed by those who are in the trenches, slinging coffee in the early morning hours to people in need of their daily dose of caffeine. Martin, who started at Dutch Bros as a broista, learned about CX on the fly.
“Coming from the field, I was able to gain hands-on experience to better understand how our shops operate,” Martin explains. “I gained so much knowledge about our customers, their behavior, our products, and the voice of the customer through human interaction and creating customers during my four years as a broista.”
Martin memorized customers’ names and their drink orders and got to know them on a personal level. As her career at Dutch Bros advances, she still keeps in touch with the same customers she met years ago. “I get to see their kids grow up, get updates on their life—and they get to reach out to me and see me as I grow in my professional career,” Martin says.
When she first transitioned from broista to customer service rep, Martin witnessed the transition from phone and email support to a cloud-based customer service platform.
“That was a fun time,” Martin recalls. “We just launched Zendesk. We were working out of one inbox, there were about five support agents, and we were answering phone calls on an actual phone. It would round robin around, and we would say, ‘Who’s gonna answer it, whose turn is it?’”
Fusing the art and science of CX
As Martin learned the Zendesk platform, she quickly realized its potential to fuse the art and science of customer service by using Zendesk Explore.
“We were doing a great job at providing quantitative insights regarding our customer feedback—but we wanted to expand on that and explore how we can look at it from a qualitative perspective to better understand our customers and identify areas of improvement,” Martin says. “So, we began utilizing tags and custom fields so our agents could tag our tickets and capture top trends we were seeing.”
To ease support agents’ workload, Martin and her team created triggers to auto-tag tickets based on keywords that pertained to Dutch Bros’ core values. They also brought on an analyst who was able to use data to inform leaders in the field about coaching opportunities. Finally, they invested in a third-party vendor to support reporting needs.
“Throughout that process, we learned that the best way for us to filter our trends is leveraging Zendesk Explore and just capturing as much information we can from the ticket form,” Martin explains. “That way, we can capture a high-level glimpse of what our customers are telling us.”
The Dutch Bros customer service department has grown exponentially from when it received just one or two calls a day. Now, the department handles thousands of inquiries a month.
“The questions we receive are very central to the communities that we serve,” Veek explains. “It’s all about how we show up—and how we resolve issues if there was a problem with the experience.”
Veek empowers each of her agents to make it right with customers—no matter what.
“We have one phone number that funnels to our entire team,” Veek says. “So, none of our shops have a phone number. It’s really busy, it’s really dynamic, it’s very interactive, and our customers will pick up the phone and call us and talk with us as an extension of the drive-thru window.”
As a result of this very personal customer service, Dutch Brother has some very loyal—and protective—fans.
“We had a customer call the other day because a tornado warning was going to hit in one of our states, and they wanted to shelter our broistas and help and care for them,” Veek says. “We have really amazing customers who care about the brand—and they care about our people.”
As Dutch Bros’ customer experience team continues to evolve, there are opportunities for employees to grow and feel confident with the proactive solutions that Zendesk provides.
“We do a ton of work with employee engagement and how to build that culture internally with resilient agents that are thoughtful and grateful,” Veek says. “And we hope that we’re pouring back into them as much as they’re pouring into our customers.”
Missed our chat? Watch the event with Dutch Bros’ Angie Veek and Sonia Martin on-demand.