Eddy Chan, the co-founder of Selfie Coffee, is a meek, soft-spoken and humble man. He’s not the most visibly outgoing person, but is nevertheless all about the people. Although his expertise lies in the tech department, he’s often found behind the cash register, serving customers with a smile and a mission to make them “feel good”.
Selfie Coffee, his first F&B venture, was opened in 2015 when the “selfie” has become a full-fledged phenomenon. Catching on to the craze, it invented a way to print selfies on coffee. Customers can enter the store, take a snapshot on the spot, and within a few minutes, receive a delicious, picture-perfect cuppa with their face on the top layer of whipped cream.
While the original image-printing machine it used was tailored solely to cakes, the team eventually created one for coffees through an immensely painstaking process of trial and error. And to Eddy’s utter astonishment, the cafe went viral.
From local collaborations with Singapore Tourism Board and Qantas Airways, it’s spread all the way to the other side of the globe with special features on American news website Business Insider, and a TV travel series in South Korea.
“We have all this media coverage from Japan, Indonesia… Even Facebook engaged us to do events,” he exclaims. And the best part? He’s never had to spend more than $50 on marketing. It’s all through word of mouth. Any visits from media outlets were unsolicited.
Now you may ask, how does a small cafe on a little red dot reach international fame so quickly? Is it just plain luck, or a kickass product poised to appeal to the masses in the digital epoch? Perhaps it’s both, and then some.
Here’s the real secret: Focusing on the customers.
The entire business (including its signature offering) centres on the customers themselves. Even its social media pages, which Eddy manages himself, feature only reposts of the customers’ selfies in the cafe. Any actual marketing effort goes into boosting Facebook posts. Still, Eddy says, “We are lucky. The marketing is actually from the customers themselves.”
And he’s not just being modest. Once, a diner, taken by the cafe’s unique coffee concept, recommended it to Trick Eye Museum. It not only got the museum’s attention, but launched an entire collaboration with the cafe – all because of a fervent fan.
“If you look at other people’s Facebook and Instagram [accounts], they are trying to advertise their product. What I’m advertising, or rather, what I post on my Facebook is actually the customer’s work of art, their photos. It’s a ‘feel good’ thing. It’s not really marketing,” he asserts.
With this curation of customer entries, its social media accounts are no longer strictly brand pages, but community pages for Selfie Coffee fans.
It is clear the customer is first for Eddy. He also subscribes to the notion that the customer is always right – sort of. “To a certain extent, if we can do it, we’ll do it,” he declares. “Not to say that the customer is always right, but when they come in, they want to feel happy.” And it is this happiness that Eddy constantly strives to provide to his patrons.
Whatever requests they have, he’ll do his best to fulfill them, even if it’s a tad troublesome or deviates from the standard procedure. Many of them pertain to the making of a selfie coffee.
A complex process that follows a strict sequence with specific steps, producing a selfie coffee requires customers to take a picture on the spot, instead of uploading one from a different device. Changing this sequence complicates things. And you might end up matching the wrong image to the wrong coffee, ruining not just a single order, but the others in the queue as well.
While a part-timer may not know how to handle such situations and requests, Eddy certainly knows his way around the technology and equipment. He says, “If the queue isn’t too long, they can do whatever they like, as long as they are happy.”
With ill-equipped staffers, however, patrons don’t always get what they want. This, at times, escalates into a confrontation with an angry customer, which is never easy to deal with. Eddy’s approach? “ You smile. You just have to explain to them.”
He shares, “If the customer is rude, there must be a reason. I wouldn’t say that the customer is rude. It’s probably triggered by something, but sometimes you cannot help it.”
“If I’m dealing with it, it’s to find out what’s the reason they’re not happy and try to make them happy. It really depends on the person serving. When I serve the customers, they are always happy,” Eddy says, letting out a chuckle.
Pro-Tip: Learn how to navigate customer recovery effectively in this post, written by a restaurateur herself!
Beyond the typical challenges of customer service, the business has faced a multiplicity of other roadblocks as well. Selfie Coffee, in fact, used to have four outlets. Realising that they’ve bitten off more than they can chew, the team decided to focus their efforts on a single store.
Selfie Coffee Selfie from a Korean fan
Developing and getting used to the specialised printing machine was also another huge learning curve. This means making sure the picture comes out undistorted, the foam doesn’t dissolve too quickly, and the drink tastes as good as it looks.
Eddy offers, “When you come to F&B, there are a lot of challenges, so you have to be very persistent. You have to deal with a lot of small things – dealing with suppliers, coming up with the food, all these things.”
What keeps him going is the look on his diners’ faces when they receive a personalised cup of coffee. “If you say it’s a money-making business, it’s not really true. Why we continue to do [what we do] is because it feels good. That’s why we have to make customers feel good also,” he reveals.
“I always tell my staff, it’s this happiness that lets us still do this cafe.”
Now read on: Why one man gave up his snazzy suits and fancy holidays to work 22-hour days, all to be his own boss: The Mission Juice Merchant Story.