The Starbucks experience changed for me yesterday, and I’m looking for a substitute.
Yesterday morning, as we often do, we had a great walk on a beautiful day in the nature center. After our walk, a visit to our favorite Starbucks store. There was no line at the cashier’s station. Only three attendants were behind the counter instead of the usual four. It appeared that all of them were busy. My wife and I usually order a sandwich, for which we expect to wait. Our drink is the most mundane and easily served Starbucks fare. No jargon-filled two sentence description. No flavor directions. No foam instructions. No hot or iced option. Just two tall Pikes with room (for milk).
Heretofore, the counter person would turn around to draw the uncomplicated drip coffee product into a paper cup, slipped the ubiquitous brown corrugated collar around it, snapped the white plastic lid in place and placed it on the counter while my credit card process finished. Receipt sir? No thank you. On our way to add some half-and-half and a yellow packet of sweetener, claim a brown wooden table with chairs that scrape the floor in that familiar way while we wait for the sandwiches.
Things were different yesterday. Upon receiving the usual order, our cashier hurried off to find and heat the sandwiches. I stood still expecting that she had reversed the order of the familiar process. She returned, the two Pikes? I asked. Her reply and the straw that broke the camel’s back for me was, “they are in the cue, sir.” I came to the Starbucks store for the experience. The smells, the sounds of conversation, the parade of people, the scraping of chairs, the collection of pastries to be tempted by and decline. I drove several miles to have that familiar experience and to have my coffee promptly served while waiting for my sandwich. No, my coffee is in the cue! That means I, who came for the experience will be waiting to be served while all of those people who ordered by app, paid with a registered card and expected to spend thirty seconds bursting through the doors of the store, making a beeline to the pick up counter, grabbing their caffeine and carbo and disappearing in a flash. No need for human interaction or desire for the retail experience. Starbucks becomes an assembly line! How far are we from a big hunter’s green and white enamel coffee robot?
Not wanting to be “in the cue,” I will seek out another coffee experience. The bottom line for those of us who serve customers: when we let technology damage the experience our brands will suffer. When the customer experience changes, some people will get off the boat, and some will get on. My advice is, go carefully, even where you can cut cost by adding technology. Test and monitor carefully to see how many customers vote with their feet as you change the experience. Adjust the plan to migrate gradually or, better yet, find ways to preserve the experience for those attriting and keep the satisfied customers, carefully guarding your revenue and your net promoter scores. Off to Caribou!