Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Great experiences are a moving target

Whether you love them or hate them, Starbucks has been at the forefront of the experience business since their founding. Now founder and chairman Howard Schultz expresses his concern at the "commoditization," and dilution, of the Starbucks experience. Read the full memo here.

Here are three business decisions Schultz is now regretting, jointly made to accommodate their popularity and rapid expansion. These decisions have affected the original Starbucks experience, inspired by the coffeehouses of Milan:

1) Automatic espresso machines removed "much of the romance and theatre that was in play with the use of the La Marzocca machines. This specific decision became even more damaging when the height of the machines, now in thousands of stores, blocked the customer's sight line to watch the drink being made, and for the intimate experience with the barista."

2) Flavor-locked coffee bags caused "the loss of aroma -- perhaps the most powerful non-verbal signal we had in our stores; the loss of our people scooping fresh coffee from the bins and grinding it fresh in front of the customer, and once again stripping the store of tradition and our heritage."

3) New store design has created "stores that no longer have the soul of the past and reflect a chain of stores vs. the warm feeling of a neighborhood store."

Schultz is not blaming his staff in the memo, he takes full responsibility for making those decisions with them, which at the time seemed like good decisions to serve customers more quickly. But his points—that the sounds, scents, and visuals of making coffee have now been lost—are important reminders to everyone running an experience-based business. For a full and thoughtful treatment on the sensory aspect of brand experiences, check out Martin Lindstrom's book Brand Sense.

Tip of the day: The importance of the sensory experience is covered in my Sensation step (Step 6). Starbucks' decisions fall into the Common Sense step (step 7) of my 8 steps to better customer experiences. They're an example of alignment common sense. Starbucks made decisions that fundamentally changed their core mission of creating the "coffee experience." Make sure your business decisions align with your mission, so that your experience doesn't end up watered down.

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  1. Hank Heath5:34 PM

    We couldn't agree more. Both Pam & I worked for Starbucks for years while it was in its original format. As soon as the new "improvements" came in, we moved on to other things. It just wasn't the same.

    The problem is going to be inertia. How does one tear down all those bad decisions to restore the original look and feel?

    We wish them luch.

  2. Thanks, Hank. I didn't really even touch on how the changes would have felt to the front-line staff members who they most affected every day. Instead of being skilled baristas trained in the art of making coffee, one cup at a time, they became assembly-line workers. Not what you signed up for. Thanks for reading.