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Why do coffee shops serve bad coffee?

Coffee and the customer experience…

I am consistently baffled when I get a bad cup of coffee at a coffee house.  I mean, if you sell coffee, and it isn’t good…  No one is going to consistently go there!  I think a lot of businesses ultimately fail, because they really don’t focus on their main service.

Coffee and the Customer Experience

“Coffee and the Customer Experience”

Starbucks has this philosophy really figured out better than any other coffee place I’ve seen.  I frequently visit Thomas Hammer coffee in Post Falls, Idaho.  There is a Starbucks literally across the parking lot.  At Starbucks, the drive through will be 8-10 cars deep, non-stop, and Thomas Hammer will have 1-2 cars, if that.  You will get your coffee quicker at Starbucks even if you’re the 10th car, then at Thomas Hammer if you are only one car behind.  At Thomas Hammer, if you pay by credit card, you have to sign something.  At Starbucks, you don’t.  Thomas Hammer has better tasting coffee, but that Starbucks probably does 10 times the revenue, just based off looking at the drive through line.  AND it is harder to get to the Starbucks.  It has a worse location in the parking lot.

Why does Starbucks do so much better??

At Thomas Hammer, they are slow.  Seriously slow.  They also don’t give you sugar packets.  Any serious coffee drinker will find it impossible to get your perfect cup made without a consistent measurement of sugar packets.  You might think this is a minor detail.  But this is something I feel every business should really look at.  Would I buy from myself?  Is the main service I sell, better than everyone else’s?  Is the experience better?  Is it perfect every time?  Then after you’ve figured out and made your product actually better than others, you really have to think about the entire experience, down to the last minute.  As is plainly evident with the Thomas Hammer / Starbucks coffee war in Post Falls, Idaho, just selling better coffee, doesn’t win.  The experience and usability creates a routine.  And routines are better than cravings and indulgences.

At Starbucks, it IS pretty much perfect every time.  The coffee is thrown out every half hour so it’s fresh and hot.  The cups don’t leak out the back.  I mean someone at Starbucks probably spent a year working with a manufacturer to engineer the perfect coffee cup.  NO coffee house has a cup like Starbucks.  The normal coffee house has a lid that will leak out the seam and will pop off at any moment.  At some point in Starbucks history, someone said, we are going to have the best cup, regardless of cost.  Did I mention that it’s always fast?  If there’s a line, someone comes over and asks what you’re going to order so they get it started before you even order it.  Paying with credit card doesn’t take time.  The Starbucks cashier has run your card before the Thomas Hammer employee has even tried.  I bet taking the time to plan out a faster internet connection, a quicker to use machine, the proximity of the machine to the register, and paying more to the credit card company to not have the receipt signed, nets more money at the end of the day, than wasting an extra 15-45 seconds per transaction.  Everything has been thought through, so that the experience and cup of coffee is consistent and faster than the smaller coffee shops.  Thomas Hammer is a chain looking type of coffee place.  It looks trendy, the coffee is good, but they obviously don’t care enough about SELLING coffee to compete on the Starbucks level.

Let me tell you about my super lame cup of coffee this morning at Calypsos coffee in Coeur d’ Alene.  I ordered a cup of coffee.  It came out lukewarm.  I mean, seriously.  If you’re a coffee house, why would you hand out lukewarm coffee?  If you could pick one fundamental thing that would  determine whether a cup of coffee will be good or not, it would be having it hot.   Smaller shops try to cut corners and let the coffee sit there longer than a half-hour, and it becomes old tasting and warm instead of hot.  If you don’t sell it, you have to toss it right?  No one’s going to come back for old coffee.  Let’s move on.  The cup is a cheap cup.  Enough said.  The sugar is in a jug that you pour out, so you can’t get a good measurement.  (This is probably cheaper than packets, but like I mentioned before, not the best end product for the coffee drinker.)  They don’t provide wooden stirrers.  The wooden stirrers don’t melt or leave a taste like plastic straws do, but are more expensive.  But in this case, my coffee was cold, so it didn’t melt it anyway.

So I try to drink the coffee, have a few sips, decide whether to just accept the fact that I wasted 2 bucks on coffee that isn’t drinkable, or… I decided to ask for a fresh one.  When bringing it back, I get met with grief and the explanation that it was hot when he poured it.  (This guy is obviously the owner.)  I mean let’s get honest here.  Something that is hot is going to be hot.  It wasn’t.  The next cup he poured was hot, and it looked like he had just gotten done brewing it.  So it was my fault I guess.  Not his.  So what is my walk away impression?  I probably won’t go back there for a while.  Why would I want to argue with the barista about coffee and who poured it hot.  If that happened at Starbucks, I would have instantly gotten a replacement, they would have probably given me a bigger size replacement, and they would have handed me a coupon for a free one next time.  Now that is understanding the customer experience and how important each and every experience is.

So why am I writing this mess.

I get tired of seeing our clients start a new company and fail.  I think we have to continually ask ourselves:  “Would I buy from myself.”  And REALLY think about it.  It’s easy to get so wrapped up in our businesses, our sales pitch that we say all day, and our egos.  I mean, I go home thinking we provide the absolute best registered agent experience anyone could find, every day with full confidence.  But do I?  Complacency is what kills us, along with our egos.  If we don’t nail the customer experience every time, we’re just going to be another bad cup of coffee and wasted opportunity.

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