I used to visit a fancy Starbucks café with fine-tuned business processes back in Gran Canaria, but the more organized it became, the more it sucked.
As a process-oriented entrepreneur I’m sort of a fan of the Starbucks Coffee chain. They have „over-processed“ their competition by leaps and bounds. Their micro processes (like asking for a customer’s name and writing it on a coffee cup) are widely recognizable as a part of Starbucks’ brand. This type of process-aware company culture has also enabled them to open new venues swiftly and to expand the chain world-wide. It’s obviously a well-managed business operation with broad appeal and a good investment with a promising future in China and elsewhere.
Yet as a customer and as a frequent café-goer I was far less satisfied by my recent visits to their shiny new venue in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Though quite small, the café is well positioned on the ground floor of the popular El Corte Inglés shopping mall, right between a bookstore and the luxury-gourmet shopping area. The café looks great and has an air of privacy that I had been looking for during the writing of my book The Freelance Way, which is why I started going there in the first place.
However, soon I couldn’t help but notice severe process-related issues. On the one hand, the place was well-kept and clean. For example, the staff was regularly taking pictures to document the state of tidiness before changing shifts — a good practice to improve the cleaning schedule and to prevent any disputes with colleagues and managers. Yet on the other hand, the service was quite impersonal (for Spain at least), inattentive and totally inflexible. Here are a few examples:
There were other issues with the service (not to mention the rather slow WiFi), so I soon stopped visiting the place altogether. But I just couldn’t stop wondering what could have possibly gone wrong with the place?
I believe that Starbucks’ processes are customer-friendly by default and I’ve seen proof of this a number of times around the world. Yet, just implementing them won’t create a good customer experience if the staff sucks (as in this case) or if they haven’t been instructed about the spirit that ought to be created both by the processes and their service.
Cafés, as a business, are all about the human-to-human interaction. The best cafés in the world actually encourage and enable customers to communicate with the baristas behind the bar. Just take a look at this picture of one of Europe’s best specialty cafés — Industra Coffee in Brno. Some customers fly in from as far as China to taste Petra Strelecka’s famous brewed coffee and there are several seats right in front of the baristas that facilitate chatting and ordering drinks on the fly.
The main takeaway from this story is that customer oriented processes should never be mistaken for the real customer experience. If a superb business like Starbucks can fail so spectacularly in turning fine-tuned processes into a great experience, the more you have to be aware of this potential pitfall in your business. Good processes are simply not enough. They are only there to support a good understanding of the underlying customer needs and business customs. In a café, neither the coffee nor the service should leave the customer with a bad aftertaste.