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Never Mistake Customer Oriented Business Processes For The Real Customer Experience

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.

Café Smile :-)

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:

  • The staff was often waiting for me to state my first name for the order without giving me any clue to do so. One time when I was standing there, looking dumbfounded for 20 seconds or so, with another customer behind me waiting in line, the barista got upset and asked me to give her my first name. It wasn’t nice or polite at all and it was obvious, I was somehow blocking their polished process of serving orders. A very disturbing customer moment indeed.
  • Most mornings, the café was rather empty, yet the staff never brought my freshly ordered drink to the table, although it was just a few steps away and I was the only customer sitting there. I always had to go to the cashier to order and then again in a few minutes to pick up my drink. The staff knew it was mine, yet they never seemed to care nor to have thought about bringing it to my table, even though they really had nothing to do at the time. Once they even told me forcefully to come and get my drink. Isn’t it just unbelievable how rude people can be when they feel enabled by a badly implemented business process?
  • Various coffee specials are a regular part of the menu and while I was eager to try them, I was more than once disappointed how sweet the drink was. As a rule, I avoid sugar and surely didn’t expect a generic coffee drink to be served with sugar. This is particularly unthinkable with specialty coffee, which is something these specials pretended to be. And while I believe the staff should always inform the customer that the drink is sweetened verbally or in writing, they never did.

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.

Industra Coffee in Brno

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.

Robert Vlach, June 24, 2019

Business consultant, writer and EUpreneur. Proud founder of Procesoid and Na volne noze — one of the largest national freelance communities in Europe

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  1. Excellent article! And exactly the reason why I don’t go to Starbucks, apart from the coffee which IMHO isn’t really coffee. I must be from Brno :))). I love sitting at the bar chatting to Petra and Adam in Industra, it’s always the best part about going there. So all in all, as I am in the process of delegating some important tasks to my colleagues, growing my business, this reminded me of how important the spirit of our school is and how it needs to be on top of the priorities list as we grow!

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