The coffee didn't taste as good

Yesterday morning, I stopped into my local Starbucks cafe before starting a two-hour drive to a client meeting.  I was looking forward to a relaxing drive on a beautiful Southern California day and listening to some new music.  I was expecting to purchase an Audio CD along with my Vente Coffee of the Day at Starbucks. 

Instead … what did I see?  A forlorn spinner rack standing right in the middle of the store with only two Audio CDs left on display.  I was surprised and disappointed.  I was expecting to browse the rack and purchase a new CD for my drive.  I did buy the coffee.  But it didn't taste as good as it usually does.  My expectations were not met.  Therefore everything else didn't seen so satisfying.

Over the past few years Starbucks has produced some innovative recordings on their Hear Music label.  I have particularly enjoyed their “Artist's Choice” series – the music that influenced popular artists like Joni Mitchell, Tony Bennett and Norah Jones.  I really wanted to acquire a new album – and at Starbucks you pay full price for the music.  It would have made the drive even more pleasant, it would have made the coffee taste even fresher, it would have engaged all of my senses … instead, I walked away unsatisfied.  The coffee didn't taste as good.

If you operate a retail store you must meet the expectations of your core customers.  You must engage them and delight them.  When a customer walks into your store he or she has a certain expectation – to find something specific, to browse, to ask for your advice or help in making a selection.  They want something, even if they can't quite articulate it.

But … they primarily judge your store by the first impression that you make on them.  Yesterday, Starbucks mad a terrible first impression on me.  And, I still have a bad taste in my mouth because of it.  I wanted to buy a CD – I did not want to see an abandoned CD spinner rack taking up prime floor space! 

For me, whenever I walk into a store and the displays look “picked-over” or disheveled, my first impression is – “This store doesn't care.  The employees don't care enough to re-stock and re-merchandise the shelves.  The management does not care what impression they make on their customers.”

I always felt this way when I walked into a CompUSA store.  And look what has happened there – half the stores in the chain are being closed.  It happened to KMart – the largest retail store bankruptcy ever.  Can it happen in your store?

Let's go back to my Starbucks experience.  That rack did not become depleted over night.  I was in the store a hour after they opened so I doubt that there was a rush of record buyers in the store at 6:00 a.m.  No … that rack has been standing there like a tree that has lost all but a few of its leaves for several days – if not weeks.  Where was the manager?  How could he or the employees tolerate that?  If they didn't have replenishment CDs to fill the rack the solution was simple – simply move it to the storage room.  Don't let your customers see an eyesore when they first walk into your store!

Learn to see your business through the eyes of your customer.  That eyesore left me with the sense that perhaps the beans were not freshly ground.  That the pastries were a few days old and stale.  That the restrooms might not have been serviced.  That I might not go back to Starbucks as often as in the past.  All because of one abandoned Audio CD spinner rack.  I felt as abandoned as the two CDs left in the rack.  I felt cheated.  Starbucks took more than my money yesterday.  They robbed me of my expectation – to enjoy a new CD while driving on a beautiful day.

I remembered a passage from Jaynie L. Smith's book, “Creating Competitive Advantage.”  She talked about her days working with Pan Am Airways:

“If the flights left and arrived on time, passengers felt generally positive about things like food, service, and comfort.  If the flights were delayed, however, passengers gave us low marks for everything, from check-in to after-dinner coffee.”

That's what airline passengers want – to take off on- time and to get to their destination safely and on-time.  Herb kelleher started Southwest Airlines with just that in mind:

“If you get your passengers to their destinations when they want to get there, on time, at the lowest possible fares, and make darn sure they have a good time doing it, people will fly your airline.”

That is a winning business plan – and it works for any industry.  it doesn't matter what products you sell or services that you offer.  “If you focus on the things that your customers care about most, they will keep coming back.”  I urge you to purchase “The Competitive Advantage” and take its principles to heart.  To come out ahead today you MUST have a competitive advantage – and your customers must see how it benefits them to do business with you.

As a footnote.  For years, passengers consistently rated Southwest Airlines food service the best in the industry.  And they NEVER served food – just nuts!  But they got passenger off on-time.  And they made sure that they go to their destination safely and on-time.  They met their customers expectations. 

And the coffee tasted great!


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