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Archive for the ‘Thought Leadership’ Category

Starbucks is discontinuing its best product – the original coffee shop experience.

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

There are a lot of places to grab a good, quick cup of coffee; and Starbucks is certainly one of them. However, Starbucks’ skyrocket to success wasn’t a result of its coffee. Since opening in 1971, Starbucks was inherently different from most coffee shops because it focused on creating a community experience and human connection. Howard Schultz’s (Starbucks chairman and long-time CEO) vision for Starbucks was a place for conversation and a sense of community. A third place between work and home. And the mission of Starbucks is ‘to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.’

For years, this idea of focusing on the customer experience and human connection was evident in Starbucks locations throughout the world. In 2008, Annamarie Ausnes, a regular Starbucks customer who suffered from polycystic kidney disease was in need of a kidney transplant. Her Starbucks barista, Sandie Andersen, noticed a change in Annamarie’s sunny disposition. Usually, Annamarie was friendly and upbeat; sharing stories of her grandchildren and even bringing Sandie vacation souvenirs. When Sandie asked what was wrong, Annamarie shared her story and need for a kidney. Sandie immediately got a blood test, and when she found out she was a match, told Annamarie that she wanted to donate her kidney. A few months later, the kidney transplant was a success!

But Starbucks has begun to lose sight of its fundamental roots that are responsible for its success – good coffee and a human connection. Today, the focus on relationships and customer experience is taking a back seat to convenience and speed. The main objective has become ‘how quickly can we get customers through the line’ with very little interaction between customer and barista. This has only been intensified by mobile ordering, which further moves the “experience” to focus on convenience. Now a customer doesn’t even have to talk to an actual person to get a coffee – how is that inline with the mission of inspiring and nurturing the human spirit?

Starbucks has not only lost sight of its focus on the experience, but also its commitment to its core products. Starbucks coffee is coveted because of its reputation for being a quality, high-end, valuable product. However, through its newest promotions, Starbucks has offered its prized coffee to customers for free with the purchase of non-fundamental menu items, such as sandwiches. What kind of message does it send to give away a prime product that was once viewed as valuable, all to promote an average breakfast sandwich? If the coffee is so invaluable that it can be given away for free, how can Starbucks continue to justify its higher industry prices?

If a consumer wants a breakfast sandwich and coffee fast, why wouldn’t they just go to McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts or any of the other countless fast food options focused on speed and convenience over quality and customer experience? Without the commitment to customers and human connections, Starbucks is no longer a treasured community experience – its just another humdrum fast food joint that will start to seem severely overpriced, without its unique vibe and prime product status.

Cut the small talk.

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

Do these phrases sound familiar? …

“Good morning.”

“How are you?”

“Good, how are you?” 

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

“Can you believe all of this rain we’ve been having?”

“It looks like it’s going to snow.”

…It’s likely that you’ve already used some variation of these phrases 50+ times today – when you arrived at the office, when you bumped into someone at the water cooler or restroom, when you sent an email, when you left the office, when you ran into someone at the grocery store, and everywhere in between.

If we were to add up all of the time spent verbally and electronically participating in meaningless small talk so far this year, how much time do you think has been wasted? Of course, it’s nice and enjoyable to communicate with the people around us, but why do we automatically default to futile chitchat? What if we all skipped the small talk dance and made an effort to connect with each other by sharing insightful, meaningful information? How much more could we accomplish? How would our relationships evolve and grow?

Picture this instead…

“Good morning, how are you?”  

“I’m actually really great, my daughter took her first steps last night!”

“Oh! You have a daughter? I have a one-year-old daughter too. We should do a play date sometime!”

…Much more engaging and fruitful than talking about the rain, don’t you think?

Or how about this water cooler conversation…

“How are you today?”

“I’m actually really struggling to pull those numbers together for the meeting.”

“Last month I had the same issue, but I figured out a workaround that saves a ton of time; want me to drop by your desk and show you?”

When we’re in the comfort of our own home with family and close friends, we rarely engage in small talk; likely because we’re already very comfortable with those people and we’re busy getting down to the business of running a household and maintaining those relationships. But what if we took that method of the communication out into the world? We would all likely form more meaningful relationships that matter.

Do we really need everything right now ?

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

Social media sites address us personally and feed us information based on our personal lives and interests, Amazon suggests the products we need and delivers them to our homes in a matter of hours, Netflix pre-selects shows we enjoy based on our viewing habits and delivers them to us instantly, pre-prepped frozen meals and fast-food restaurants make meals to fulfill personal cravings in under five minuets, and 3D printers allow people to create anything they want, when they want it. While all of these modern conveniences are, well, convenient; is there such a thing as too instantaneous?

The virtues of patience and compromise are imperative to the success of any well-adjusted adult today. No matter how far technology advances, it will never fix all of life’s hurdles. But, as we become more accustomed to everything on-demand, will we become increasingly more agitated when things don’t go our way? Some people become infuriated when their Internet connection goes out and they have to choose from the basic channel selections. Or, some adults feel entitled to belittling and scolding restaurant staff when their food isn’t served to perfection. As technology and personalization efforts continue to advance, will the inability to adjust, problem-solve, and cope with unforeseen situations become the norm?

What about the generations to come? Instead of being taught to wait patiently for their food at a restaurant, many children are given electronic devices that contain their favorite games, shows or other forms of entertainment to occupy their time. Instead of being forced to eat whatever is on the table at dinnertime, many family meals are now made to order, with children getting their choice of whatever frozen meal they prefer from the freezer. There’s even now a new 3D printer that can create food toppings and dessert decorations that match a child’s favorite color or character, so each child can have their own personalized cookie for dessert. When they have a science project due the next day that they didn’t prepare for, they can simply Google the steps and order the items from Amazon to be delivered within an hour. Some children are raised to believe the world revolves around them, and they should be consistently catered to and these new technologies are only enforcing that behavior. But what happens when today’s kids are asked to practice patience or compromise? What happens when there is a world full of adults unable to wait for a table at a restaurant or throwing fits because a storm hindered a package delivery time or Internet connection?

As technology makes our lives easier, how can we continue to embrace the important virtues needed to deal with life’s uncertainties, and how can we pass those virtues down to our children? How can we teach them that the world doesn’t revolve around them, when almost everything in their world is seemingly made, just for them?

Aging is a privilege.

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

Cultures around the world have drastically differing perspectives on growing old. For example, in India, elders are often the head of the family with younger family members offering them respect and seeking guidance. In Greek culture, old age is honored and celebrated, and in many Native American tribal communities, elders are respected for their life-experience and expected to impart their wisdom to younger family members. Conversely, aging in America is often seen as a negative process.

Many Americans fight growing old as much as possible by hiding their age, indulging in classic mid-life crises, dreading birthdays and avoiding celebrations. Almost every humorous adult birthday card contains jokes about aging with puns about the number of candles on the cake and lines such as, “Happy anniversary of your 30th birthday.”

Although a lot of the jokes are all in good fun, perhaps Americans should re-evaluate perspectives on growing older by examining the practices of other cultures. With copious amounts of disasters, tragedies and untimely deaths flooding our news channels and impacting our communities, shouldn’t growing old be seen as a privilege?

According to the National Safety Council, 2015 brought the biggest increase in U.S. traffic deaths in 50 years. ABC reports that the number of heroin users in the United States reached one million in 2014, a 20-year high, while heroin-related deaths have increased five-fold since 2000. The New York Times says that the number of people whose lives were claimed by mental illness has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years.

If you asked the friends and families of the victims from each of these tragedies, they would likely give anything to change the outcomes. To them, the opportunity for their loved one to grow old would be seen as privilege, instead of burden.

While youth is a beautiful thing, the opportunity to grow old should be embraced. Instead of hiding our age, perhaps it should be worn as a badge of honor, for those who haven’t had the same privilege. Instead of allowing ourselves to dread a birthday party, we should embrace the opportunity to celebrate another trip around the sun with those we love. Perhaps instead of fighting the inevitable passing of time, we should simply be grateful for another year of life.

Online reviews with a grain of salt.

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

Online reviews have become a key ingredient to online shopping. In fact, 92% of consumers read online reviews for local business and products, according to research by Bright Local. Although online reviews can be a valuable tool, it’s important to approach them with caution and consider all factors before allowing them to influence purchase decisions.

While some websites make it very easy to post an online review, most of the time it’s a bit of a process. Usually to leave a review a person has to visit the company website, find the product and create an account by sharing personal information with a required username and password. To carve out time during busy routines to take these steps, a person likely has strong views in one direction or the other. People who are moderately satisfied with their purchases are less likely to go out of their way to post a review. In other words, if all reviewers were in a college class with a professor who grades on a curve, reviewers would be the outliers with the A+ or F- grades. Students in the B to D rage are rarely represented. If a business has an overwhelming majority of A+ or F- grades, it’s likely the reviews are valid.

Bright Local research also found that 40% of consumers form an opinion by reading just 1 – 3 reviews. This is problematic again because of the extreme opinions of emotionally charged reviewers, but also because consumers are likely not getting the full story before basing a purchase on reviews. What if the first three reviews just happen to be positive, and important product flaws are missed? No product is perfect, so it’s important that if reviews are determining a purchase, consumers read the reviews judiciously and thoroughly to decipher the downfalls of the product. This allows for an educated purchase decision based on whether or not the imperfections are deal-breakers. For example, when buying a coffee cup, there may be some negative reviews expressing that the handles are too small for large hands. Someone with very large hands likely went online and left a highly negative review. However, this may or may not be relevant to the buyer, depending on the size of their hands. If a consumer is relying on reviews to make purchasing decisions, it’s important to get the whole story, versus fully relying on the opinion of the one angry, large-handed customer. Reading only the first 1 – 3 reviews before forming an opinion can also be problematic because some companies monitor product reviews, eliminating anything negative. Look for negative reviews instead of relying on the first few positive reviews. If a company or product has no negative reviews, proceed with extreme caution.

Product information from fellow consumers, versus the sales department of a company, definitely has benefits. But, like any information online, reviews must be taken with a grain of salt.