Category Archives: Customer Experience

Have you ever met a “Gun Barista”?

Barista: “Hi Mike.  Your usual?”.

Customer: “Yes please!”.

Such a simple, beautiful exchange:  the customer receives instant acknowledgement and recognition; the employee a sense of accomplishment.  No long, drawn out order in “coffee-speak”…extra shot, non-fat, blah, blah, blah.  One simple question.

I often wonder why companies can’t replicate this simple exchange?  For that matter, why can’t Starbucks, as big and profitable as they are, consistently replicate this experience?  No doubt this is why much of the customer experience discussion has been devoted to employee experience.   In Australia, it turns out there’s a name for these highly valuable preparers of caffeinated beverages:  Gun baristas.

According to David Gee of the Baristas Basics Coffee Academy (see “How to be a Gun Barista” – Bean Scene Magazine) “Baristas vary in ability but few can claim to be a “Gun Barista”. You have to be energetic, technically proficient, creative and multi-skilled…”  Aside from what you might expect would be included in David’s list of essential skills to become a gun barista (proper training; a love of coffee; knowledge of espresso machines) is Knowing Your Customers:

“Gun baristas know not only what their customers drink but they actually get to know them. For budding baristas just starting out, we advocate starting by memorising the names of five new faces each week. By using their name every day they come in and trying to memorise their standard order, by the end of the week the customers’ names and orders will be part of the barista’s stored memory.”

Getting to know your customers.  Memorization.  The data and technology to replicate “Mike.  The usual?” is available.  When I go to, I’m greeted with “Hello, William” and product recommendations just for me.  Not exactly “gun barista” level stuff, but better than many ecommerce experiences.  There are basically four components necessary to deliver this experience:

  1. Customer data
  2. Data analytics
  3. A method to identify a specific customer at any given touch point (ie. a card, an app, etc,…)
  4. A communication vehicle (ie. a website, an employee, etc,..)

Most organizations have all of these components – just as all coffee shops have baristas.  The key differentiating factor is leadership: providing and prioritizing (and funding) a “gun barista level” vision of the customer experience.  Keep it simple.  Focus on a few critical customer interactions – in this case, when the customer approaches the counter to place their order.  Visualize what an amazing (ie. gun barista level) experience would be.  Tell that story to the organization (video is a great tool) – and hold them accountable to bring it to fruition.




Innovation fueled by pain

I’ve rented plenty of cars over the last few years, so am quite familiar with the pain Ron Lieber’s article analyzes in today’s NY Times: With Uber and Lyft Nearby, Rental Cars May Be Ripe for a Comeuppance.

As the article walks through the rental car customer’s experience, you can’t help but have empathy thinking about a Mom & Dad traveling with small kids…Dad waiting in line for a shuttle bus – fully aware that he’ll have to drive back to the terminal to load up car seats and luggage at the arrivals curb.  Or consider the exhausted business traveler who didn’t find existing exterior car damage…at midnight as a cold rain pelted down on the dimly lit parking lot.  It makes you wonder if the rental car company ever went through the experience themselves?

I’m certain that companies like Avis and Hertz consider themselves “customer centric”- but as Mr Lieber highlights, the experience can be brutal.  Yes – many pain points in the customer experience they provide are outside of their control.  For example, the location of their facilities is determined by the design of the airport – so a bumpy, lurching bus ride is, by default, built into the experience.  What these companies have missed, however, are important differences in customer scenarios.   Car services and public transportation may not be feasible for car seat toting parents. But for many others, getting from point A to point B doesn’t necessarily require taking temporary ownership of a vehicle.  Uber & Lyft have clearly studied these customer scenarios and have built innovative solutions to cater to them.  Pretty sure the rental car companies just expected that taxis and public transportation would continue to be their only competition.

How could this have played out different for the rental car companies?  They needed to step back from the day-to-day challenges of running a business to consider, not only the current customer experience they’re providing – but the future experience.  This doesn’t have to be a million dollar consulting project.  It just takes a spark to ignite a dialog.  The rest will come naturally – since good ideas always rise to the surface.

This time of year, when there’s not much more we can do to impact the year’s financials, is a great opportunity to take a step back and reflect.  Walk through customer experience scenarios and try to put yourself in the shoes of your customer.  How do you think they feel as they progress through the experience?  What could be changed?  Is there a completely new/different way to help the customer accomplish their intent?

At the core of any innovation is dialog:  people sharing ideas to identify a better way.  It doesn’t take an offsite, venture capital or a Stanford diploma to have meaningful discussions that can positively impact the customer’s experience.  Get a group of people together – people from customer support, product management, finance, marketing (the more diverse the group the better) – and have a conversation to walk through a few customer scenarios.  Infuse data points where you can and, even better, invite a few customers to participate.

Skip the formalities and simply start a customer experience dialog.  If you need some help, contact me ( to learn more about onBelay Consulting’s CX workshop format.  By proactively igniting the conversation, you’ll head into 2017 with a list of new ideas and a team that’s been energized to make them happen.

Anonymous @ Starbucks

Coffee is an important part of my day.  I love a good cup of joe – and I’m clearly not alone – as the proliferation of coffee shops in every neighborhood and business district seems to go on unabated (Starbucks now has over 24,000 locations in 70 countries).

I’ve been a  Starbucks customer a long time – from way back when the doubters questioned consumer willingness to pay more than a dollar for a cup of coffee.  Funny that many of those same people now spend $3 and up on a latte.  I’ve enjoyed a Starbucks Venti Americano in San Francisco, LA, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Boston, Pittsburgh, New York, Orlando, @ the Louvre in Paris and the airport in Mexico City.  The Starbucks app is one of my most frequently used.

Imagine the quantity of data Starbucks has on me.  They know if I’m local or traveling.  They know if i’m alone or with my family.  They know that calories now matter, given my switch to a pack of almonds from a (delicious) blueberry scone.  They know if I’m commuting to the city or working from the home office.  I could go on for days – as the insight possibilities seem almost endless.

Our local Starbucks has a Clover machine.  If you’ve never had a cup of coffee from one of these – you really should try it.  (here’s a video  from Wired on the $11,000 coffee maker) The Clover machine presents the Starbucks customer with a completely different customer experience – as they can choose from a selection of premium coffee beans and have a cup specially brewed – instead of settling for whatever’s been brewed in the larger vat.  It’s not cheap: $4 vs. $2.45 for a standard grande size coffee.   Probably safe to assume that customers choosing Clover: a) spend more than an average customer; and b) buy more of the higher priced beans to take home.

So given the wealth of customer data I’ve generated over the years and a clear preference that I’ve signaled for a premium coffee experience, I have one simple question:

Why do I get the same marketing content as any other Starbucks customer?

Compare what I’ve described about myself above against a few recent Starbucks communications:

  • I opened my Starbucks app this morning to “A Splash of Spice – New Spiced Cold Brew” and a “Merry Mondays” offer to get 40 bonus stars if I spend $20 or more after 2pm”.
  • Found a similar Starbucks email in my inbox this morning alerting me to “Merry Monday”.

Pretty sure these are national promotions.  Going back through the almost daily email communications I receive from Starbucks & Starbucks Rewards shows a constant focus on “buy this…get x number of reward stars” promotions.  They certainly have nothing to do with the Sumatra I’ve been loving the last few months.

So what?  Why does it matter?  I’ll tell you why:  Starbucks is selling a Reserve Roastery subscription on  For $19 a month you get “rare, small-lot coffees hand-selected exclusively for subscribers”.  What customer profile is most likely to sign-up for a subscription?  My bet: the Clover customer.  I’m a Clover customer.  Have I heard about the Reserve Roastery subscription from Starbucks?  No.

To Starbucks, I’m just like any other “star hungry” loyalty member.  Do X, get Y stars.  Admittedly, if you ask anyone in the loyalty marketing space,  they won’t be able to contain their enthusiasm for the success of the Starbucks Rewards program.  But in ignoring my data and the preferences it signals, a coffee enthusiast like myself can easily be swayed to try, for instance, the unique experience offered at Philz – or other local third wave coffee providers.

Marketers are forever searching for a silver bullet – and from a distance it might look like the Starbucks Rewards is just that (and I’m sure many loyalty marketing vendors adamantly agree).  But to ignore a wealth of customer data in favor of executing a one-size-fits-all national marketing calendar leaves the door open to competitors willing and able to focus on unique customer niches.

Instead of choosing loyalty marketing over a CRM strategy – a better alternative is to have them both compliment each other.  Fine to acknowledge that I’m a Starbucks Rewards member, but then feed me the coffee enthusiast experience that is clearly available and integral to the Starbucks brand.  Go ahead and give me 20 stars for a Reserve Roastery subscription – but learn from my data and understand that, for the coffee enthusiast segment, the experience may be a higher priority than star accumulation.  You don’t have to make a choice between CRM or loyalty.  You get to have them both.


CX Wallpaper: Putting your office walls to good use

Many years ago I walked into a client’s office to find it completely plastered with sheets of paper.  Apparently there was an ongoing internal debate happening amongst various product groups and the centralized marketing organization as to who owned the customer and how frequently a customer could/should be contacted.  To prove a point, our marketing client had her team pull two real life customer profiles from the database.  Then, starting on the left side of her office, the team taped to the wall every company communication sent to each of the two customers.

Somewhat shockingly, they found that the first customer, a retiree, was being sent offers geared toward first-time home buyers – to which he (for obvious reasons) did not respond.  The communication frequency was also alarming, as a month’s worth of communications could barely fit on an entire length of wall.  Here, for anyone to see, was an actual customer communication experience.

I couldn’t help but notice how often we collectively referred to the wall in the course of our discussions over the next few days.  The sudden infusion of objectivity – a real customer’s communication experience up on the wall – fundamentally changed the dynamic of our conversations.  No longer was the need to change being debated.  Instead, the focus turned to how fast change could happen.

CX Wallpaper

Here are a few suggestions to make this exercise most useful:

  • While the above example was focused on communication strategy, other touch-points can easily (or maybe not so easily, depending on your access to customer data) be incorporated to expand the CX perspective.  This exercise is a great way to gauge where holes in your customer data exist.
  • Contain the scope of the exercise to just a few days.  A long, drawn out exercise can actually work against you and sap team momentum and energy.  Also, the more frequently you can iterate and re-wallpaper your office, the more opportunities you’ll have to explore different customer profiles.
  • Expect that you’re going to find some less-than-stellar customer scenarios – but resist the temptation to make this a “wall of shame”.  Communicate both the good and not so good experience aspects to build trust and fuel the organization’s commitment to ongoing CX improvement.

Don’t be surprised if your wallpapered walls become a popular office destination – and take heart in the fact that your “redecorating” is actually helping to bring the customer’s perspective into better view.

The Future of CRM

Long before the hype of big data and personalized marketing came along, CRM utilized customer data to drive results.   Stereotyped as a function that largely provides data & infrastructure, today’s CRM is shedding the shackles of its technology platform roots to become the standard, common sense approach to driving company-wide Customer Experience (CX) improvements.

does CRM equal CX v2What is CRM?  Even the acronym is up for debate:  is it Customer Relationship Marketing?  or Customer Relationship Management?  In a desire to symbolize the evolution of CRM, some – like Disney – have boldly swapped letters in the acronym – to CMR – or Customer Managed Relationships.

CRM was born from the early days of direct marketing and grew with an insatiable desire to integrate any data about a customer from across an organization’s multitude of touchpoints.  As the internet and data warehousing have evolved, so too have the ways an organization can interact with a customer:  new marketing channels (late 90’s: email marketing & online commerce; 2004: Facebook); multiple customer service interaction points (call centers, online chat, Twitter).  The concept of a “360 degree view of the customer”- whereby all of an organization’s data about a customer resides in one accessible place – has fueled CRM technology sales for the last two decades.  But CRM hasn’t always been popular.

Back in the late ’90’s, marketers quickly realized that storing email addresses and blasting out weekly marketing emails was a relatively inexpensive and effective way to drive traffic to their newly built ecommerce sites.  When the internet bubble burst in 2000, budgets to drive eyeballs & impressions evaporated, making the email lists even more valuable.  While CRM isn’t singularly focused on email marketing, the revenue that email could drive resulted in many CRM platforms having a heavy emphasis on the first digital marketing channel.

Personal mobile devices (I recall the Blackberry being the most popular mobile device prior to the first iPhone arriving in 2007) and social networks quickly became the shiny objects that shifted executive attention away from CRM and first party data.  Why invest in a CRM ecosystem when Facebook will do it for you?  The shift of ad budgets to “digital” began in earnest – largely to drive Facebook Likes and Twitter Followers.

The social networks provided a window into the profiles and lives of actual consumers (are they buyers?  this remains a difficult question).  The portrait of real, live consumers previously produced through internal data analytics and outside primary research investments paled in comparison.  Whether “likes” equal engagement mattered little to the marketer who could, at any moment, pull up the company’s Facebook page and show actual consumer profile photos and an ever increasing Like count.  So it’s not at all surprising that just yesterday, Facebook enjoyed an enormous earnings announcement: $18 Billon (with a B) 2015 revenue (see “Facebook Reports Soaring Revenue, Buoyed by Mobile” Jan. 27, 2016, The New York Times)

Those who have invested in building millions of Facebook fans are now paying Facebook a ton of money to be able to talk to them.  On a separate path are companies who continue to pursue channel integration, whether a retailer trying to align their bricks & mortar experience with the mobile/online shopping experience, or a banks that must now consider how their online banking experience aligns with that of the local branch.  When you begin to think about multi-channel scenarios, even if within the context of what would be considered traditional CRM, the lines between CRM and CX begin to blur.  Utter the words “customer journey” and you’ve taken a big step into the land of CX.

CRM and CX holding CJ 3

So what’s the difference? (and who cares?)

As both CRM and CX are increasingly participating in a similar customer centered dialog, an opportunity exists to pursue customer experience improvements from both the top-down (CX), as well as the bottom-up (CRM).  A unified vision of the future customer journey becomes the guiding beacon to align both perspectives.

In the majority of cases, a CRM team will be significantly challenged to persuade their organization to become more “customer centric”.  However, a frustrated CEO looking to transform her company’s culture (and results) is likely to be open to a CX approach that delves into topics like an “outside-in” perspective, CX maturity and employee engagement.  Any highly qualified CX team licks their chops at the chance to facilitate an organizational transformation dialog.

On the other hand, CRM people, by nature, are cross-functional ninjas.  They’ve had to be, else they wouldn’t get good data, new analytic views or a critical customer communication mode programmed into the new app or website.   CRM jobs can also become painstakingly tactical – down deep into the weeds of program execution.  The opportunity exists to pull these folks into journey mapping discussions and provide them with a much needed view of the broader picture.  The same journey mapping discussions are key to aligning cross-functional partners and their initiatives and budget priorities.  Forget getting everyone on the same page, this is your chance to “get everyone on the same journey”.

If you work in CRM and haven’t started extending contact strategies into more holistic customer journeys – there’s no better time than the present. By talking in terms of customer scenarios and the potential impact on the customer’s experience…you can build a common vision from the ground up – one that anyone in the organization can understand and support.

There’s never been a better time to be in CRM/CX.





Amazon vs. Walmart: The Algorithm is Winning

Every retailer is afraid of – and for good reason –  they’ve nailed it:

  • Products delivered to my door only hours after I click “order”
  •  A vast product assortment that is quickly navigated via search
  • Product reviews that are actually reliable and helpful
  • My shopping experience is tailored based on my behavior

This last point can’t be emphasized enough.  The Amazon algorithms actually add value to my experience.   Even if they don’t accurately guess exactly what I’m seeking at that moment, the impression I get from the second I hit the homepage is that the site is tailored to me.

Walmart isn’t new to digital/ecommerce.  Back in 2000, Jeanne Jackson, pretty much responsible for turning around Banana Republic, left to run out of Brisbane, CA.  Although that’s 6 years after the launch of, I believe there’s a fundamental strategy difference here.  Amazon is using my data to merchandise products to me.  The Walmarts and Sears of the retail world are still relying on merchant intuition and merchant driven marketing – which is simply less relevant to the individual consumer.

But don’t take my word for it – see for yourself:

Below is the Walmart homepage (signed-in state): nothing here that says “Bill – we have something special for you”.  “Amazing gifts” and “awesome prices” pretty much apply to anyone.

walmart dot com 111715 homepage

Contrast this with the homepage.  Yes – there’s a big feature on Black Friday – but there’s also an “Inspired by Your Browsing History” section – above the fold and right there waiting for me.

amazon dot com 111715 homepage

And, of course, I’ve been looking at trail running shoes, so there’s a selection of those offered as well.

Take-away: Amazon is winning by tailoring the customer shopping experience – whereas the traditional retailers ( is also shown below) – continue to push featured products and top sellers.  Easy to see why Amazon’s customer experience is superior and the others are playing catch up.

Here’s for reference:

sears dot com 112715 homepage