While doing some business school homework, I was thinking about meeting customer needs in new and innovative ways. Specifically, I was thinking about the customers who may regularly or at times want to walk in and walk out with their coffee drink as quickly as possible.

 

Has anyone tried to leverage technology or fashion methods to accommodate these fast-moving customers or otherwise speed up the process of waiting in line, ordering, waiting for the drink to be made, and paying?

 

Has anyone tried pre-ordering via phone call, text message, or internet ordering? Alternative payment methods (prepaid cards, etc)?

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We do phone in orders and are about to start doing text in. It works most of the time, but really depends on how far in advance the person calls and how busy we are when they call. Sometimes they roll in and out in a few seconds other times I haven't even started on their drinks when they arrive. It's all a matter of timing really. The reason we are adding texting is we wouldn't have to "waste" the time to answer the phone and write the order down. It seems lacking on the customer service side of things, but I'm sure it's not for everyone. I'm also sure that something will get left out of the order! 

 

We also offer prepaid cards that work through our POS and it's great! No fees and extremely fast not having to give change or have them sign a receipt. I try to encourage our regulars to go that direction, especially if they are credit/debit card users.

Great subject - here are some of the things I've seen our customers use and that we have been working on as well. . . 

 

First, one of the things that I think people lose track of is that you are not necessarily making it easier for YOU but making it easier for your customer.  Some of the methods below require more effort on the store but to the customer it can appear seamless.  The customer does not care what happens behind the counter, just that the order is fast and convenient. 

 

Phone calls - with a POS - you should be able to setup so you have the gift/prepaid on file with the customer.  The customer calls - you punch the phone number and then duplicate the order and pay for it with the gift card.   Very fast but requires you to have someone on the phone and that can be time consuming and customer service detrimental to the people in line. BTW, nothing specific to our POS - most of us in the industry handle something like this. 

 

Texting - Again, with a POS you can make this pretty easy - text "duplicate" to the phone in the store and if the customer has a gift card on file you can copy their last order and have it pre-paid.  Playing off what Jeremy said, I recommend that you tell people you are not going to make it until they get there.  Setup a sign saying "pickup orders here" and as soon as they arrive, bump their drink to the head of the line.  No issues with quality control at that point.  Splickit and Zingle are some companies that have stand alone systems for this as well.  You can do it yourself also.  

 

Online Ordering - We started offering this to our customers and the first store we beta tested this in was a drive thru.   The thought with this is that customers can pre-order through web or web-enabled phones.  The huge advantage with this is that the customer orders and the order is then automatically entered into the POS.  It just prints for the cashier / barista.  To properly take advantage in a cafe, you still have a pick up only sign and you let the customer know on the online ordering site that the drink will be made when they arrive.  Since the relative make time on coffee is pretty small, the customer can walk in, ask for the order and have the drink in 5 minutes or so.   That means fresh product and still skipping waiting in line.  This integrates with our POS but there are also email and fax options for those without POS. 

 

Twitter / Facebook - Some of the online ordering companies are developing apps for Facebook to put the online ordering menu on the customers Facebook page.   Twitter is another way. . .  We are launching a Twitter interface at Chicago Coffee Fest that will allow customers to directly order from Twitter - not for everyone but pretty neat. 

 

All of these get easier with a prepaid card but they can be done without it. 

 

 

 

@ Jeremy - you said your customers do text in? How does that system work? Do they text a company cell phone that someone checks or do the text messages automatically display somewhere on a monitor for the barista manning the machines to fill? Do you send some sort of confirmation message?

Also, how do you try and schedule these orders? 5 min before the customer shows up? What if they come late or arrive early?

Mike, great point about the customer focus.

 

It sounds as though your company is developing some great ways of leveraging technology to speed up the process. I understand the need to have a third location (aside from the ordering and pick-up area), but wouldn't that require a separate POS system in place to handle those customers with their various payment methods?

 

In terms of pre-paid cards or things of that nature, I was thinking the other day about the 'fast lane' passes you see in various states for highway tolls. Pretty neat concept - you set it up with your credit card in $25 increments so when your account runs dry, the service automatically charges another $25 to your credit card and puts it on your 'fast lane' account and works like a debit. You also get small percentage discounts. Does your company have any system that works similar to this?

 

Mike Spence said:

First, one of the things that I think people lose track of is that you are not necessarily making it easier for YOU but making it easier for your customer.  Some of the methods below require more effort on the store but to the customer it can appear seamless.  The customer does not care what happens behind the counter, just that the order is fast and convenient. 

 

Phone calls - with a POS - you should be able to setup so you have the gift/prepaid on file with the customer.  The customer calls - you punch the phone number and then duplicate the order and pay for it with the gift card.   Very fast but requires you to have someone on the phone and that can be time consuming and customer service detrimental to the people in line. BTW, nothing specific to our POS - most of us in the industry handle something like this. 

 

Texting - Again, with a POS you can make this pretty easy - text "duplicate" to the phone in the store and if the customer has a gift card on file you can copy their last order and have it pre-paid.  Playing off what Jeremy said, I recommend that you tell people you are not going to make it until they get there.  Setup a sign saying "pickup orders here" and as soon as they arrive, bump their drink to the head of the line.  No issues with quality control at that point.  Splickit and Zingle are some companies that have stand alone systems for this as well.  You can do it yourself also.  

 

Online Ordering - We started offering this to our customers and the first store we beta tested this in was a drive thru.   The thought with this is that customers can pre-order through web or web-enabled phones.  The huge advantage with this is that the customer orders and the order is then automatically entered into the POS.  It just prints for the cashier / barista.  To properly take advantage in a cafe, you still have a pick up only sign and you let the customer know on the online ordering site that the drink will be made when they arrive.  Since the relative make time on coffee is pretty small, the customer can walk in, ask for the order and have the drink in 5 minutes or so.   That means fresh product and still skipping waiting in line.  This integrates with our POS but there are also email and fax options for those without POS. 

 

Twitter / Facebook - Some of the online ordering companies are developing apps for Facebook to put the online ordering menu on the customers Facebook page.   Twitter is another way. . .  We are launching a Twitter interface at Chicago Coffee Fest that will allow customers to directly order from Twitter - not for everyone but pretty neat. 

 

All of these get easier with a prepaid card but they can be done without it. 

 

 

 

Convenience and expediency for the customer is not the same as customer service. Don't confuse the two. Once you start looking for ways to get out drinks faster or to cater to those who want that type of service, you're going down a dangerous road. 

 

Just because technology CAN be used for something, doesn't mean it's an improvement.

I'm not sure what you mean, your kind of contradicting yourself. Convenience and expediency for the customer is exactly what customer service is. It's meeting the need of the customer, if they want it ready when they get there, then servicing that particular customer means trying to do that. I only have a couple of customers who now do this out of the hundreds that we have, so it's not for everyone.

Now that doesn't mean you change anything on how well you make coffee, you can't speed that up, or you would sacrifice quality, which is not good customer service, but by trying to meet the desire of customer that want's this service is good customer service. IMO.

John P said:

Convenience and expediency for the customer is not the same as customer service. Don't confuse the two. Once you start looking for ways to get out drinks faster or to cater to those who want that type of service, you're going down a dangerous road. 

 

Just because technology CAN be used for something, doesn't mean it's an improvement.

To clarify, the very reason I am interested in exploiting these tools is to provide a different form of customer service than most are accustomed to. When I say most, I'm referring to those customers that come in expecting to wait in line, place their order, pay, wait for their coffee to be made, pick it up and sit down or leave.


I believe there are plenty of customers who come in during the morning rush or at any other time throughout the day who would prefer to spend as little time waiting as possible. For those customers, I think that if there's anything the barista/staff can do to honor their wishes is worth pursuing (if there is congruence with the other aspects of the business strategy).

 

Of course, this isn't to say that this service meets the traditional definition of 'quality' customer service, but it is customer service for a distinct breed of customer.

 

Great discussion thus far!

99% of our customers are like you've first described. They are expecting a wait and are fine with it. There are a few that are just in too big of a hurry, and probably all aspects of life are too rushed, so we offer the service to meet their needs. 

 

As far as texting goes. We are still deciding what would be best. I love the idea of Zingle(if you haven't looked at them, you should check it out) But it's probably costly if you have so few customers that are using it. We were just planning on adding a cell phone to our family plan and keeping it there in the shop. We are in limbo a little, as we are waiting to see if our POS update is going to have some of the features that were talked about by Mike. They are working on adding those features as it is becoming much more popular.

 

I will add that all of the customers that use our call ahead service, do so because it is either a large order, 5 or more drinks that they are taking somewhere, or they are also ordering breakfast items that we offer, which take more time to prepare and thus speeds it up for them. I can't think of a single person that calls in a single drink. 


Mike M said:

To clarify, the very reason I am interested in exploiting these tools is to provide a different form of customer service than most are accustomed to. When I say most, I'm referring to those customers that come in expecting to wait in line, place their order, pay, wait for their coffee to be made, pick it up and sit down or leave.


I believe there are plenty of customers who come in during the morning rush or at any other time throughout the day who would prefer to spend as little time waiting as possible. For those customers, I think that if there's anything the barista/staff can do to honor their wishes is worth pursuing (if there is congruence with the other aspects of the business strategy).

 

Of course, this isn't to say that this service meets the traditional definition of 'quality' customer service, but it is customer service for a distinct breed of customer.

 

Great discussion thus far!

Jeremy - I just watched the Zingle video. Sounds like a great concept with a decent pitch, less the "Ziiiiiingle" song at the end of the video. I especially liked that they've integrated the service with a pre-paid setup to remove the payment step during each visit. I'll definitely keep them on my radar as I continue to work on my business plan.

 

I'm curious to see what other technology-oriented innovations come out in the next few years. I don't think we're going to see a significant deviation in the trend for customers I want everything streamlined. Even for those wishing to come in, order and sit down, I can't imagine they would enjoy standing in line or waiting excessive periods of time for their drinks to be prepared. If nothing else, it's time they could be spending sitting in a chair relaxing or doing whatever else they are staying to do.

 

Mike,

I think that one of the best things about the Coffee business is the interaction between Barista and customer.  Being quick, fast, and getting the new customer in line is important, but do you really want to push your customers out of the door?  Coffee can be a great conversation starter and a great way to meet new people. If you're shop is doing pour over methods, try explaining whats going on, why you're pouring in circles, explain the bloom, explain what makes the press different then the chemex, etc...  Finding points of conversation that could make your customer understand why it takes longer for certain cups can easily improve your customer service. As well it changes the customers focus on getting out of the door to understanding the art of coffee.

 

Phone orders, texts, internet ordering, all of those are great for business, but why rush your clientele? They came to a coffee shop if they have any sense they should know that it can take a few moments to get through the line.  Any faster and we'd be selling McDonalds quality coffee.. which defeats the purpose of even being in the coffee business.

 

 

On text ordering or advanced ordering, I have used this system and the over all experience is pretty bad. Why? Because of traffic, because of kids, because of life. So what happens when you get an oder for a 16 ounce latte and Zingle bounces back a message that tells them that it will be ready in 10 minutes, then they hit traffic etc....20-30 minutes later they are drinking an old drink or you are making a new one. This happens more often than owners or managers care to admit. You run the risk of

A. putting out an old shell of a drink or

B. You eat the cost of having to re-make it. Convenience comes at a cost.

 

On the general subject:

 

Customers care more about the quality than they do the speed. Period. Ignore this fact at your own risk.

I worry when I hear people say that the customer does not care, so long as it is fast and convenient. Not at all true. They care that it tastes good too. And anyone who is involved in a quality focused operation knows that if your shop produces a latte faster than the guy down the street who takes a 30sec- a minute longer yet produces a better taste experience...you lose. You can only take speed so far realistically.

I once asked a cross section of 50 people (not a huge number I know) in dowtown Seattle what kept them coming back to their favorite coffee house?...over 60% said quality of the product. Try this in your own town...spend an afternoon out there and survey people...you will find most customers care about taste first.

 

with the technology of pre-ordering- do you have two register systems or does the call-in customer have to stand in line to pay?

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