It’s our fault

August 1st, 2012

I watched with some interest the discussion happening on twitter around this post titled “Coffee Shop Rules of Engagement“.  Unsurprisingly a few people didn’t particularly take to the tone of the piece, feeling frustrated at the implication that we ought to tailor our product and service experience to this kind of customer demand.  I haven’t worked out a good way to display these kinds of twitter conversations I’m afraid.

I’ve said this a few times before, mostly in talks rather than online, but this remains our fault.  Our coffee spaces rarely give any indication that they should expect different.  We’re completely stuck in the fast food model, a model that doesn’t promote or even vaguely facilitate customer interaction.  People have arrived at a typical cafe because they believe the can queue briefly for a coffee that meets their expectations at a low price and a reasonable level of quality.  We keep trying to shoehorn in an entirely different experience and it doesn’t work.  I think we can say that now, with some certainty.  There are shops out there that continue to amaze me with their ability to offer a level of service despite the barrier of the layout/style/model of the shop.

We don’t get to be annoyed about how people act or think when in a cafe, when the cafe itself is reinforcing that thinking.

This sounds like an angry rant – but I feel like we’re still not really discussing this stuff.  If we want the customer to demand a different kind of experience, to demand quality and interaction and service – then we have to make it clear that this is what we do.  This requires a different retail model than the one we’re using.  I’m not saying what we’re doing now is wrong – it is just a particular model that has particular restrictions as well as particular benefits (it can, for example, process huge numbers of transactions relatively quickly – good news considering we are usually working with slim margins that require this kind of volume).

I don’t claim some magical answer – but I certainly think there are a number of different ways we could approach the problem of retailing cups of coffee for sustainable profit.  Undoubtedly there will be risk for those experimenting with it, though likely there will be reward too…

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