Coffee, Wi-Fi, charging mats: how Starbucks became every tech junkie’s favourite ‘third place’


Observing consumer trends and understanding customers’ lifestyles can lead to moments of genius in meeting customer needs to create a superior Customer Experience. Case in point: Starbucks.

According to US-based technology and market research company, Forrester Research, 92% of companies surveyed last year confirmed that the customer experience would be a top priority for them. We are entering what Forrester refer to as the Age of the Customer, “a 20-year business cycle in which the most successful enterprises will reinvent themselves to systematically understand and serve increasingly powerful customers.” For companies to thrive – and possibly survive – in this new age, they will need to offer a consistently superior customer experience.

Starbucks is one company that has done just that over the past few years. Starbucks did not grow into the largest coffeehouse in the world, with over 23,000 shops globally, because it has the best coffee. It did so by offering a superior customer experience. For decades, Starbucks has strived to become our “Third Place” – that place between work and home where we like to pop in for a while to read our mail, have a chat with a friend, have a business meeting, or pass the time waiting for our next flight or next appointment. For Starbucks patrons, it’s less about the coffee and more about the customer experience.

Sure, there’s that cozy ambience and vibe that it creates with its soft jazz music, décor, and scent and sound of coffee being ground. But Starbucks solidified its position in our hearts and minds as our preferred “Third Place” when it first started offering free Wi-Fi to customers.

By simply knowing its customers and observing consumer and market trends, Starbucks had a stroke of genius with this offering. A customer experience innovation like that shakes up the industry and leaves competitors scrambling to catch up.

Now that most coffee shops offer free Wi-Fi, Starbucks continues to trailblaze the customer experience in order to tighten its competitive advantage.

Last week, it announced another industry first by offering wireless charging mats for mobile phones, so customers can charge their phones for free while enjoying a hot cup of java.
This is sheer retail brilliance. If there’s anything we’re more addicted to than coffee, it’s our internet connectivity and our mobile phones.

With this latest offering, Starbucks has created the addict’s “Customer Experience Trifecta” of coffee, free Wi-Fi and free juice for their phones. In doing this, it has not only created a competitive advantage in customer experience, but also supported its objective of making Starbucks its customers’ preferred “Third Place.” For travelers accustomed to sitting on airport floors to be near a plug-point, it’s a dream come true.

So what lessons can we learn from Starbucks that will help us thrive in the Age of the Customer? Create a superior customer experience for your customers by one of two ways: either identify customer problems and then see how you as a business can solve them or observe and respond to consumer trends in a way that fits in to and enhances your customers’ lifestyles.

Image: Maurizio via Flickr.



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