Latest 16 Jun 2020 | Customer Service | 7 min read

4 Things We Learnt About Customer Experience From the Former CDO of Starbucks

We recently had the pleasure of Adam Brotman join us for an episode of Conversations w/ Conversocial all about CX innovation on digital channels.
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Formerly Chief Digital Officer at Starbucks, Adam was integral in developing and driving the brand's best-in-class digital platforms, such as loyalty, mobile apps, mobile payment, mobile ordering, customer-data driven personalized marketing, promoted and social media strategies, digital partnerships, and more.

You can also watch the conversation in full or listen to the podcast version below, but before you do, here’s a taste of what Adam has to say about customer experience and how to lead the transformational change at one of the world’s leading companies.



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1. Learn everything about the company before developing your digital experiences



I had the luck that Howard Schultz gave me some great advice. He sat me down in his office literally on the first day and said, "Look, you want to build credibility here, you want to learn the business. And I don't know what the digital strategy is that you're going to come up with. I know you're going to come with a great one, but you’ve got to connect it to the business and you’ve got to learn that business." 

So I worked in the stores. I went to Costa Rica to the farms. I went to our roasting plants and distribution centers. 

I spent a ton of time interviewing every executive I could to learn the Starbucks business and it's impossible not to almost be like an anthropologist at a Starbucks store at that time. 

You go in in the morning and you sit down and you grab your coffee and you watch. And what you see is this amazing kind of orchestra that's happening about customer engagement, the store employees, what they're doing and what the customers are doing. 

And remember the primary activity of the customer in the store was waiting in line. You come in there, you wait in line and you're on your phone. And I noticed they're on their phone, on their phone. Like, this is incredible. Like this concept of the mobile magic when I learned about the Starbucks business was that what drives it, and this is true I think of all consumer brands is customer relationships.


"I don't know what the digital strategy is that you're going to come up with. I know you're going to come with a great one, but you’ve got to connect it to the business and you’ve got to learn that business."

2. Focus on satisfying your customers' differing need states




So, Howard Schultz, and Cliff Burrows, who was the President of US Operations, they both amongst others were like, "Adam, I love this mobile app, we've got millions of people using it. The loyalty program seems to be driving a lot of our business and it's great. But ordering ahead on the mobile app, that might be a step too far" 

And they were worried about a couple of things. They were worried [because] we're all about connection. Isn't that sterile? You're talking about ordering and you just run in and pick it up and that's not human connection. What about the fact that you're going to skip the line? That's going to piss off a bunch of customers.

Isn't that unfair? They would say, "you're not respecting the democratization of the line. What about the romance of sitting in there and smelling the coffee and seeing the pastry case.” 

And what I would say is: at the time I would keep pushing saying, “Yeah, I hear you. I hear you. You're really getting this wrong about human connection and the romance of the line.” 

There's no romance about waiting in line. Go in and look at the line. They're all looking at their phones. It's an annoying thing. In fact, they might even balk and leave the store if the line's too long.

So you're not considering their need state. Some people want to wait in line and want to sit around, and there are other times where that's not their need state. To them, the connection to the brand is about meeting their needs state in the way that they want, which is they want to get their coffee and get out of there.

And they want it from Starbucks. And why would you deny that from them?

3. Building a customer experience flywheel

Building a customer experience flywheel


The first thing we're going to do in the whiteboard session is we're going to put the customer in the middle and we're going to circle him or her and literally like a little picture.

And then we're going to start drawing all the touchpoints you have with the customer as a brand. Because that's the relationship the customer has with you.  You're going to realize you have all these different touchpoints. Most of which are digital. And you have to think to yourself, my relationship with my customer, to get my customer to love me, refer to me, come back to me, buy from me, is all centered around my digital relationship with them.

So you have to realize it's not multiple digital relationships. It's one relationship that the customer has. 

So, my advice, my practical advice, Shane [Conversocial SVP of Marketing], that you just said was think about if that's how the customer is primarily going to engage with you, now look at your channels. Are they connected? Have you done a good job of connecting them by design? Are you creating your own flywheel around [the fact that] some customers are gonna love that they get rewards or convenience from you. Some are going to love personalized or relevant communications from you.

Like any relationship, it's not one size fits all about what is going to matter the most either by not just by brand, but even by customers within a brand. So you really want to take that approach of connecting as many of them as you can so that they feel seamless with one another and they create a flywheel effect.

4. Why bots are the future of CX (...we may have already known this one)

Why bots are the future of CX 1


I mean forget the app for a second. If I could just speak into my phone and say, “Hey Starbucks, I'm on my way down to the store in 10 minutes, have my usual ready for me” or have this or that and it talks back to me. There's no better version of my relationship with Starbucks than that.

Why can't we just do, “Hey Siri, hey Google, hey, Alexa. I want my Starbucks” because we all agreed that is the new Speedee System. And that's better than the app. If you can make it work of course it's better than the app. Why wouldn't it be? 

And again, that's what the customer wants. That's putting the customer in the middle and it was combining our loyalty system, our payment rails, our ordering capabilities, our API. It was taking all the things we already had and taking it to the next generation. 

So I do think that's the future, by the way. I just, I don't know when it's going to happen, but especially with having a three-year-old at home, trust me, the more I can be hands-free the better. 


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