thinking like a customer

thinking like a customer

Missing the Obvious

By on March 30, 2011

Starbucks recently re-designed its one-pound coffee bag. The process consisted of an extensive investigation of the manufacturing process with lots of engineers involved (Quality Progress, March 2011). However, they missed some clear possibilities that customers would have really appreciated.

The goals of the project were to:Coffee_lrg

  • Make the packaging more airtight in order to improve the flavor. Air will oxidize the coffee and affect its flavor.
  • Allow for the bag to be opened repeatedly without tearing the inner liner that keeps the coffee fresh.

After thorough analysis of a number of variables, including plastic viscosity, clamping pressure, strength of the seal and plate gap on the machines producing these bags, the result was an improved quality of packaging and a reduction of defects by more than 90%.

It would have been better if they had corrected the other problems that customers were experiencing with their bags. What customer has not experienced problems getting his or her hand into the bottom of the coffee bag to scoop out coffee when the bag was nearly empty? Widening the opening on the bag would certainly help. Or they could have created a shorter, squattier package which would allow the customer to scoop coffee more freely. While the other packaging changes were happening, the company could have redesigned the container to dispense coffee from the bottom like a shampoo bottle with a flat cap on the bottom that always allowed the contents to be near the cap. Or they could have created a metering system to allow users to get the same amount of coffee every time.

Whereas product-centered companies think in terms of fine-tuning an existing process, customer-centered organizations find opportunities to make the process more valuable by solving consumers’ problems.  These innovative ideas emerge from a culture focused on making life easier for customers. They take a company’s performance to a new dimension that cannot happen by re-packaging the status quo.

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3 Responses to “Missing the Obvious”

  1. Matthew McDermott says:

    As a devoted coffee maker/drinker, I couldn't agree more. I tend to buy more premium whole bean coffee like Starbucks and less pre-ground supermarket coffee but I think back to when Folgers re-imagined the coffee can a few years ago. The made it wider, included a handle and did a number of other things to make it more customer friendly.

    I like your idea of taking innovations prevalent in one industry (shampoo) and applying them to a completely different application (like coffee). Companies that do this can create competitive advantage until their competitors copy them. If they develop a mind-set to do this on a continual basis, they can stay one step ahead of their competition on an ongoing basis for a more durable competitive advantage.

    I'm just about ready for my second cup now!

  2. Bill Self says:

    Matt,
    Thanks for your feedback. Great point about the innovation at Folgers, replacing metal cans with plastic and designing a handle into the side of the container. Too many product-centered organizations focus on the "what" part of their quality (e.g., improving the seal on the coffee bags and reducing the frequency of tears) rather than "how" the customer is using it and how they can make customers' lives easier.

    Bill

  3. Alex says:

    This is a great post. Thank you and Google for chance to read it.

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