Like all great self-service organizations, Starbucks knows that you should never keep the customer waiting.The July 2006 like-for-like sales for Starbucks were lower than expected. This was rare for such a high performance company and resulted in an 11 percent decline in the share price after the news was announced.
According to Starbucks' chief executive, Jim Donald, the reason why sales had not met expectations was because Starbucks was keeping its customers waiting too long. "We believe we are losing some espresso business due to longer than normal wait times in both cafes and drive-thrus during peak morning hours," he stated.
And what caused this delay? Iced frappuccinos and other cold drinks. "Customers are embracing these cold blended beverages as a morning staple to a degree that we had not anticipated," Jim Donald stated. "We have recognized the opportunity to refine and improve our cold beverage station to make drink preparation more efficient and improve service over time but, in retrospect, we did not move aggressively enough."
People are impatient. They don't want to have to wait a second longer than they absolutely have to. That is particularly so when they enter a self-service environment, because a key promise of self-service is that if you do it for yourself you'll be able to do it faster.
You're walking down the street. You're hungry and thirsty. You approach two restaurants. One has a nice menu but it's waiter-service. The other is self-service. It's a decision between time, thirst, and taste. You choose self-service. You walk in and you wait.
There is a clock ticking fast in your head. You absolutely expect to be in and out of this place quickly. Because that's what self-service is about and that's what your website is about. A website that wastes time loses money.
People may like Starbucks but they hate to wait one second longer than they absolutely have to. A long queue is lost sales. Self-service is forever married to convenience and speed.
The purpose of usability is to save the customer time. It took longer for Starbucks to prepare cold drinks than hot drinks. Customers lost patience. Starbucks lost profits. A fast, convenient website gains customers. A poorly designed website loses customers.
I want to buy a new laptop. I used to buy IBM ThinkPads and was really happy with them. Lenovo took over the ThinkPad range. Last year I went to the Lenovo website. I was a loyal customer. I wanted to buy from them. The website was awful. I went to a competitor.
This year I read really great reviews of the ThinkPad T60 and X60. I go back to the Lenovo Ireland website. There's a graphic on the homepage that has a picture of two laptops, with the heading: "The power of 2 in 1". I click on the image. This website is soooo slow.
Finally, I arrive at a webpage with the heading: "Lenovo care", which has nothing to do with selling me a laptop. I want to buy from Lenovo, but this website is making it really hard for me.
Starbucks knows--at a most senior management level--that in a convenience society, convenience is king. How long will it take other senior managers to realize that their websites have a direct impact on their organization's performance?
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.