coffee spill  captured in  process, flying up  over a take  out coffee cup's rim
PHOTO: Ohmky

I had a real moment of panic before I sat down to write this month’s article. I had popped out to do our regular midweek run to our favorite coffee store. All went well until I pulled up to the drive-through window to let the barista scan the app on my phone and collect our drinks. After the scan, the unthinkable happened. She smiled and said, “You still owe one dollar and four cents.”

I haven’t handed over cash for our coffee order in years.

A quick glance at the phone app showed that, sure enough, it had zeroed out. But I have an automatic reload threshold set that fits with our coffee buying habits. I never look at the total, we have it tuned to the point where there’s always enough on the card. Now there wasn’t. I must have looked suitably stunned, as she quietly said, “You can just do a quick one-time payment on the app.” I looked in my rearview mirror at the growing line of cars behind me, and imagined that I would soon become the subject of a cacophony of irritated horn blowing from the caffeine-deprived I was holding up in my confusion. I had never done an actual top-up payment before. One-click to get to the “add funds” page, a quick type in of a few dollars to cover my $1.04 debt, another click to add it, a rescan and I was on my way — crisis averted. Once I was home it took just another few clicks to resolve my issue and restore the automatic payment reload process.

What Inspires Customer Loyalty?

Why stay loyal to a mega-chain of coffee stores when there’s arguably better tasting, cheaper local alternatives? The answer is easy. It makes life simple, even when I make mistakes, and especially when it does. It has a no questions asked policy on getting orders right. An intuitive app that not only provides information but helps me with my transactions, provides value. Global usage and consistency. I have used it literally all around the world and in countries where I don’t speak the language. It’s a small moment of familiarity, and helps me conduct a transaction just as smoothly as when I’m at home. My rewards keep stacking up no matter where I use it. Plus it doesn’t appear to sell our data on; it uses it to provide customized, personalized suggestions.

Yes, there are local boutique coffee-roasters and specialist joints we like. But it’s at the local mega-chain where we feel the most at home, the staff know us, and welcome us whether we order online or in-person. It’s about feeling a part of the family. The trust runs through both the digital and physical transactions. That’s the important part, understanding that every transaction is a transaction with the brand and that the experience is seamless and consistent no matter the channel.

Related Article: Customer Loyalty: Understated and Overestimated

What Drives Customers Away?

Let’s contrast the above experience with another coffee chain I frequent when I’m in the UK. It has good coffee, comfortable stores, snacks I can eat, and in general, excellent in-person service. However, on several occasions we’ve had problems trying to pay with a US credit card. It’s a place I’ll stop in when I’m strolling the high street. But that’s it, for while its in-person experience is a good one, the corresponding digital one is a hassle. Even though the chain has franchised locations outside the UK there is an underlying assumption that anyone wanting to use its app lives in the UK. Setting up an account requires a UK formatted post code. And even if you have one you can use (thanks in-laws), don’t try connecting a foreign-issued credit card to the account, or use the app at one of the international locations. I’ve seen reports that it doesn’t track what’s in stock at a store so it lets you do mobile orders that can’t be fulfilled, nor does it facilitate things like refunds. Personalization is minimal. The experience of using the app is best summed up by one customer review I read which stated it needed to make “the app more personalized for me and not the company.”

Building digital trust is not just about collecting information to feed into your data lake, or some mythical “360 degree view of the customer.” It’s about ensuring you meet your brand promise, and that you make the lives of customers who use your digital offerings easier. Break that promise and you break the trust and turn loyal customers into dissatisfied ones.