Francisca Hawkins of Philz Coffee: "If it doesn't work for the employee, it will not work for the customer."

Francisca Hawkins: 'Employee Experience Cannot Be an Afterthought'

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Francisca Hawkins of Philz Coffee discusses shaping digital products, the importance of employee experience in digital customer experiences and more.

When designing digital products, Francisca Hawkins pays equal attention to both the customer and the employee experience, with a strong focus on user testing.

“Generally, 80% of testers follow the 'happy path,' the direct line to checkout; then, there are the 20% that veer off into the unknown,” she said. “To release a quality product, you must aspire to deliver a frictionless experience and, for those that decide to take a different route, have it be as enjoyable and easy to navigate as possible.” 

Hawkins is currently VP, Digital Products at Philz Coffee, where she leads work on developing a connected ecosystem of offerings, from a mobile order-ahead app to a transactional Apple Watch app. She joined the coffee company in August 2016 after previous roles at Virgin America and Gap Inc.

‘Put Down the Paintbrush, and Walk Away’

Hawkins comes from a family of artists including painters, ceramicists, photographers and puppet makers, so it wasn’t surprising that she studied art history at Santa Clara University.

“That path wasn’t for me, but I was very influenced by the impact art has on people and our societies,” she said. “I also learned that a good artist knows when to put down the paintbrush, and walk away — and this lesson applies extraordinarily well to my current career and the tech world broadly.”

After working for an art consultant in San Francisco, and then traveling the world, Hawkins started to see a common thread in her skills while living in New York and working for a fashion PR agency. These skills included the ability to work cross-functionally and collaboratively while remaining focused on a project’s details in order to achieve a common goal.

At the same time, she remembered the lesson about artists knowing when to stop work on a painting, and to move onto the next challenge.

“That knowledge allows me to move forward and not chase the idea of perfection,” she said. “If you spend all your time trying to solve every single issue and edge case, you’ll never release anything.”  

Hawkins is a speaker at CMSWire’s DX Summit taking place Nov. 4 through 6 at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Chicago. She is giving a session titled “The Best CX Starts with Employee Experience,” on Nov. 6.

We spoke with Hawkins to get her thoughts on how digital customer experience may evolve in future; her current and previous experiences in shaping digital products; and the important role employee experience plays in every digital customer experience.

Employee Experience Is as Important as the Customer's

CMSWire: What did you learn about digital customer experience from your roles at Gap Inc. and Virgin America, which you now use on a daily basis at Philz Coffee? 

Hawkins: During my tenure at both Gap Inc. and Virgin America, my teams and I invested a lot of time in conducting usability testing sessions with both employees and customers.

The insights that I learned were valuable in unexpected ways. We directly folded what we learned into products — both in terms of the adding and refining of features. 

Testing is embedded in all of our product roadmaps at Philz Coffee too. In some ways, it’s really more important in this role than it ever has been, since there’s a special relationship that baristas build directly with customers. 

The reality is, if you don’t listen, learn and adapt to a customer’s interpretation of your product’s words and actions, then you’ve failed as a product developer. 

CMSWire: What led you to join Philz Coffee in August 2016?

Hawkins: My decision to join Philz came on the heels of the Alaska Airlines acquisition of Virgin. Building transferable skills has always been key for me when I take on a new challenge.

Making the transition from retail to the airline industry to the food retail space all built upon a common goal: optimize for the best customer service, drive for operational efficiency, and aspire to deliver products consumers love.

Also, I can tell you, after nearly a decade of leading the development of digital products, that the opportunity to be hired to create a specific, net new product from the ground up is rare. 

So, I was really excited to be charged with leading the development of Philz’s first order-ahead mobile app, and build their mobile business. The challenge of the technology and design of these products is exciting alone, but the other piece is the talent — being able to build the right teams from the ground up. 

With an amazing team of talented engineers, designers, dedicated retail ops folks — which were both internal at Philz Coffee and housed within our product agency partner — Work & Co — we were able to build two apps (a client and a barista app) that went in market within 10 months, and other applications later as well. 

CMSWire: What are your thoughts on how digital customer experience will evolve in future? What role might AI, voice commands and wearable devices play in enabling near-future digital customer experiences?

Hawkins: What’s most interesting to me is when we can fold AI and voice together to help create more custom experiences.

Wearables are less about portability in my view, than personalization and convenience. I’m so excited to launch our watch app with Siri Shortcuts. My vision is — after finishing up an exercise class, lifting my wrist and asking Siri to order my Jacob’s Wonderbar coffee blend, or tapping to order from the carousel. Small, simple steps that’ll get me closer to enjoying something that I really love — and need — everyday: a great cup of coffee.

Life is so complicated that digital products should be personal, intuitive and make life easier.

Learning Opportunities

CMSWire: Why is it so important that such organizations pay equal attention to the employee experience alongside the customer experience?

Hawkins: If it doesn’t work for the employee, it will not work for the customer.

In my current role, the barista is forefront and center; we believe it so deeply that their photo is the last image you see after placing your order.

As a customer, you actually get to see who is making your drink, you get to know their name and, maybe next time, you might say, “Thank you, Joe.”

From my perspective, the employee experience cannot be an afterthought. It’s as important as the customer-facing experience.

CMSWire: How might creating a more seamless and consistent employee experience also benefit an organization’s customers and its own bottom line?

Hawkins: I feel a responsibility to make our baristas’ lives equally frictionless, so they are empowered to deliver the best customer experience and feel good about the work they do each day.

Not only is this the right thing to do, but it also drives customer loyalty and frequency. A happy employee and customer are your brand champions and, at Philz Coffee, they are my customers. 

CMSWire: What one or two lessons learned and/or best practices would you share regarding Philz Coffee’s own digital transformation journey?

Hawkins: Digital transformation can achieve great heights for a small company that is just starting to build out its digital presence. But it must be strategic and focused on actually shipping products.

First, you have to gain alignment with your leadership team and any partners on the roadmap, the budget, and identifying efficiencies around how you are going to achieve the goals you set out to conquer.  

This work includes the non-sexy stuff, choosing your tech stack, looking at your infrastructure, your data warehouse, your BI tools and analytics, and cloud providers, all with the goal in mind of reducing internal friction, technical debt and resource-constraining workarounds.

CMSWire: What is your favorite blend of coffee or tea. Why is that your beverage of choice?

Hawkins: I start every morning off with a Large Yerba Mate, light honey, no sugar; shortly followed up by a small Aromatic Arabic, light plus cream, no sugar.

The Yerba Mate wakes up my brain, and the coffee wakes up my body — it's a perfect combination!

Learn more about the Digital Customer Experience (DX) Summit.