Starbucks: Sh*t coffee, superb product

I'm sitting in a Starbucks right now and I am very, very irritated about it. 

Their coffee is mediocre (at best).
Their decaf isn't even Swiss Water Process. 
I am actually embarrassed to be here, since there are literally 78 other (better) coffee shops in this town.

So what the hell am I doing here? 

About 30 minutes ago I went to my neighborhood coffee shop with my laptop, in search of an evening coffee and quiet place to work. When I arrived at the counter, the barista was helping three other people at a table. Then she disappeared. I waited. For 12 minutes. TWELVE. (I keep track of these things). Then I saw/ heard her in the back, chatting on her phone.

So I left.

And immediately drove to Starbucks.

Is the coffee at my neighborhood coffee shop better than Starbucks? 

Yes. By a long shot.

Is the tangible product always more important than the end-to-end user experience?

Often not.

What is it, you ask, about Starbucks that has led me to my current situation, drinking a distinctly mediocre grande decaf americano at 5pm on a Sunday? Because my coffee user experience isn't just about the actual coffee. It's about: 

  • Convenience
    • I can order coffee with my mobile phone. It will be waiting for me when I get there. 
    • I can pay with my mobile, too. I don't even need my wallet. 
  • Consistency
    • My Americano is made exactly the same way, every time, regardless of location.
    • I am always helped immediately at a Starbucks. I've never been ignored.
  • Reliability
    • Unless I'm in the middle of North Dakota, (and even maybe then) I'm always within about a mile from a Starbucks.
    • There is good internet, always. 

Bottom line: A solution to a product problem must be beneficial to the user. (Not your engineering team. Your users.)
I will say this again: A solution that is not beneficial to the customer is not a good solution. 

Often times software product managers get so caught up in perfecting our product's super cool backend features that we neglect customer experience for weeks or months at a time. At least a half dozen times early in my career, I observed new product features being developed with no regard for UX .... only to see the product owner scramble just before launch to define the customer need. (!!!)

(Quick tip - identifying customer need should happen before any development starts! Duh.) 

This can happen, in particular, when product feeds off of an engineering team's excitement about some new cutting-edge tech; the whole team can get wrapped up in the hysteria of beating a competitor to market with a new technology, even if it doesn't necessarily impact the customer that significantly.

Or, it can happen when a Product VP attends a neat-o presentation on some cool new technology at a conference and decides you must implement it immediately, because it is the next best thing (bright shiny object!), without thinking about how it will benefit your customers. 

As product managers, it's our job to always redirect the discussion back to the user experience and what is important to the customer. Because at the end of the day, if there is an app powered by some crazy amazing technology that will send a personal unicorn to pick me up when I'm drunk at the bar and fly me home, I am sooo on board...

Until I can't log into the app.

Then this app is useless to me. (Someone should have really paid attention to that login process. Simple stuff)

And then I'm going to order a Lyft. Or an Uber.

Because those apps are both convenient, reliable, and consistent.