Monday, October 27, 2008

A manufactured experience

I had a strange feeling at Starbucks this morning. Strange and unpleasant. While waiting for my coffee, I was just sort of watching the process as customers came in and ordered their whatever and the order were taken, relayed to the people towards the back, prepared and then handed to the consumer.

This was a very clear assembly line and for the first time, I felt like just another cog. Not a very good feeling.

Starbucks is obviously a manufactured experience. A sort of Disney World for adult coffee lovers. Howard Schultz liked Italian cafes and thought Americans would too. He was right. And that level of phoniness is OK with me as far as it goes. (Phony because Starbucks is not actually an Italian cafe.)

But Starbucks is clearly a place with a manual. What I mean by that is that there is probably a book and a training course on how to produce this customer experience. See how insidious this is? I just used the word "produce" without blinking an eye (you'll have to trust me that I didn't blink). This is what I mean by a manufactured experience. And this level of phoniness is not OK with me.

I have no reason to assume that Starbucks frontline employees are not genuinely nice people. I'm sure they are. But it feels very much to me that Starbucks tells them in minute detail just how to be nice to me. How to produce that Starbucks experience. I felt it very much today (this is what happens when I don't bring my Blackberry - I notice things). And now it feels fake. From the lingo they use. The staccato drone-like relaying of the order to the back...

I don't actually feel like this is a real human place. And now that I have seen this, the magic of Starbucks is totally gone for me.

BTW, I think Disney works even though we adults know it is totally fake, because we don't really have expectations for seeing real princesses and genies in life. We get it. We suspend our disbelief. (Oh, and their primary target is the little ones who are less jaded.) But we do have expectations of getting a cup of coffee from a genuine human being who is not programmed. In my opinion, Starbucks is not delivering this.

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