Daily Dose of Analytics : Coffee Shops And The Personal Touch

I have always found coffee shops to be a shared yet extremely personal space. Swarming with people, but you always get your quiet space, or the space to discuss the biggest and the most profound of topics.

Much before I started working, as a student with an insignificant pocket money, a friend and I would save just about enough money in a week or a month to the go have a cup of cappuccino at the newly opened Barista at Vasant Place market in Delhi. It was an aspirational act for us. Back then, a cup of coffee costing 30 bucks was a luxury that middle class students like me could not afford every day. I survived a week on bus passes and about 100 bucks. With chole bhature in college canteen costing 5 bucks, it wasn’t too difficult, in case you are wondering. However, But for the coffee shop manager, I was somewhat of a regular.

During my MBA days, I welcomed the opening of the Café Coffee Day inside the campus. While the poor guys had stiff competition from the legacy Nescafe machine serving super sweet desi coffee for 5 bucks or so, there were loyalists who would go to the café regularly. I would do that sporadically (continuing financial constraints). Yet, while at the café, it was a personal experience. Reason – the fellow at the counter knew me well enough by my third visit, and my order as well.

The phenomenon continued with me and Tushar playing “Jaadu Hai Nasha Hai” on the jukebox of the CCD at Ispahani Center in Chennai, or the string of coffees (mostly with biwi, TG, Shumeet, Shilpa, NehaG, Sulabh, Aziz and/or several others at Inductis) at the CCD at Solitaire Plaza on MG road. At these places, the old age touch of the coffee shop team knowing you, smiling, understanding what you’re going to order, and gradually establishing a personal connect with you was a part of the reason why I would go to the same coffee shop over and over again, even as the very cup of coffee became a standard output from one outlet to another. And more outlets, maybe closer to where I was, popped up at regular intervals. Ajay (at CCD Solitaire) even invited us for his marriage, even though he was really confused about who’s dating who for a very long time, given the NC2 combinations of coffee-ing!

Over the last few months, there are two coffee shops that I have frequented with great regularity. The Di Bella at BKC, and Gloria Jeans at Powai. However, these two are regulars because they are convenient. Whenever I am in BKC (was the norm when I was still working and continues even now with the people I meet there), it’s the only half decent option. CCD’s coffee quality has become despairingly bad in the last year and a half. GJC in Powai is also close to home, half decent coffee, has power connector points for me to work uninterrupted for some time, and enough quick bite options close by. And is open till about 1AM.

Now, in both these cases, I don’t think the folks would recognize me from one visit to another. I would probably need to strip and dance before they’d start recognizing me on my subsequent visits. Like the coffee, the customer is becoming a standardized product, is it?

The answer is no, in all likelihood. And that’s where Retail/POS Analytics should help do the job that the friendly neighborhood stores were doing so effortlessly. All the nearby stores would know me and my parents, back in the days, because of several factors – smaller/closer communities, repeat visits, continuity of the people who managed the same store over years, and lastly, a general culture of taking interest (which the modern world can called nosy as well). Retail Analytics can make this very easy for most.

An example that comes to mind – the small touches that Amex customer care often adds. For instance, last year, I called them for a query in February and they knew that my birthday and my anniversary are around the corner. How? B’day is easy. But the year before, I had some purchases around those dates, the address on my file and my wife’s file are the same, and lastly, my wife had purchases around the same date. Someone inferred it to be an important date. Not exactly what, but most likely, the flag of an important went up. The customer care executive promptly asked me if I had any vacation plans and if I needed any help. To the extent of suggesting that I could redeem some points against some of the travel options because I had a very healthy point balance.

Earlier, a lot of these required manual effort. Like that branch manager at your bank, or the store owner at the nearby store, or Ajay continuing at the same CCD for two years on the go. Now, data quality (better organized and cleaned data being made available in large volumes), and simple analysis can make it very easy for the POS person. If nothing else, a simple name to call out for and the last four digits of the credit card being swiped could start establishing the relationships, right? Next swipe, bring out that 10% discount coupon for registering – bingo – name and address collected. Follow it up with Coffee Clubs/ Loyalty – wonderful retention. Especially, for GJC, in an area where there are approx 5 or 6 coffee shops close to each other. Will occasional errors happen? Yes. But as long as the touchpoint is consciously used as a positive reinforcement, the impact cannot be negative. Analytics should take care of the machine so that the touchpoint can continue to be more human.

On that note, why hasn’t any coffee chain thought about organizing coffee evenings for groups of friends? Movies, Coffee and Sandwiches. ☺


[The Daily Dose series could evolve into a series of stray thoughts on analytics in daily life)


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Shilpa on January 3, 2013 at 3:01 am

    Believe it or not am in Starbucks reading this on my iPad preparing for an interview.. But am actually scared and overwhelmed by e amount of personal communication I receive in my inbox everyday..
    I don’t want to be stalked.. You were lucky that it was Neha that they inferred your wife..think about people who indulge in more than one relationships.. Nevertheless i was happy seeing my name in your post..
    Cheers to coffee shops..


    • Posted by Amit on January 4, 2013 at 1:06 pm

      Thin line between stalked/ privacy, etc. and being able to make an offer at the touchpoint. But I agree 😉 Waise, I am not sure that Ajay inferred it right from the start. Me, Neha, TG, Shumeet did create some confusion 😀


  2. Posted by Sulabh on January 3, 2013 at 10:48 am

    Interesting. Add census data and location of self and competitor in the mix, you have got a very potent tool, to understand market penetration on a geographic location grid basis. It is definitely easier to market nearby and increase penetration.

    On a separate note, “Hau..Ajay ne mujhe nahin bulaya.!!!”


    • Posted by Amit on January 4, 2013 at 1:06 pm

      Yes. Geodemographic data on top of this and census data can be super potent. And that would lead to the discussion on one-to-one marketing, mobile enablement, integration with facebook/foursquare, etc.


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