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The Coffee (Experience) Wars

One category of the Canadian QSR space has been changing dramatically as the line between premium and regular coffee brands has started to blur. We’ve seen one premium brand extend its reach into the home while two more value-based brands increase their reach into more premium products. Last year, Starbucks introduced an instant coffee product to compete with the single-cup home brewers. Meanwhile McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s have both launched a full range of espresso-based, in-restaurant offerings to compete with the premium drink menus that were once the exclusive domain of Starbucks, Second Cup and a series of independent coffee houses across the country.

This war will be fought on many fronts, including cost, speed, quality and location; it will be won by the brand that can balance those propositions while also delivering a superior guest experience. Tim’s has long owned the cost, location and speed criteria, but all three of these have recently been successfully challenged by McDonald’s, with the introduction of their new coffee focus two years ago.

Starbucks’ reputation as the premium brand allowed them a long run of charging a premium price for their products, which are accompanied by a promise of superior customer experience. They have earned that title by providing a comfortable environment and ensuring that customers are served by an engaged barista who is committed to presenting them with a coffee made to their unique specifications.

Enter McCafe. After shifting perception of their base coffee product by improving the recipe and raising incredible awareness to the change through their marketing efforts, McDonald’s executed a comprehensive plan to re-brand—meaning redesign, rebuild and refurnish—all Canadian locations. These renovations transformed each restaurant to be a comfortable, relaxing environment for friends, families and working individuals. While access to Wi-Fi was once considered to be a point of differentiation it has now been established as a baseline expectation.

With product and environment providing fewer opportunities for differentiation, experience and customer engagement become more critical. The company that best recruits, trains and engages its employees (and in some cases, franchisees) to ensure it is providing a superior, and ideally delightful, experience to its guests will be rewarded with customer loyalty.

How companies manage the employee experience and the organization culture sets the bar for customer experience. As communicators, we find ourselves thinking about how to use communications to guide the employee experience from recruitment through on-boarding and into full, productive members of the organization. We look to establish customer delight as a unifying purpose across the enterprise and instil, for each employee, unique line of sight to their specific role. Whether they are on the front lines or somewhere in the complex systems that are in place to support those that are serving the customer, aligning each individual’s purpose to the overall shared goal allows for a rallying effort that can overcome departmental silos and increase collaboration across functions. With metrics in place to identify progress, achievements can be celebrated and best-practices can be shared.

The ‘coffee experience’ war will be won by the organization that best delivers on this full lifecycle of internal engagement, ensuring that the right mind-set is identified in the hiring process and that each employee clearly understands the expectation, and their unique purpose, in delivering on the brand promise.

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