Starbucks announced a new leadership structure, following their recent CEO shakeup. As part of this, Chris Bruzzo takes on the combined roles of CIO and CTO, with a mandate to focus on customer service. For Starbucks, the whale is the customer: lack of fear of the whale and its whims may lead to a sunken ship. The captain better make sure they've got the right deckhands.
I've loved espresso for years, intensified by many trips to Italy. For a long time, Starbucks was my gateway to exotic tastes. Recently, though, I find myself avoiding Starbucks in cities around the world in search of a more "authentic" experience. Give me a local roaster off the main square in Goteborg over the ubiquitous green and white. In many cases, it tastes more unique, or at least so my brain believes. What I really want is to feel connected to the experience: I want to believe that those beans were picked, roasted and subjected to steam only for me. When I am running late, though, Starbucks comes through like a champ, giving me a predictable taste on a tight timeframe, making me forget for a moment that the barista is Dutch, or French, or whatever. Starbucks has become a commodity. When I want experience, I go somewhere else.
So what does this have to do with the CIO? What can a CIO do to connect me more with the experience? Is this really user experience writ large? The one example given in the Starbucks press release is the creation of a "loyalty program". Here, the CIO role is clear: create a technology implementation that makes it easy to track customer habits with CRM, then use the data to generate targeted new business opportunities. In essence, the "store knows who I am" when I walk in, regardless of geography. It knows that 95% of the time, I order a triple venti organic milk latte (sorry my preference is not fancier than that). The CIO is responsible for creating a highly adaptive infrastructure to support point of sale that converges with online and other channels. The trick is that the technology must stay out of the way, connecting the consumer with the product transparently. In Starbucks' case, the product is the experience. If all I want is the coffee, I can get it cheaper elsewhere.
The Starbucks reorganization is almost entirely built around revitalizing user experience, so obviously they are concerned about the commodity trend. In effect, their press release could be rewritten for many industries where customer service is quickly becoming the prime differentiator. Consumer banking is increasingly subject to the same dynamics, for instance. In their case, revitalization of customer experience involves convergence of systems (call center, branch, online, etc.) that were independently conceived and platformed. Consumers want end to end consistency of interaction, all of it trustworthy. The banking CIO is challenged not only with deep integration issues, but also creation of architectural layers that evolve at different rates. The pace of customer experience should be absorbed by layers of architecture that can be easily adapted without extensive impact to core systems.
Easier said than done. Starbucks should be glad they're not a bank!