Mobile or Not, Here I Come

I admit it; I’m a one-a-day Starbucks coffee addict. It’s a mandatory stop before getting to work. On days that I work out from our office gym, I stop and order at the Starbucks down the block, given the early hour. And on days that I get up and run in my neighborhood, I place a mobile order on my way to work on the Starbucks app. While mobile ordering is exceptionally easy, pickups are chaotic. The allocated store space is overcrowded and the staff is rushed, so can’t spare any interest in engaging with the mobile mob scene. You have no choice but to manhandle the many cups and pastry bags on the counter to find yours. Still, it sure beats waiting in the even more crowded in-store queue.

Last Wednesday was a home workout—or mobile ordering day. But when I tried placing my Starbucks order, my usual store was not appearing. Fully convinced it was user error, I kept closing the app and retrying, but kept getting the same result. Being totally confused—and in desperate need of my grande dark roast—I decided I’d just deal with waiting in line, so walked on to my usual Starbucks. But once I arrived, the mystery was solved—the store was closed, with a sign in the window stating it was undergoing repairs.

Undergoing repairs? What kind of repairs and why didn’t they tell us the prior day, while fulfilling our orders? Well it must have been an emergency closing (e.g., a burst water pipe) and the signage was just unclear. Fortunately, there is another Starbucks just two blocks away (isn’t there always?), so I successfully placed my mobile order and headed over. When I arrived, I was pleasantly greeted by a mobile order concierge (is this the same brand?!), who asked my name and was able to immediately tell me how soon my order would be ready.

I wondered if this was temporary, to help manage the overflow from the store closed around the corner. Just to be sure, I decided to visit this location the next day, and the mobile concierge is a fixture! Are they testing the concept in select stores? How come I didn’t know the experience was much more civilized just two blocks away? Is this really the same brand?

Looking back, what failed me that morning was Starbucks’ communication. As a loyal customer, I should have experienced the following:

  • The mobile app should have told me the location I was trying to order from was closed, and suggested that I visit another store, maybe even offering an alternative address.
  • The store sign should have read “We’re sorry; emergency air conditioning repairs today. Please visit our neighboring locations.” Then I would have felt bad for the staff and anticipated a reopening the next day.
  • And the mobile concierge? As much as I loved the service, he should have said something about this being a pilot (or whatever they’re doing) so I could determine if I want this store to be my new mobile ordering pickup location.

Regardless, I will be back again and again, as the product still trumps the other local coffee options, at least in my view. And I guess they know that. Still, I can’t help but wonder what would Howard Schulz think?

 

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The Oxymoron of Cuba Libre

It’s been nearly a year since my last post…a particularly extended period for a budding blogger. But like most “leaves of absence” I am reinvigorated and committed to regularly authoring my thoughts on branded experiences.

To jumpstart posting, I’ve been thinking about the resiliency of sustained traditions, which are essentially branded occasions. One such tradition is taking an annual vacation–a time for purposely changing our routines to relax and enjoy new experiences. Recently, we had the opportunity to do just that by vacationing in Cuba through my husband’s college alumni association. As you know, Americans visiting Cuba must comply with itineraries that include certain cultural interactions. Sanctioned group tours offer the most turnkey option.

I will admit to a longtime fascination with Cuba, fueled by its revolutionary history and proximity to the U.S., as well as the popular Buena Vista Social Club documentary and my own Caribbean roots. I was unsure what to expect besides hot weather, some ideological commentary and salsa music. Additionally, group travel was a novel experience, as we’ve always preferred to set our own itineraries and travel independently.

Our group numbered just 13 travelers, which kept us less conspicuous and facilitated smooth movements. As well, the sightseeing/cultural itinerary was sufficiently varied and provided us with a reasonable transparency as we discovered Cuba and its citizens.

Unsurprisingly, politics has hampered their economic stability and substantially contributed to deteriorating infrastructures. We learned, for example, that three buildings collapse each day in Havana (or “La Habana” as its known locally). In spite of free education and healthcare, many struggle to feed their families and coexist among neighbors whose lifestyles are subsidized by friends and family who have fled the island.

More recently, the government has permitted certain businesses to launch outside of state-run organizations. These bed & breakfasts and home-based restaurants or “paladars” are obliged to remit substantial portions of their revenues to the government, but they exemplify the Cuban resiliency and creativity. And frankly, the meals we enjoyed at these family paladars were significantly better than those served in the more prevalent state-run restaurants.

You’re likely familiar with one of their national drinks—a lime-infused rum and coke known as the Cube Libre—or Free Cuba. Our arranged meal providers always offered a “welcome drink” of mojitos or Cuba Libres. The irony of this titling is not lost on anyone—locals or tourists alike. As vacationers, we wanted to believe that it perhaps symbolized the triumph of the human spirit over state ideologies. Or maybe just saying those words keeps optimism afloat during these otherwise difficult times.

After a week of touring, we left Cuba saddened about their near-term prospects but hopeful that over time, the locals will have expanded opportunities to engage in free-market experiments like the paladars. In the meantime, consider the deep value of our vacation traditions. I hope your summer features some downtime and hopefully you can unwind while expanding your mind.

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Baseball, Legends & Love

On Friday, June 23, I was fortunate to be among the Red Sox faithful who witnessed the retirement of David Ortiz’s uniform number. Fondly known as “Big Papi,” this larger-than-life star athlete was everything a fan could wish for: clutch player, fun-loving and through it all, remained humble and kind. David is yet another product of the Dominican Republic’s player talent pool and throughout his career, never forgot his homeland. Given my similar roots, I have always favored players from the DR, and of course, particularly those who help keep the home team atop the standings and in championship contention.

Baseball is all about patience and tradition. It takes hours to complete a nine-inning game and more than half a year to proceed from spring training through a World Series. Yet, the rewards for fans are short-lived; we get excited about a win but there’s usually another game within 24 hours. And championships certainly earn bragging rights, but again, they tend to be more impactful in that moment.

That fragile experience is exactly why players like Ortiz are special. Every time they step into the batter’s box, you anticipate a little magic. And quite often, they make the impossible happen. When they’re pushed into the limelight, they instinctually know exactly what to do. What Red Sox fan doesn’t have a mental image of Big Papi’s famous bear hugs or his emotional ballpark comments following the Boston Marathon bombing?

The David Ortiz experience came to an emotional climax last month when friends, family and fans gathered at Fenway to pay tribute to our local hero. The number 34 was ceremonially unveiled above right field, joining nine previous Red Sox and Jackie Robinson as eternal legacies. Several honored guests were invited to offer tributes including former teammates and fellow legends. The comments were festive but perhaps none more heartfelt than second baseman Dustin Pedroia’s observation that what meant most to the team was the great love Big Papi always shared with everyone in the dugout. That simple statement came just before Ortiz spoke to the crowd—and brought tears to his eyes and to those of many throughout the ballpark.

Looking back, we’re forever grateful for the many baseball memories but as every member of Red Sox Nation knows, David Ortiz will continue making us proud for many years to come. Here’s to you, #34!David-Ortiz-Number-Retirement

What United Forgot: Customers Matter

Last week’s United Airlines debacle caught international attention for a simple reason. The airline forgot that they were dealing with a paying customer—and it could easily have been any of us. Yes, perhaps the customer was being overly stubborn about his circumstances, but something happens when we enter the air travel zone. Perhaps it’s how we’re welcomed at the airport—long lines, security check-ins and the TSA presence. Or maybe it’s that we’re all intent on reaching our destination on our timeline, so any unplanned delay becomes a crisis. And of course, airports are teeming with crowds and we all know that crowds contribute to stress in any circumstance. Together, these variables foster an undercurrent of irrational tension.

I couldn’t help but think of this when I checked into my Sheraton Hotel in Minnesota last night and noticed a small red carpet in the entryway. Having just been at the same property a few weeks ago, I questioned the look but thought they were maybe just getting creative for spring. But then placed by the television I noticed a tray of snacks—which I had not ordered—and a printed card stating that I was their VIP customer of the day. This was clearly a random welcome experience that probably cost the hotel less than $5, but boy, did it make me feel great about my stay. Through this very simple gesture, they reinforced that they understood that the customer comes first. Winning my loyalty by providing a memorable experience matters to them—and that is a powerful message.

I called the front desk to thank them for the surprise welcome, and they were happy to reinforce the card’s message. We care about your business and are glad that you’re here. Hmm….seems pretty simple. United – are you listening?

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God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

We’re approaching the end of the holiday week, with family dinners and gift exchanges already a distant memory and New Year’s Eve merriment on the horizon. A rarely mentioned highlight of this time is that for many of us, work slows down. The luckiest are off completely, either because their organizations are closed or they’ve taken vacation time. And except for retailers and others with year-end pressures, little is missed by being off this week.

I couldn’t help but think of this when hearing the Christmas carol “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” over the past month. “Rest” opens the song and “Tidings of comfort and joy” are repeated in the refrain, which has been sung for nearly 200 years. Not a bad message.

Slowing down a bit at year end gives us the freedom to better enjoy the holidays and the people we celebrate with. Yes, I guess that’s the “tidings of comfort and joy” bit. And a little time away from our daily routine translates to some “rest.”

However you’re spending your time, wishing you rest, comfort and joy.

Happy holidays!

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#FlytheW – Even if You’re Not From Chicago

What happened in 1908? As we all know, it was the last time the Chicago Cubs earned a World Series victory.  But did you also know it was also the year “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” – or baseball’s unofficial anthem – was written? Yes, these two significant baseball events share an anniversary that has withstood the test of time.

Of course, this year, Cubs fans everywhere hope to override that fact. Tonight the Chicago Cubs made history by hosting the first World Series game at Wrigley Field since 1945. They last took home the big prize with back-to-back victories in 1907 and 1908. Needless to say, the city has come to a standstill to savor this moment. As a Boston Red Sox fan, I totally get it – we waited 86 years for a World Series win and the excitement of that post-season was incomparable to any sporting experience I’ve ever had. Even though my team got bounced early this year, I’m very happy for Chicago Cubs fans everywhere.

I’ve been to Wrigley Field once, for a Sunday afternoon game in May 2015, and it’s as charming and iconic as you’d imagine. From the bar scene in Wrigleyville to the coveted bleacher seats atop the brownstones that ring the field, it’s a very special place. This weekend I’m confident getting close to that area has been impossible, except for those fortunate enough to score tickets or a bar stool. Yet, I’m also confident that the same electric ambiance is being felt all throughout Chicago – in bars, homes and streets everywhere.

While sports loyalties run deep, every once in a while, I think it’s okay to “root, root, root for another team” because they’ve demonstrated they deserve a chance to bring it home. With 103 wins this year, the Cubs eclipsed every other team in both leagues. 108 years is a lot longer than our 86; I hope 2016 is the Cubbies’ year. Of course, if 2017 is the Red Sox!

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The Nobel Times, They Are a-Changin’

Last week the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Bob Dylan, the first musician to earn this pinnacle award. Many were startled at this choice, given that Dylan’s prose is absorbed through song. He wasn’t the front-runner. And apparently a week later, he hasn’t acknowledged the prize. Not sure if that’s consistent with his style, as I don’t consider myself a Dylan fan.  I’m also not particularly familiar with his lyrics besides the iconic songs we all learned along the way. Nothing personal but I was happier listening to the Rolling Stones than folksingers.

Biases aside, I think we can all agree that many of the rock-and-roll greats credit Dylan as an important influence on their careers. And amazingly, he’s been at it for over 50 years. I Googled namesake Alfred Nobel’s intent for this award and according to his wishes, the prize should go to a writer with “the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” Notably, Alfred didn’t qualify writers of a particular output – e.g. a novel versus a song.

So while I may be ill-qualified to tough to weigh on Dylan’s selection, here’s what I can say.

  • If a song is good, we memorize the lyrics and listen to it again and again. Not sure that’s always true of a good book.
  • When a writer scores a hit, the chances of repeating that success are limited. Long-term careers for authors or singer/songwriters are for a talented (or lucky) few.
  • Writing something that reflects cultural sentiment and that helps stoke awareness and change is a rarity. How many “Blowin’ in the Wind” type ballads, books or poems can you list?

Maybe the Nobel Prize Committee recognized that today we absorb content across a broad variety of media. And by awarding the prize to an iconic songwriter, maybe they’re simply redefining literature. Not sure that book clubs will start analyzing lyrics anytime soon, but the next time you find yourself memorizing the words to a song, think about this Dylan award. Not all songs are Nobel-prize worthy. But perhaps the songwriting genre has just earned recognition as an influential method for sharing ideas and prompting thought and emotions. Sounds like a happy ending to me!

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