Schnitger Corporation

Coffee and usability

I’ll admit it: I go to Starbucks. Last year, in an effort to figure out why coffee sales were slumping, Starbucks asked non-customers what it would take to get them to buy Starbucks coffee and learned that these folks required a milder, less acidic blend. Enter Starbucks Pike Place roast. Now long-time customers are upset (and talking to the media) about the fact that their local store no longer brews all of the strong stuff all day long. Starbucks listened to non-customers to entice them into the stores and is alienating some long-time customers.

Did Starbucks blow it? Not really; asking customers and prospects alike what they want makes very good sense. But the problem is execution. If there is a way to brew both, that would make both sets of customers happy — at least until each store could gauge demand and then customize what they brew at different times of the day for their specific customer base.

[Side note: we once had the world’s best coffee chain in the Boston area, Coffee Connection.
CC offered dozens of coffees and brewed any in a one- or two-person coffee press on
demand. Starbucks bought ’em and closed the chain.]

What does this have to do with PLM? Everything.

Companies usually ask all of the right questions — What do you like about our products? What’s missing? What doesn’t work? How can we get you to buy? — but then fail in their interpretation of the results and in executing the resultant strategy. How many software companies have added functionality for a customer sub-set only to make the actual execution of a set of tasks more difficult? One example: fading menus, The menu helps a user to systematically enter settings but fades ever so slowly once “Done” or “Enter” is hit — adding seconds to each step of a task as the menu disappears. Another example: those user interfaces that are supposed to be context sensitive — meaning that what was once an inch in from the right on the top may now be somewhere else, if only we could find it.

Meeting multiple sets of demands within a single product is tricky, to be sure. But maybe there is a compromise that will allow all to be as satisfied as possible.

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