Judging from the outside looking in, the potential of an innovation may be evaluated through one's lived experience. So one might suspect. When I first began to use Dropbox I experienced some relief from the compulsive backing up onto a growing accumulation of disks, and celebrated the ease of use. The model worked well. I readily shared it with my friends. Getting it right can lead to big things.
Dropbox recently lined up a $500 million credit facility in addition to the $350 million in venture capital funding it arranged in January. Their approach, said Drew Houston, Dropbox co-founder and CEO, still starts with What is broken? and How do we fix it? When it goes public, the young founders will be worth much more, and besides that, they will have made a useful contribution to our digital environment, built around their mission to become a digital home for everything on the web. It boils down to a great service. Two years ago, Houston said he was determined to build the next Apple or Google, not sell out to them. Big things.
Over the past week, the news in innovative technology has included Starbucks. Starbucks.Where it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out how to order my coffee. (Black. No sugar. Oh, say about 12 oz.) According to chairman and CEO Howard Schultz, their investment in mobile-payment technology is transferable to other retailers who would like to license the Starbucks innovation. Financial analysts like Denee Carrington, with Forrester Research have asked, “Do they want to be a technology vendor or do they want to be the world’s most well-known and visited coffee shop? Can Starbucks do that effectively while being a coffee company?” Schultz has responded, “We’ve been and always will be a coffee company.”
A focused mission—great coffee—can include and not be distracted by investing in technology to make it easier at the checkout counter. I would argue that, done well, it will serve to burnish their reputation. I often refer to Harry Beckwith, author of Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Marketing, who said, “Do one thing well, and people will associate you with doing many things well.” Starbucks has five million digital transactions every week. There’s not much to argue with when a company shortens the distance between the transaction and the cash register.
Amazon is another example of how customer service + techology can have lasting impact. Look at a timeline of Amazon’s growth. Previous competitors have gone out of business or are in trouble, beginning with Borders and bookseller icon Barnes & Noble, who, ironically, often host Starbucks’ cafes within their brick-and-mortar walls.
Consumers adapt readily when their experience improves. And Starbucks has been able to “use its system to help cultivate brand loyalty and improve customer service—like reducing customer wait time by allowing them to reload the card balance while waiting in line,” according to Daniel Wolfe, editor in chief for the online trade publication, PaymentsSource.
There are simple lessons that should garner our attention. One is that customer service is still a strategic advantage. It’s something all businesses should be thinking about every day.