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The Service Design of Coffee

Posted December 31, 2013

Cheers had it right. It wasn’t about the drinks or the prices. It’s right there in the theme song; “you want to go where everybody knows your name.” That is why people went there in the universe of the show. The place didn’t have to have the best beer, or the cleanest tables, or friendliest employees. In fact, it was often the opposite. But they provided the thing that matters, the giving people a good feeling. It gave people the answer to the question “is this someplace I want to be, and somewhere I want to come back to?”

New Ways of Making our Way

I am really interested in new ways of doing common things and what this future of user centered business is bringing us. Apps and services like Uber, Square Wallet, Simple, and a host of others that aren’t on the tip of my tongue. The connection to technology allows us to do things that would have been impossible before. But more so, it’s allowing more human-to-human connection, not less. It sounds funny to say that more technology is giving us more human connection, but in these cases it’s apparent. We’re reducing the noise of the unnecessary interactions and allowing the essence of the interaction to be more present.

There are lots of services I could write about today, but I’m inspired to focus on a Square Wallet experience I just had today, and I really realized how much better it made my morning. That little bit of human interaction and convenience helped set the tone for my 40 minute commute as I drove away afterwards.

The Service Design of Coffee

I use my Square Wallet everywhere I can. I love it. I am sure part of it is because I’m a technophile, but also it removes something that is largely unnecessary – the rote process of transacting money in exchange for goods and services. It’s like a bank or Simple letting me pay my bills with 1 click, other than entering in the amount, I have no need to write checks, look up addresses or anything else. Why would it? We live in the future, that should all be handled.

What I am finding most interesting about this particular usage of the Square Wallet is not the convenience of hands-free payment, but on the social aspect it facilitates. At the places I frequent, I use the automatically check-in. From that, they now know my name, my face, and a lot of times my usual order.

When I am at the register or drive through, we now have mini conversations since there is no need to do a transaction. Exchanging money is not delightful for anyone. I never need to hear “Out of 10… thirty seven cents makes $4, $5, $6, $7, $8, $9, makes $10. Thanks” as they count out the change. Aren’t computers here to actually compute this?

Now, it’s like Cheers – they all know me. I walk into my favorite coffee shop and I’m greeted by name, since they see my face on their Square Register every day. They know my order since they don’t have to remember anything else about me. They’ve associated my face to “mocha latte single shot”.

As a personal after-effect, it makes me tip a lot more than usual. This is revealing of the service design. I see the little notification pop up on my phone, and I usually tip $2 on what, a $3 cost? But that reduction of noise and improvement of the experience puts me in a slightly better mood, and since I don’t have to actually handle money or think about the cost I am detached from the fact that I just gave a 66% tip when usually I don’t leave any!

All they usually have is that dumb glass jar with the piece of masking tape on it that says “tips appreciated!” How do I give a tip when I haven’t carried cash in 10 years? Writing it on the receipt like I’m eating at a restaurant is the wrong modality expectation, it just feels wrong even though it’s the same behavior.

There’s the evidence of business value. I see that “$1, $2, $3” series of buttons come up and depending on how I feel, just hit 2 or 3. Now, they’re making money based solely on the service experience. Nothing has changed about the coffee, but the way I get to interact with the business makes me spend more. And nothing about this bothers me.

The Affordances of Service Interaction

In this model, there are 2 products I am a customer of – I am Square’s customer as a fan of their app, and the coffee shops customer as a fan of their coffee. That is something I never really thought of. Suddenly that coffee shop is “using square” and I go there because I like the feeling of the service – it creates an affordance. Not with how I access their payment processes, but how I access their business as a whole. It makes a new interface and interaction for me to enjoy. The coffee shop itself becomes a whole UX endeavor outside of anything digital.

Those affordances are a combination of the 2 user and service experiences at play. The first is Square’s whole UX design of the iPad register and the Square Wallet app. Thats a whole service design that I bet the Square UX and product team has worked on quite a bit. It’s this ecosystem that’s the first layer of service experience; that is what Square sells. Not an app, not the register, Square is selling that affordance; the ability to delight your customers.

The second service experience is the one the coffee shop has built. They have no UX team, they have no programmers, but they probably have an owner or manager who saw what Square offers and saw how it could improve their service experience. So as a part of the music, decoration, layout, menu, etc etc, they now augment that with a way to engage with certain types of customers; another affordance. I now have a way to access their business in a different manner that delights – a new affordance. That makes the experience sticky, and keeps me coming back.

The critical aspect here is that I come back not because I want to support their business and give them money. That’s a side effect. I come back for myself, for how it makes me feel. I come back because I can get coffee the way I like to, using those affordance that make sense to me and make things just “feel right.” I find myself saying “I love the way I can pay for my coffee here.” What? I am delighted by how I pay for things, and that is why I come back? Yep. Even the act of transacting money can be a good human experience, good UX.

It’s not the app that I like. Square’s app alone is of no value. What I like is how I feel every morning as I zip through the drive through window.

Learning New Ways of Doing Business

At 3 different places so far, I’ve given quick lessons on what Square can do since the business weren’t using it to do anything but swipe cards. So I’ve pulled out my phone, showed them the wallet, and how I appear on the screen. They can’t believe it. The excitement is palpable. They call over other workers and show them. Then I talk about how if they encourage patrons to get the Square Wallet, maybe they’ll increase business by making paying for their goods easy, fun, and transparent – people will spend more and tip more if the experience engenders positive emotion.

It makes me wonder if a part of what Square is selling is a lesson in new ways of doing business. It’s not even about their product – it’s about showing people that we can challenge the idea that any experience has to be mundane. What they sell is “Are you the type of business who wants to excite and delight your customers, engender goodwill and also make some money in the process? Then boy do we have a product for you!”

You Want to go Where Everybody Knows Your Name

This is a very specific example, something real from my life that started a train of thought. I use the Square Wallet at maybe 2 places, it doesn’t have a huge presence here in Salt Lake yet. But that idea of a crafted experience is so compelling, especially considering the fact that Square’s business customers don’t even realize that they’re also selling a great experience along with their goods and services. It’s stealth UX. They might just see it as a cool cash register and not a whole new way of creating a customer experience in a connected world.

The impact of a positive service experience is so strong, that’s what sticks with me. It’s odd to think about how much time and resources we pour into the UX of a product, the interface, the interaction, the flows, but often not the entire human journey before, during, and after that happens outside of or parallel to what we are building.

That’s the future of UX. Not what we build, or how it works, but why we do it. To gift people with good experiences on a broader level that stays with them even after they put our product down.

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I love all things experience design. I work as a Principal Service Experience Designer at Intuit in Mountain View, CA.
  • Tina

    This article really resonated with me. What you said about how you like the service because of how it made you feel made so much sense. This is exactly how I feel about UX design and technology in general – it serves to improve people’s lives and facilitate human connection. Now if only we could adopt these cool services over in New Zealand!