As has probably been apparent in my recent posts I’ve been focusing on the little things in customer service lately (e.g., recent posts such as “It’s the Little Things That Count in Customer Service” and “An Now for a Story About Very Poor Customer Service”).
I had the opportunity to meet with a couple of business colleagues to build a deeper relationship on two separate occasions. One I met at a Starbucks and another at Panera Bread in our local area.
Not being a coffee drinker I have no particular affinity for Starbucks other than its a nice casual public place to meet to have a light business discussion and there are enough locations around that its usually a mutually convenient place to meet.
Panera Bread is similar to Starbuck’s in the context of being a nice, clean, comfortable place for a light business meeting with two important contrasts.
One is obvious. Panera is a more comprehensive restaurant with soups and sandwiches, breakfast danish, etc. whereas Starbucks offers coffee and other related beverages and isn’t particularly known for its food options.
The other important distinction between the two is that Panera Bread offers unlimited free, no questions asked, WiFi internet connection. Theoretically one could set up camp in a booth at Panera Bread with a laptop and mobile phone creating a pseudo virtual office. Some of my colleagues have done this, and some do this regularly. A colleague of mine who works in human resources for the Panera Bread tells me that unless the restaurant is extremely busy during standard meal times, no one would think twice of allowing a person, who has not purchased even a soft drink to stay and operate a virtual booth office all day long.
I presume the same could be done at a Starbucks but the biggest difference is Starbucks requires registration through an AT&T mobile account to get an internet connection. Registering a Starbucks card gets you two-free hours of internet time and using the card to purchase something at least once every 30-days gives you another two-free hours. AT&T does offer an unlimited option for a fee.
I understand Starbucks position that it wants to be able to comfortably accommodate customers consistently throughout the day and not have seats taken up by non-paying customers. I would probably feel the same way. I also know that most Starbucks seating areas are significantly smaller and more limited in the number of patrons they can accommodate than Panera Bread.
Panera Bread, on the other hand, has made a corporate decision to build a deep relationship with its potential customers providing them with a perk that has the opportunity to build long-term loyalty. The thought process here is that if the patron is in the restaurant for a long period they have to eat or drink something eventually. Plus they will hold meetings with colleagues who will buy foot and drinks as well.
I am trying not to make a value judgment on either approach as I understand the business model, marketing strategies and limitations of each. I just think its important to point out the distinctions between the two approaches and use it as a point of discussion regarding the pros and cons of each to learn how we can apply the lessons to our own businesses.
What are your thoughts? (If you needed a virtual office with internet access outside of your main office are you a big enough coffee drinker and a fan of Starbucks to go through the card registration process at a Starbucks? Or, would you be more like me to want the simplicity of Panera Bread’s approach to be able to just sit down, open the laptop, connect and get to work?)
Please leave a comment if you are inspired to do so.