Last week while at the National Coffee Association Convention (NCA), Ms. Andi Trindle Mersch from Philz Coffee spoke about their made-to-order brand and customer service model, Philz’s “thing” that sets them apart. She also broke the news that cold brew may be coming soon to a Philz shop near you! This isn’t a recorded session living online, so please allow us to reflect and expand upon her words.
Philz’s Made-to-Order Brand Model: In our experience, whenever a customer walks up to a Philz coffee shop counter, they are greeted joyfully, asked for their order — a choice between one of the roasts – light, medium or dark — and then, between sweet or creamy. Once the coffee is made, the customer is always asked if it’s too sweet or creamy or just right. One gets the feeling that it’s truly made for you. In the era of customization, especially for the millennial generation, by asking if the order tastes okay or if it needs adjusting, Philz creates the opening for a second chance. It’s a welcomed chance for the customer to say, “hey, this isn’t quite right, can you fix it before I accept it?” Giving the customer this level of power gives them more ownership of their experience, their coffee and, their day.
We’re reminded of the scene in You’ve Got Mail when Tom Hanks is in Starbucks (watch here) ordering a drink:
“The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short. Tall. Light. Dark. Caff. Decaf. Low-fat. Non-fat. Etc. So, people who don’t know what the h*** they’re doing, or who on Earth they are, can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee, but an absolutely defining sense of self. Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.“
Philz has taken this “defining self of self” a step further and not only provided self awareness but a right of refusal, or right of adjustment. We could get really introspective or analytical here and say, wait a minute, have we gone too far? What’s next? Is this how it should be in restaurants? The waiter brings my mac-n-cheese and I am able to try it and say, “hmm, this needs a little more salt” and the waiter happily brings it back to the kitchen for the chef to season and return back to the table? Point taken…
However. No; this is coffee.
In a coffee shop like Philz, the logistics and optics are different. A customization model appears to work for Philz, within specific parameters of course. At NCA, Mersch described how at a certain point, there was an issue with long lines in their stores; customization takes more time. But the new Philz mobile app with online ordering helped with that, she explained. Mersch then broke the news at NCA that cold brew could be coming to Philz stores this year (!). What the customer doesn’t see, however, she said, is the x number of failed trials that it takes to introduce a new product or concept at Philz, or in any company for that matter. The failed attempts. The test phases. And finally, the go/no-go scenarios. Mersch told the audience that Philz is facing difficulty with cold brew because even as customers are demanding it in stores, cold brew and customization clash. Cold brew coffee is not only cold, requiring different logistical edits e.g. storage, but it’s frequently consumed black – not sweet or creamy. What does this mean for Philz? Will it work? How will cold brew be customized? We’ll have to wait and see.
So, what can learn from Philz’s unique model of customer service? Many coffee shops aren’t going to copy Philz and add the “does it taste okay?” question to their customer service model. But as a consumer, let us reflect.
Most simply, it’s clear from Philz that it’s great to be open to feedback. Philz gives us a good metaphor for living. Too sweet? More cream? Less sweet? Maybe there truly are more than enough options/scenarios for all of us. Coffee isn’t always black or always taken sweet. Nor is life always black and white. The most preferred, best tasting, most unique cup of coffee, or “just right” anything, is just a conversation away. Sometimes, just a dash of adjustment is all it takes. Or maybe you need an entirely new brew. Maybe your first order wasn’t perfect but the next one could be. Yes, getting there requires more time and feedback, but the outcome will probably be better and (perhaps) you’ll feel more invested because you voted for it.
The thing is, it’s so easy to just accept what’s given to us, but remembering your power to adjust and pivot is what’s up to you. This holds true in a coffee shop order and in life.
Sure, Philz has given customers the real space for this power of choice, but customers always hold the scepter. You’re the sovereign and your coffee experience serves as the proverbial royal court. Drink your coffee your way.
Maybe that’s one strong reason why all of us love ordering and drinking coffee so much; when we drink coffee, we’re able to be sovereign and yet connected. Connected to the land, the coffee producer, the coffee shop barista, the friends we chat with while sipping coffee, and most deeply, to ourselves.
Now that’s a timecupsoul. Have a wonderful weekend.