Getting Operations Involved
Any drive-thru is only as good as the operations supporting it. Too often, brands don’t invest the same amount of thought and planning for the drive-thru operations, as they do for in-store operations. Starbucks created an Operations Innovation Team to address opportunities for the optimization of drive-thru operations, such as:
- Adopt best practices from industry leaders
- Establish food and beverage equipment standards
- Optimize drive-thru technology (headsets; cup labelers; timers; order confirmation; payment technology; digital menus)
Testing and Validating Improvements and Innovations
The improvements and innovations demonstrated beneficial outcomes. They were growing the business while delighting customers. Such results allowed Starbucks to get a green light from the C-suite to really get the drive-thru effort going at a revolutionary rate. Starbucks established a group of Rapid Test Stores. Here a new methodology, strategy, design innovation, or new food and beverage products would be quickly and cost-effectively put into an actual store test. Management would get rapid customer feedback, rapid impact on operations, rapid validation of business potential, and a quick determination of “go or no-go.” If an idea was going to fail, it would fail fast and fail cheap.
Setting Stretch Goals and Continuous Improvement
The early results of these initial improvements opened the purse strings from executive management. A program (called Drive-Thru Evolved) was established with the following mission: Create a personal connection, deliver high quality hand-crafted beverages and anticipate customer needs by continuously improving store operations and leveraging technology that differentiates the Drive Thru experience.
A mission like this is only realized by tackling a myriad of improvement projects, each focusing on very specific problems and opportunities. Going back to the drive-thru’s different “customer zones,” each of the zones became improvement projects that would focus on that zone. What are we doing poorly in this zone? What are we doing well? How can we help the customer in this zone? How can technology help? In short, what are the improvements we can make in this zone to differentiate our drive-thru experience, and delight the customer?
The program would establish long- and short-term improvements and the stretch goals Starbucks established. Examples included:
- Be viewed as No. 1 in the Drive Thru Industry for Customer Experience
- Unlock full potential of Digital in the Drive Thru
- Leverage Customer Insights to exceed Customer Expectations
- Drive Incremental Profit of $500 million
Innovation is a key mantra for Starbucks. It is continually identifying innovative uses for technology for the drive-thru and in-store.
A key element in making the drive-thru experience more experiential and less transactional was the addition of a 46-inch digital order confirmation screen. In addition to visually confirming the order, customers can interact live via a two-way video with the baristas taking the order. The innovative digital screen also promotes (in real time) available bakery items and suggestive-sell promotions to increase ticket and incidence of food attach to beverage orders. This "digital barista" offers a benefit that may not be obvious. It capitalizes on Starbuck's greatest asset—its people—and their relationship to customers. It brings an element of the interior’s Third Place experience to the drive-thru.
Starbucks is now firmly established as a leader in mobile customer service. Its Mobile Rewards, Order & Pay technology is the stellar result of more than a decade of continuous improvement. Starbucks’ mobile app allows customers to order and pay using smartphones and then pick-up their order either inside stores, at curbside, or at the drive-thru. Today using the Mobile Rewards, Order & Pay app accounts for more than 25 percent of all orders placed in the U.S.
Investing Big to Make It Happen
The ROI resulting from the drive-thru improvements were quickly evident to the C-suite. Now, the drive-thru was top of mind, initiating the largest capital expenditure in Starbucks history—an investment to ensure an aggressive expansion of the number of Starbucks locations with the new drive-thrus. Continuous improvement is a way of life at Starbucks. The company’s goal is to continually improve the experience anticipating that drive-thru sales will continue to account for the majority of its business.