Are you Letting your Products and Technology Down?

Even though I spend most of my career helping brands meld technology, products, process, and people into optimal customer experiences I must admit I can become “wide-eyed” with the speed and benefits of digital solutions.

Take Starbucks’ deployment of Microsoft’s Azure technologies for example. Starbucks (a company about which I have written two books The Starbucks Experience and Leading the Starbucks Way) is essentially using Azure to deliver reinforcement learning and personalized product suggestions as customers order on the Starbucks app.

Normally, these types of product suggestions take into consideration a customer’s past order history or the purchase behavior of other customers with similar psychographic and demographic profiles. However, the Azure solution takes into account even more data as it seeks to personalize the “perfect” slate of suggested offerings.

For example, Starbucks algorithms are considering some of the following:

  • What’s in inventory at your local store (Pain is created if a product is suggested and your nearest Starbucks can’t make it for you.)
  • Time of day (A breakfast sandwich recommendation makes sense when you order a dark roast coffee in the morning, but if you order that same drink at night maybe something more substantive would be in order.)
  • Weather (On an unexpectedly warm day the suggestion can adjust to a beverage that is better suited for the local conditions.)

This technology-driven personalization is not only aiding individual ordering, but it is also driving store level efficiency as that data is being collected and mined to help a store manager optimize ordering, bean choices, and even the perfect beverage temperatures for their local conditions.


All of this big data gives brands like Starbucks a huge lift when it comes to personalization BUT, as I frequently warn personalization does not equate to personal care.

In my upcoming book about Airbnb (The Airbnb Way, available for pre-order here), I share how to assure that you don’t let your technology fail through poor human service delivery.

Staying with the Starbucks example above, let’s assume that I am visiting San Francisco on an unusually warm fall day. Let’s further assume it is 9 a.m. I open my Starbucks app to order a breakfast item and it suggests my favorite coffee drink iced. I normally don’t drink it iced, but it seems like a perfect suggestion given the weather. I go in to pick up my drink order and imagine that I happen upon a barista in a surly mood. They hand me my drink and breakfast item without eye contact and using a gruff tone. Now let’s assume, I am going to tweet about my experience. Would I say:

Amazing tech, Starbucks suggested an iced drink factoring in the weather. Very personal experience today.


Not sure what was going on with Starbucks, but the barista was rude – the iced coffee was good, but all and all it was a negative experience.

Research shows that almost 2/3rds of customer complaints involve people and not technology or products. That prompts some to think that the fewer human interactions, the better. However, we also know when technology goes wrong, you must have knowledgeable people around immediately to save the day.


Years ago, I vividly remember walking the halls of, the yet to be opened, Ronald Reagan Medical Center at UCLA. I had been hired as a customer experience consultant and was later hired to write a book about the brand titled Prescription for Excellence. As I walked through the massive and technologically advanced medical center (built at a cost in excess of  $1.3 billion), then CEO of the Health System now VP of Google Health, David Feinberg noted, “We can’t let this building and it’s technology down by delivering anything less than compassionate human care which improves health, alleviates suffering, and provides random acts of kindness.”

Whether you run Starbucks, UCLA Health System, Airbnb (or list a home with Airbnb), all of us have to “make it personal” for our customers through a marriage of technology AND human service delivery.

Are you able to say that you’re not letting your products or technology down? Conversely, are there opportunities to invest in technologies that will aid human service delivery?

I’d love to talk about your approach to personalization and personal care. Please use the technology of our website to contact us and I  promise we will reach out to you personally!

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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