Aug. 24, 2016 | InBrief

Creating a fantastic customer experience while avoiding an operations nightmare

Creating a fantastic customer experience while avoiding an operations nightmare

With a new Panera in walking distance from my current project site, I have become a frequent lunch patron. With that said - Panera’s Rapid Pick Up is rocking my world, but my consultant brain often stops to consider how this new customer experience (CX) delivery application is impacting internal operations.

There are two sides to every story and I have ultimately come to appreciate the balancing act of customer experience and operational capabilities. Panera’s Rapid Pick Up enables a truly fantastic customer experience with convenience, choice, and customization. However, I question whether this optimized experience may be causing an operations nightmare. Understanding operational implications of an optimized customer experience is an important lesson for us all. My most recent Rapid Pick Up order illustrates how, if operational implications are not considered first, an ambitious customer experience design may be difficult to satisfactorily execute.

In between meetings I conveniently placed my customized Cobb salad order and was given multiple choices to select my preferred pick-up time and location. This fantastic step-by-step ordering wizard set high expectations and Panera had delivered on these expectations in the past. I felt confident that when I arrived at my selected time my salad would be waiting for me to run in and grab. Here is what happened from a customer experience and operational viewpoint when I went to pick up my order…

Experience #1

  • Customer Experience: Enabling customers to choose customized pick-up times
  • Operations: Calculating how to deliver customization during peak time periods

  • Risk: Setting customer expectations that cannot be realized as a result of ineffective queue balancing

The Rapid Pick Up app set the expectation that my order would be ready at 12:10pm. I arrived to find a status screen listing my name, behind several others, under the disappointing words: “preparing your to-go order”. I have to give credit to Panera for remaining transparent by providing a backed-up list when they were running behind schedule, but it was too little, too late.

Experience #2

  • Customer Experience: Allowing a wide level of customization to cater to a diverse customer base
  • Operations: Considering the level of training and process requirements to deliver a highly customizable menu

  • Risk: Offering customers an experience that cannot be met operationally by staff and is challenging to uphold with training and process

Panera recently got rid of my favorite salad so I took the liberty of “customizing” my order with 5+ substitutions. By enabling me to do so, Panera set expectations that this level of customization was not only allowed but was possible. I arrived to find the wrong dressing and two-thirds of the requested add-on's missing. I questioned whether the sheer number of custom choices was truly executable on the operational side. Why would Panera set up their staff for failure just to deliver on a half-met customer experience?

I will continue to remain loyal to Panera and use the fantastic Rapid Pick Up app because more often than not, I have a great experience. In this instance however, I had to question why Panera set such high (and practically unachievable) customer expectations when operationally there was a large risk of failure. With Customer Experience at the forefront of most business strategies, the operational implication of offering a fantastic customer experience should remain top of mind.

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