Stop Marketing.

Start Engaging.

Why I Changed My Coffee Religion

The following is an excerpt from my new book “UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging” due to hit the shelves September 7th!


Scott BC (before coffee)

I have a morning ritual that I know many of you share. Coffee around here is a bit like a religion. You choose your brand, you pick your favorite, and then you stick with it. In the Toronto area, Tim Horton’s is the church of coffee. It is a part of the culture up here, part of the vocabulary. When you say you’re going for coffee you go to ‘‘Tim’s’’ or you’re going to go to ‘‘Horton’s’’

I’m sure you have your own coffee chains in your area that have the same kind of following. They become a part of our routine. This has to be the ultimate goal for a business, whether it is service- or product-based. Work to become a part of somebody’s routine. If you can, it is worth an incredible amount of money. The lifetime value of each and every somebody who spends $2 a day with your company is incredible. Think about that for a second—$2 a day equals more than $700 a year. Over 10 years you’re looking at more than $7,000 in revenue from one person. Companies have a vested interest in making sure you become a ‘‘regular’’ and you should be working hard to make your customers lifelong clients. Unfortunately, just like many personal relationships, when you become used to one another you take each other for granted, and companies do this far too often with loyal customers.

Tim Horton’s had me. I was loyal as could be. But recently I have done something I never thought I would do. I changed brands. Being a loyal Tim Horton’s customer, almost every day I would go and get my coffee from them. I didn’t even think about it—that is just what I did. When any other coffee company came into the area, they were an afterthought. No way a new company was going to change my habit.

Slowly something happened. I started noticing cracks in the armor of my habit.

One misstep or one small issue will not lead to somebody changing a day-to-day habit. But when you begin to add up enough of those small things you open up the door to your competition. It is not usually extreme customer service issues that drive people away.

So here is the story of the small things that led me away from Tim Horton’s. First, the servers wouldn’t stir my coffee. The coffee was inconsistent, a small thing, but one that I know my fellow coffee drinkers out there will understand.

When you buy your coffee at the drive-through and start to drink it after you’ve pulled a mile or two away and find that it was not made or stirred properly, the experience is hurtful. For people like me who take three sugars in their coffee and order the same coffee every day, I really do notice the difference when it isn’t made properly. Similarly, when there are mistakes in the order, when I can taste cream instead of milk, when there is sweetener instead of sugar, your customer will notice. These are little things. Mistakes happen, of course, but when they start happening more and more your customer begins to wonder if this is how service will always be. Then the customer begins to doubt the quality of your service or product. This doubt creates a space where your customer is open to try something new.

That's gotta hurt

Got gap?

Picture the image of a gap. It starts as a tiny crack. Your loyal customer has always been happy with your product or service and then slowly small doubts add up and cracks begin to form. Until one day, the experience gap grows just big enough for one of your competitors to get through. The experience gap is the space between the best experience your customer has had with you and the worst. Ideally this gap doesn’t exist or is as small as possible.

Businesses need to make buying their products easy. This was another issue with Tim Horton’s that led me away from being a loyal customer. The company does not accept debit card payments. So their customers cannot pay for their coffee and doughnuts with a bankcard. This is rare today. As a matter of fact, the only reason I would ever take money out of the bank was so I could buy coffee from Horton’s. (I think the only two businesses in the world that do not accept bank cards are Horton’s and drug dealers. Although I think some of our local drug dealers here will take checks.)

Now the extra inconvenience of taking out cash was okay when my coffee was perfect, but adding this to the frequency of mistakes in my order was getting to be too much. Add in some other things I put up with in the name of my favorite coffee, such as the cumbersome lid that was impossible to open while driving, and the long wait times, and I was really open to the competition. I had been a loyal customer for 20 years. I figured that over the past 20 years I have spent upward of $15,000 with the company. I was at that point where all of these small negative experiences had come together, the perfect storm point, and I was open to give something else a try. It takes a lot for somebody to change anything, let alone change a part of their daily routine. I didn’t really do it consciously, it just happened. All that it was going to take for another company to earn me as a new customer was quality that matched what I was used to and that gave me more convenience.

Enter in McDonald’s.

I was already a McDonald’s fan. The company didn’t have to begin at the start with me or get me to buy into its brand. But I didn’t buy coffee there. My first real job was working at McDonald’s when I was 15. As far as I could see back then, the only people who bought coffee at McDonald’s were senior citizens at six in the morning. But now McDonald’s was on a mission to prove that its coffee was worth buying on its own, a bold task considering the market already included heavy competition from Horton’s and Starbucks.

A few years ago I wouldn’t have even thought of trying the McDonald’s coffee let alone of switching over to it, but I had gotten to the breaking point as a customer. I was willing to at least try something different. Tim Horton’s was taking my business for granted, but McDonald’s was working for it.

McDonald’s had a promotion to launch its coffee and it was giving out free coffee to anybody during certain a certain time. So this was going to be the time I was going to try it. Unfortunately the lineup of people to try the coffee when they found out it was free could have rivaled lineups for rides at Disney World. So I decided to hold off on giving it a try. A few weeks later I finally went in and tried it.

Compared with Tim Horton’s, McDonald’s had the same, if not more, drive-through locations, just the kind of convenience a lazy man like myself was looking for.

At this point the quality was important—no matter how much convenience or customer service I got, at this point if the product wasn’t of the quality that I liked I wouldn’t switch to it. This is really important to note, quality is always important! No matter how much marketing or UnMarketing you do, it doesn’t make a difference if your product or service doesn’t stand up. So I order the coffee and go to pay for it and the server takes my bankcard! I am allowed to use my bankcard to pay for the coffee—McDonald’s earned one bonus point.

I get the coffee and I see that the coffee cup is double walled— meaning I don’t have to put a sleeve on it! I don’t have to ask for a second cup! McDonald’s execs have spent some time thinking about their products and their customers and thought, ‘‘Hey, coffee is hot, people don’t like to burn their hand’’ and come up with a solution—a double-walled cup. Genius.

I went to open it in my car and the lid was amazing. You can open it with one thumb and it pops and locks open—no mess, no burned fingers, and another bonus point. The ease and convenience of the cup itself really improved my experience.

The location near my home also has a secret weapon. His name is David. At the Iroqouis Shore Road location, in Oakville, Ontario, David is the guy you talk to in the morning in the drivethrough. He’s kind, considerate, happy but not the ‘‘in your face’’ that makes you hate him in the morning. Heck, he even makes the add-on suggestion of a muffin a pleasant occurrence. It’s gotten to the point that I will go out of my way in the morning to have David serve me. Great service and a great new product. I never would’ve even known if it hadn’t been for the ‘‘dropping of the ball’’ from the where place I was loyal.

This is exactly what your company does not want. You do not want your long-time loyal customer be dissatisfied too many times and now in the hands of the competition and very, very happy. I then tasted the coffee and it tasted great.

I get no reimbursement from McDonald’s to say that I am not their affiliate. In all honesty, the coffee tasted great, even better than what I was used to. That did it. And now I look for McDonald’s when I’m wanting a morning coffee or on the road. I may be just one customer but my lifetime value is $20,000 or $30,000. How many people will it take for Tim Horton’s to realize that understanding the needs and wants of the marketplace is a good thing to do all the time?

You need to know if your customers are happy, and if they aren’t you need to know why and how you can change it. You need to know where you stand in the eyes of your customers. Are they happy, are they ecstatic, or are they just there holding on until someone better comes along? You do not want your brand to be in that zone with current customers where the experience gap has left a space for the competition. You cannot be complacent or inattentive leaving your hard-earned market ripe for the picking.

Do you have any stories about switching as a customer because you felt taken for granted? Add it in the comments below!

And if you pre-order UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging” now for 34-37% off you’ll also receive, at no extra charge, two hugs, 3 fist bumps and a high-five!

(Fellow Canadian/Horton’s folks can pre-order here )