I travel a lot. It gives me a chance to live on the road where I become dependent on the places I do business to take care of more than what I am there for. Hotels, planes, rental car centers. Each offers a customer experience. Some are tied directly to delivering their core product. Most of what I get from Hertz is about streamlining the rental experience. Some expand their core service. I have become a fan of the wireless service from GoGo while on Delta. Obviously, it has nothing to do with getting me from point A to point B. It does allow me to be more productive.
Starbucks just launched their new in-store Digital Network. They realized that they could enhance the customer experience by extending the concept of the "third place" to the Internet. When a user logs on to wireless access in the store (made more simple via one-click access), they arrive at the Digital Network main screen which gives them local information and access to paywall content made free for the customer.
A View from the CIO
Robert Scoble captured a great interview with Starbuck's CIO Stephen Gillet that explains the service in brand terms. One datapoint he delivers is that laptop usage in-store remains flat while mobile devices (iPhones most of all) are growing fast. There is something super-smart in Starbucks mining of the network usage data to better understand their customer. It's impossible to comment on the economics of this offer. We all know that bandwidth can be expensive to dole out especially as many of us gobble up more video wherever we are.
But from a pure customer experience POV, this is a great and smart move. They have already seen session-time increase with the advent of free wifi (up to 12 minutes). The paywall access - subscription editions of The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and USA Today - may even increase that and one would hope for Starbuck's case that means at least another tall latte at the register.The service is a partnership with Yahoo. I assume they provide some of the infrastructure, content and hosting.
Think of all the places you get wireless on the road (usually for a fee). Hotels, airport lounges, airplanes and more. Have you ever logged onto a protal that had any value for you whatsoever? Usually it either defaults to a web page (hotels) or to the service provider portal or to some white label version of same. They are all near useless and appear to have been designed with about as much user experience care as an airport security line. When you think about the customer experience that Starbucks is trying to grow, they have a pretty good chance of getting it right.
What could they do to tip the design in their favor (some they may do or may be planning):
1. Daily song giveaways (they used to do this in-store)
2. Continue with the paywall content
3. Keep it simple - most people are logging on via laptop to get something done. Give them some quick value and let them move on.
4. Connect the experience to the smartphone app so when I move between devices I am not learning a whole new universe
5. Give out random coupons to surprise us when we log on
6. Recognize me when I log back on
7. Let me check-in to Facebook Places and FourSquare from within the interface