An Ethnographically Open Letter to Panera's CEO

Monday, 27 February 2012 05:15
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This week's newsletter shows in a highly relatable way, how taking an ethnographic research approach can reveal meaningful service and product opportunities...including some that can be addressed via external innovation. Curious to learn more? Read on, dear friends....

An Ethnographically Open Letter to Panera CEO Bill Moreton

Dear Bill:

Allow me to start by proudly declaring that I am a loyal Panera customer. For the past 11 years, my friends (Paul Snyder, Dick Dickerson, Mark Scranton, Brad Stouffer, Todd Hohenstein, Ken Chee, Mark Sigrist, Sadayuki Kurihara, and Rich Cadieux) and I have routinely visited your restaurants for breakfast after our Sunday morning runs. Ethnographically speaking, we also have some history with Panera. With this as background, I wish to share an annoyance that my friends and I all too frequently experience at Panera: your restaurants are too often out of prepared coffee when we wish to (re)fill our mugs.

I know that in the grand scheme of things, we shouldn't get overly perturbed about this relatively minor qualm. After all, your food and food quality are great and your counter staff service is routinely very customer oriented. Further, it's tough to fault with a restaurant that allows (encourages?) its patrons to sit leisurely without staff hassling them to buy something else or leave. In addition, Panera offers free wifi service and unlimited free coffee refills. All of the above said, in the spirit of promoting an honest and open relationship with you, I feel that you should know that your coffee serving vessels are frequently empty when we and other customers seek to fill our mugs.

A disappointed patron must alert the counter staff to the problem. The staff then must assign someone to start brewing coffee. This results in a further delay in customer satisfaction. It may take up to 10 more minutes to restore the coffee supply. We do realize that in these instances one always has the option of waiting in line for a server to fill our cup behind the counter. However, this represents a further inconvenience versus self serve.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Rather, this recurrs with some regularity, particularly on high volume mornings such as Sunday. While this is a relatively minor annyance, it still strikes me as a conspicuous flaw in your operating system. This is totally inconsistent with the overwise excellent customer experience you provide.

It shouldn't be overly challenging to identify a merchanism to alert staff when coffee levels dropped below a certain level (but not yet to empty) as a means of triggering replenishment. This would enable coffee to be ready before the customers experienced the disappointment of an empty vessel. As an experienced technology scout, if you have interest, I could identify for you an appropriate and cost effective technical fix. (Note to reader: You were wondering when I was going to slip in that plug for my business, weren't you?).

In closing, I wanted to state again how much I love your restaurants. Besides the coffee thing, you guys are doing a fantastic job.

Your still loyal customer,


Note to reader: Have you used ethnography and external innovation to identify and solve new opportunities?  


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