Philz Coffee’s Mobile Models Barista-Customer Connection




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We like our phones. Americans spend about five hours a day on their mobile devices. The number of mobile internet users in the United States has steadily increased, reaching an all-time high of over 274 million users in 2020. Further, over 50% of total website traffic in the U.S. originated from mobile devices in early 2020, right before COVID-19 related shutdowns started to take shape across the country.                   

No shock to the experienced marketer and customer experience practitioner, this means that your customers are out there with their mobile devices. They’re doing things like researching products, reading reviews, shopping, spending time on social media and, yes, even making phone calls. The pandemic has accelerated this trend, forcing many organizations to pivot on a dime and go all in on digital.

Naturally, building a mobile-first mindset did not start with the pandemic. However, the past year has accelerated mobile usage and forced brands to be mobile-ready with things like curbside pickup and online orders. In other words, usable, scalable and measurable apps equals a good thing for brands.

And, not to mention, Google last month enabled mobile-first indexing for all sites in Google search. Its algorithms now primarily use the mobile version of a site’s content to rank pages from that site, to understand structured data and to show snippets from those pages in Google’s results.

To help us discuss the strategy around mobile and how COVID-19 has affected mobile strategies, CMSWire Editor-in-Chief Rich Hein and Senior Reporter Dom Nicastro caught up for our latest CX Decoded podcast with Francisca Hawkins, VP, digital and technology, for Philz Coffee.

Have a suggestion, comment or topic for a future episode? Drop us a line at [email protected].

Episode Transcript

Note: This transcript has been edited for space and clarity.

Rich Hein: I think a great place for us to start would be if you could share a little bit about you, your role at Philz Coffee and the company itself.

Francisca Hawkins: Well, first off, thank you for having me, and it’s great to be here again with you and the team after sharing our journey, or our experience, over at the DX Summit in 2019. It was really great and was super exciting to be able to introduce people to the initial journey that we took with our mobile app. And now where we are today because so much has changed over the past year and a half.

My role at Philz Coffee, I was brought over from Virgin America to build Philz’s mobile app. They had not had one up until this point and was just running their website. Obviously it’s a retail-first company, and as a retail-first company, you’re using a mobile app sort of as a secondary type of tool. Digital products aren’t really out in the forefront.

So when I came on board and built out the mobile app, I had just come off the heels of Virgin America redoing the website there and had built the first airline responsive design website and had wrapped up the first mobile app for Virgin America. So, I started the journey over here at Philz, which is a family, California-based coffee company, where we serve really unique blends.

Rich Hein: What actually happens at a place like Philz is an experience. Regular customers at coffee shops, they know the baristas and the baristas know them and what they want to order. And there’s a lot of human connections made and fostered there. When all this happened (COVID-19), how did you work to create those connections through mobile?

Francisca Hawkins: It’s a good question. When we built a mobile app in partnership with our digital design agency, they got the brand right first out of the gate. That connection that you were just talking about with the barista. How do you translate that into a digital product?

What they had really designed for us was not the traditional stair-stepping type of an experience that feels very transactional with an order ahead or a QSR app. Instead they built what we pride ourselves on, which is the conversation between the barista and the customer. And when you come into the app, you start with the drink, and then when you go into edit you’re editing it in a Mad Libs style as if you’re having a conversation. And it’s set up actually the way the barista would ask you: how would you like your drink?

At the end of the experience, we actually show you a photo of the barista who’s making your drink. And right there in a very quick kind of ordering process, it drives what we pride ourselves on, which is that connection in the relationship with your barista. So it’s pretty amazing. The customer’s reactions when we launched the app for the first time was pretty insane. Because as someone who constantly frequents the same coffee house, you come to know these people, but sometimes you actually don’t know their name. And with our app, we actually tell you that it’s Rich who’s making your coffee. It’s coming right up. And so it’s a pretty neat experience if you want to know who your barista is.

Dom Nicastro: Philz is a pretty new brand, right? In terms of long term history, I would put Philz as a relative rookie in the coffee game, if I’m correct.

Francisca Hawkins: Philz has actually been around for just over 25 years, but the brand really exploded just about 10 years ago. And Phil Jaber who initially started things, it’s a really long and a very beautiful story about how he started the company in the Mission District in San Francisco. And that storefront is actually still there today. It started out sort of as a corner store. He started selling coffee in addition to the other things that he was selling at a corner store — milk and honey and everything else. People kept coming back for the coffee, and eventually he switched over that corner store into a coffee shop.

So, the brand itself has had quite a long history in San Francisco, but in terms of how we’ve scaled over the years, that’s been relatively new and has actually had almost like a cult following. I don’t know if you know the show Silicon Valley, but we are the coffee of the Silicon Valley TV show. And it’s just become such a cult brand in Silicon Valley, and now we’re also located in Chicago and DC, Maryland and Virginia as well so we’re continuing to expand.

Dom Nicastro: You were speaking about a cult following, and I think this question ties in really nicely with our next one. We had a virtual DX Summit, and Americus Reed was one of our presenters. He talked about identity and really connecting your brand identity to customers and giving them a real reason to connect and be a loyal follower. So the question is how does the mobile app support the mission of the brand, how does the technology and your mobile app kind of do that?

Francisca Hawkins: It goes back to what I was saying earlier in terms of that connection that you have to create and try and recreate from a retail experience into a digital product, which is pretty hard for a mobile experience and for a mobile mindset. It’s super important for everybody to hold convenience as their North Star. And that means that the barista has to ensure that the time promised to the customer with that drink is ready on time, and the quality has to be there first.

So what we did in the app was we allowed customers to be able to schedule their drink, and this was pre-COVID. And part of the reason behind that was I was thinking if I’m doing a spin class, I want my drink right after my class. That was a selfish feature. But there are a lot of other people out there like me. They want to know the pickup time, and so for me that’s a huge convenience factor. I want to know when I can go get my drink so generally, I will go schedule the time that’s convenient for me, not the time that I’m being told.

So that was one really important thing because when you’re walking into a coffee shop, you’re walking in because you want your coffee and you want your coffee now. Sometimes our virtual wait line on the app can be anywhere up to 30-40 minutes depending on the location that you go to. So if I can jump ahead of that by being able to schedule my drink, I think there’s a huge benefit for the customer. So again building that customer connection to understand what does the customer want versus what do we think the customer needs? That was one thing.

And then also from the brand identity, it really is about the terminology of “cup of love.” We literally have that on our mobile app sticker that we put on the cup at the very bottom. We say, “made with love by…” Then we have the barista signature on the label. And so that’s also something that I think really drives a brand identity is these little “isms” that we have kind of snuck in there. If people notice it then they’ll know we’re trying to be as personal as possible and give that personalized and customizable experience.





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