Saturday, December 1, 2007

Café Coffee Day: Review

Great brand. But is that enough?

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on whose side you are- mine or the company's) I am part of the team responsible for launching a casual wear brand across the major hypermarkets in the country. As a brand manager for a brand which targets evolved, fashion conscious and price sensitive youth (people between the age group of 20 to 30 years...ok as my PPT reads...not only the physical bracket of age but the youthful mindset) I am always on a search for ideal brands that can serve as reference point for us. These brands need not be essentially from the same category (apparel) but should be targeting the same target group. Brands which can teach us a trick or two on how to appeal (and more importantly sell) to the so called 'new and improved' youth of India.

And in my quest for such case studies Cafe Coffee day figures out on the top of the list.

Imagine a good old traditional south Indian boy spending forty bucks on a cup of coffee. CCD (that’s what the youngsters affectionately call it) has made it possible. I did my own dipstick study on a sample chosen on convenience basis and was amused by the results.

Out of fifty people whom I interviewed- none of them said that they come here for coffee. Most of them consider it as a hangout place (the modern day 'adda') where they catch up and chat up with friends, some 'use' it as a dating joint, few think that it’s a great place for meetings and then there were other ' I hate research' responses like- 'I like the music here' or ‘I come here to now would you mind...'

So people come here to chat, to discuss work, to flirt and even to kill time (all those who shooed me away with their ‘I like reading/ I like music' responses). And of course they do all this over a cup of coffee. It’s interesting to see that it’s all about the place- the experience. Coffee is just a just a consequence or a by-product. I bet that the place would do equally well even if they were selling something else.

For many teenagers CCD has become an important part of their lives. They see it as an extension of their own personality and I am sure even when they grow older they would keep revisiting it to relive some of their cherished memories (it pays to catch them young!).

CCD’s business strategy has been admirable- striking a right balance between the price and the product mix. Rather than catering to the connoisseur’s taste, it has benefited by serving to the popular taste. Anyways coffee served in these cafés is an acquired taste for most of us and hardly do we go beyond a cappuccino, a hot chocolate or a cold coffee and if at all in a mood to experiment may be a latté. Then why have varieties that a common man can’t even pronounce, let alone trying them.

Moving on to food, earlier they didn’t have much to offer for snacking except assembly line food like burgers, sandwiches, unpalatable samosas and pastries in unadventurous flavours like pineapple, butterscotch and chocolate. But now the food options have improved considerably (I particularly relish the corn and spinach sandwich and my cup of cappuccino with an almond biscotti) and the newly introduced lunch items (like pastas, biryani, paratha with curry, etc) have received a warm welcome especially by the corporate crowd. As a matter of fact, whenever I am travelling to new locations and I am not being my adventurous self I rely on CCD as my comfort food destination. I have grown to trust CCD for their quality, hygiene and consistency of food.

Apart from food and beverages the CCD team has made a commendable effort in leveraging the brand potential and the retail opportunity by introducing many brand extensions like mint, cookies, t-shirts, coffee mugs, etc. and lets not forget that they even pioneered innovative concepts like jukebox and newsletter which were quite a hit among the youth.

Talking about the pricing I think they have a very clever strategy- It is by no means low-priced, but when compared to the price lists of other chains the CCD menu looks affordable.

Last year I read this book ‘High performance entrepreneur’ by Mr. Bagchi wherein he has written about the entrepreneurial beginnings of the coffee day. A young man named Sidharthta reinvented his coffee estate business based on one simple yet powerful insight- he realised that as a coffee grower you can’t decide the price of the commodity but when you value add and sell the drink you can charge according to your wish. On this realisation, he based his entire model and see where he has come today.

What I like about this guy is that not only is he a good thinker, but also a brilliant executioner. The pace at which he has scaled up the business is laudable. Lately they have been pretty aggressive in setting up their cafés along important highways that have become obligatory stopovers for herds of travellers.

Just when I thought that everything was going right for this brand, I experienced the biggest limitation of it- the service.

I have never been a great fan of their service but lately I have been disgusted by the inefficiency of the CCD staff. And let me assure you that this is not a biased reporting; I have heard similar tales of their service lags from several fellow CCD well wishers. Even in my case I haven’t been motivated to write this because of my bad experiences in one odd outlet. I have witnessed consistent service disasters at multiple CCD outlets.

Let me quickly give you a gist of my last five encounters with the CCD staff:

1st Encounter: I order for a veg pasta and they serve me a non veg pasta. That too I discover its non vegetarian origins after chewing on a piece of chicken and questioning the unfamiliarity of the taste. On demanding an explanation the waiter smiles and replies “No problem sir. I will get you the other one”. Whaaat? I have lost my chastity and you say “No problem”

2nd Encounter (same outlet and same waiter): I go with a hard core non- vegetarian friend. He orders a non veg curry and paratha. Playing safe owing to my previous experience I avoid food and stick to coffee. The food arrives and my friend is highly disappointed to see a palak paneer in place of some non-veg keema. On enquiry that waiter revolted “yesterday I got non veg and you got angry na sir?”

3rd Encounter (different outlet): I take my official guests for lunch and luckily everything goes well till we get the bill. I give my card to swipe but waiter keeps standing there with a smiley like face. “What?” I ask him. Unapologetically he announces: “Sir, swipe machine is not working since morning, please give cash”. What? Why didn’t you tell me this when I placed my order. How do you expect me to get cash now? He was generous with his suggestion “Sir all of you can pool in na?” Believe me that was the most embarrassing moment of my life- asking my guests to pay up for the meal.

4th encounter (another different outlet): As I am about to sip my coffee, I hear a lady screaming her lungs out. Abusing the staff and giving them management lessons, both at the same time. She looked like the corporate sorts. She had ordered for a portion of cheese potato wedges and while waiting for that she had already gulped three cups of coffee. Still the food had not arrived and one could see the mixed feelings of anticipation (for food) and anger in her eyes. That was an odd hour and the store was practically empty. She like a general was marching to and fro and cursing the army of guilty waiters.

5th encounter (where the day 1 episode happened): Between the three of us we ordered one Latte and two cappuccinos (one regular and the other slightly stronger), two packs of biscotti and a corn and spinach sandwich. The waiter arrives with a completely new order. He gets us the right sandwich, but three cappuccinos and two packs of chocolate cookies. When I try to correct him, he calls upon another waiter for assistance. I painfully explain him the situation and he reasons it out with me- “Sir this new guy is useless. I asked him not to take orders but doesn’t listen to me”. I snap at him “Boss this is none of my head ache. You sort out your personal scores but please don’t mess up with my food”

Recently one of my ex-colleagues joined the creative team of CCD. He told me that his key responsibility was to make sure that there is a consistent visual language across all the outlets. I.e. all the CCD outlets should have the same look and feel.

I was surprised at the management’s eye for detail. Because, frankly speaking I have been to a lot of CCD outlets across geographies and I did not see any inconsistencies on that end (look and feel).

But then I wonder that if such minute discrepancies are being investigated with such missionary zeal, how come such an important and fundamental aspect of customer service has not been prioritised yet. May be they want their waiters to be self trained, on the job at our cost.
Now every time I step into a CCD, a sense of anxiety dawns upon me, an uneasiness as to what is in store for me this time around.
Hmmm…Indeed a lot can happen over a cup of coffee!


Suket said...

Ha Ha Ha amazing observation......!! Well If they crack that bit they are sorted. Well Guru this is a problem with service all across south of india. I didn't face this problem in delhi though. Maybe I was lucky.

Ankur Shanker said...

Well observed and nicely encapsulated in a post!

Kirti said...

you have hit the nail on the head with this!! Very well articulated

Anonymous said...

If you really have had these not so pleasant and embarrassing experiences, you are a fool that you still visit there to be further embarrassed. Once is an experience, twice is a mistake, third time is stupidity - My GOD, you had it five times already.

gurudev prasad said...

Dear Mr/Ms. Anonymous,

Thanks for the comment. Keep posting.

Anonymous said...

very well written..i also had the same kind of experiences n now they have come up with d bright idea of special menu n i simply dnt understand wats so special about it.....hope somebody would tell them that we love to drink d same kind of coffee everyday.....

Shyamala said...

Hi there,
I was so happy to read your post and know that I wa not the only one. I was in India for one month december-Jan 2009 fand must have visited the joint ...well very often since we always found one conveniently but wrong orders, forgotten orders (my mum and I just leftthe cafe and they did not even notice that something was amiss)and the best waswhen they just started clearing our table in Banaglore once without asking if we were done and we were not!
I could have screamed and given them a lessor or two on customer service. What also got to me was the smiles - ear to ear. Hey! as long as I get what I want and you are not rude or unfriendly its okay. You do not HAVE to throw me a fake smile.okay end of rant.
:- )

gurudev prasad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gurudev prasad said...

Hi Shyamala,

Can't agree more with you. A warm smile can do wonders while an artificial one (coupled with bad service) can be so repulsive. I am sorry though that you take back such bad examples of customer service from here.

Keep writing.

kalps said...

you may wonder with a comment after so long ... but writing this..and for two reasons
One- have faced similar problem here at Delhi-Gurgaon(mahipalpur) expressway. This CCD personnel keep you waiting though almost empty... take wrong order...and also similar payment issues!! So north or south...its all the same.. though didn't face such problem at any other outlet so far.
The second reason is that I am a researcher and Customer experience is one major area of work and interest... and it forced me to think why CCD can't repeat the order and inform the probable time required to serve just like Pizza hut. A very small step can make them go miles..or non taking...many more miles but backwards!!

gurudev prasad said...

Hi Kalps,

absolutely agree with you on this one- going backward or forward, is the call they have to take ... and sooner the better