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Coffee queue

How Costa Coffee transformed customer waiting times


As stores, shops and establishments re-open, businesses will need to get to grips with customer queues. Here, Simon Hedaux, who worked with Costa Coffee to improve its productivity, shares his insights into how Costa improved queues and what businesses can learn from it.

24th Jun 2020
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We know that efficiency and great customer experience go hand in hand. And never more so than when the product customers want to get their hands on is their morning caffeine shot. Whether it’s a grab and go as part of the morning commute or school drop off, or a mid-morning catch up with friends or work colleagues; it’s important to get a great coffee quickly so customers get on with enjoying the rest of their experience.

Since starting out as Roastery and creating their signature blend in 1971, Costa have realised that building a productive business relies on an understanding of the finer details. It’s about clocking the seconds spent, counting the beans and really looking after customers.

If you’ve got more than 2,400 stores with over 18,000 employees, how do you make sure you have the right number of people, serving the right number of customers, at the right time? It’s a question that Costa had to ask when they brought in a new workforce management system to help with team scheduling. Until then, they’d been busy growing the business and not had time to stop and look at how efficient their business was – and how they could improve. They needed to build a picture of productivity across their stores and find the opportunities behind the facts and figures.

I worked closely with Costa Coffee to improve their productivity, and here are some of my insights into what Costa did, how this helped and what businesses can learn.

Firstly, an external team set up camp in 15 stores for five days and used a mix of work study techniques to get under the skin of their operation. Work study has an old-fashioned image of men with clip boards and stop watches doing time and motion studies that create a pile of impenetrable data.

However, things have moved on and modern workstudy analysis gives an evidence-based insight into each stage of the customer journey, highlighting the wrinkles and barriers that get in the way of creating the unique experience the brand wants to deliver.

Using a mix of data collection techniques, Costa were able to create a rounded view of the operation that is applied to optimise productivity and customer experience in a way that is essential in today’s fast changing and highly competitive markets.

Study techniques included:

Accurately timing tasks

Costa measured how long it took their people to complete in-store tasks, from brewing a Cappuccino to cleaning sandwich grills.

These activity times help companies build labour budgets so they can set sales targets, understand how many work hours they actually need, and analyse variance across their people, stores and sites. 

Measuring time spent serving customers

Costa looked at how baristas split their time across different types of activity and grouped them into three categories:

  • tasks that directly served customers – like making drinks and taking payments.
  • tasks that indirectly supported customers – like cleaning or restocking.
  • time spent not working – taking breaks or waiting for customers.

These categories were measured over the course of the trading day and across the whole week, creating a picture of how time was spent instore and identifying things that were stopping colleagues spending more of their time on activities that customers value.

Spent a day in the life of managers

The external team followed in the footsteps of store managers and assistant managers over their seven-hour shift, to understand the split of their work responsibilities. For example, how long did they spend with customers and how much time did they dedicate to guiding and coaching colleagues?

Watched and listened

Analysts used their process study knowledge and experience of other businesses and industries to identify opportunities to improve productivity and customer experience

Costa used the information to make evidence-based improvements across their business and have continued to measure their processes as they’ve made changes.

The activity time data was used to build a workload and budget model. This meant Costa could accurately predict how many hours were needed in each store to meet customer demand and forecasted sales. A store level workload model is one of the fundamental building blocks for a customer centric organisation to support delivery of a great customer experience and avoid unnecessary queues.

Workload models can be seen as one of the least sexy parts of customer experience planning, yet without the right people in the right place at the right time customer waiting times will be too high at busy periods and labour spend will too high in the parts of the day when demand quietens down.

Since their first studies, Costa have rolled out their workforce management system and it has established itself as a go to guide in operating each store to match colleague resources to local customer demand.

Observations and analysis

The analysis and observations combined to create insights into the Costa operation. For example, it was found the layout of the counters was causing customer bottlenecks and contributing to longer waiting times. So, Costa have developed and rolled out a new design that improves customer flow.

It was also highlighted that food took much longer to prepare than coffee in drive-through stores, which meant customers had to park and wait. So, they introduced a new, faster panini press that means customers no longer have to wait and baristas don’t lose time walking across the car park.

Studies also showed that having more than one floor in a store has a big impact on the time it takes to complete tasks and how much extra resource is needed to make sure those stores offer a consistent customer experience and wait time when compared to single floor stores.

The analysis of these studies started Costa on their journey towards better efficiency, greater productivity and happier customers. Costa really pay attention to everything that goes into providing customers with their signature blend coffee as efficiently as possible. No detail is too small – whether its how to measure milk efficiently, making sure everything their baristas need is within easy reach or having the right ovens to heat food for waiting customers. No wonder they have been the voted the ‘Nation’s Favourite Coffee Shop’ by Allegra’s independent panel of consumers - for the ninth year running.


Replies (1)

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By Nikos Zakopoulos
03rd Nov 2020 21:09

Exciting blog. Can we have access to this particular customer journey or the fail points and findings?

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