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Deep Brew is not the latest coffee blend from Starbucks, though you might be forgiven for thinking so. Instead, it is the name of the company’s in-house artificial intelligence (AI) and technology tool, used to design efficient systems but also to reinforce the company’s commitment to human connections and meaningful interactions. How can technology do that? According to President and CEO Kevin Johnson, by leveraging technology, Starbucks gives consumers the experiences they prefer, while also ensuring that its employees are happy, interested, and dedicated to their jobs.

Let’s consider the effects of the technology on consumers first. Starbucks’s investments in its mobile app make it easy for consumers in a hurry to order ahead, then grab their drink and go. By doing so, it also leaves more space and flexibility for other customers, those who instead want to linger and chat, while remaining in the store, interacting with their friendly baristas or other coffee drinkers.

By predicting and carefully calibrating inventory and staffing needs, Deep Brew also ensures that each store is appropriately staffed and stocked. Thus consumers are unlikely to encounter a lack of scones, and there usually are enough baristas on hand to handle the morning rush and still engage in a friendly encounter with customers.

Because Deep Brew automates these predictions, store staff are no longer responsible for them, giving them another tool for spending more time with customers. According to Johnson, the President and CEO, by using the technology, baristas actually become “more human.” Accordingly, the company is seeking other technology-enabled options to create even more connections. For example, voice recognition software would enable baristas to repeat customers’ requests into microphones, such that the information would be entered directly into the ordering system. With this option, they would never need to break eye contact, as they currently do when they must type an order into their computer terminals.

Beyond frontline staff, the advanced AI has benefits for other employees. Johnson notes that increasing numbers of computer engineers are turning to Starbucks as a potential employer, attracted by its dedication to ethical, humane principles. Whereas once they might have sought a job with a conventional technology firm—many of which are embroiled in controversies over their lack of privacy protections or exploitation of consumer data—they increasingly note their desire to work for an employer that adopts a “human-first digital strategy.” For Starbucks, AI is the critical foundation for such a strategy.

Discussion Questions:

  1. As a potential employee, do the strategic technology priorities of employers influence your interests or choices?
  2. How can technology enhance personal selling efforts in other types of transactions?

Source: Chantal Tode, “How Starbucks Uses AI to Counter Mobile’s Isolating Effect,” Marketing Dive, January 14, 2020