May 12, 2010

Self Service Technology & Customization - Coca-Cola Edition

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Coke is testing out a new fountain machine that allows customers to mix their own drink:

"Coke's new Freestyle machine is housed in a curved metal shell created by the designers of Ferrari race cars, and features a touch-screen menu. Inside, technology common in measuring tiny doses of chemotherapy drugs is used to release digitally-controlled amounts of concentrate flavor from dozens of plastic cartridges."

"A regular soda fountain combines carbonated water and flavored syrup in a mixing chamber, and pours the mixed drink out through a designated spigot. But the Freestyle has just one nozzle. The machine pours carbonated water through the center of the nozzle, then shoots streams of flavor into the falling water, such as lime oil and Diet Coke syrup, so that the drink is mixed in the air."

They have been running a test market and have found that it takes a bit of customer training to keep the lines from backing up, but that both sales and revenues are up.  Service researchers have often pointed out that if you create something for your customers to use that is more complicated than what your employees use, expect trouble.  For example, the self service check-out line forces shoppers to play the role of security by making sure everything you buy is on the scale after you bag it - employed checkers don't have to do this so why make customer do it?

On the other hand, this self-service  has an element of customization that customer might find appealing.  If I can make my caffeine-free-cherry-vanilla-Dr. Pepper I'll be happy.  Allowing the customers to create their own drink provides sense of ownership and control.

 The other part about the machine that is interesting is that it wireless sends information about usage back to Coke where they are able to analyze time series demand data.  Coke will be able to see when people drink what and how much.  They will be able to tell what type of flavoring is most popular and in what combinations. 

It seems to me that the technology is a bit too much... We used to do something similar when, as kids, we rode our bikes to the local gas station on a hot summer day.  We would take the big fountain cups and mix some of each flavor.  We called it the "suicide" - I'm not sure why.  Sometimes we even dropped smarties into the concoction and watch them fizz.  Now days, I often see extra flavorings next to the fountain drinks (vanilla, cherry, raspberry, etc.) that can be pumped into the drink.  Is there nothing new to what Coke is offering?

1 comment:

  1. This reminds me of a robotic bartender a classmate and I built during undergrad. It is an interesting idea, but I agree that it seems too complex.

    Admittedly the Zappos email has drawn me into reading some posts.

    Have a great summer, SSO was a blast.