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Too embarassed to ask

"Asking the right dumb question is often the smartest thing you can do",

Alex Blumberg, Gimlet Media

I spent my lunch break the other day burning through a bit of one of my new books, Sprint: how to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days. Being a coffee nerd, they had my full attention when they the Blue Bottle as an example. Where their telling of the story begins, Blue Bottle was already off the ground with stores in California and New York but wanted to move into ecommerce so they could provide their beans to people that don't live near a shop.

Rather than building the site for their existing customers, they chose to take on the mindset of a new customer that had never shopped with Blue Bottle before. How would they establish credibility and create a great experience for someone they'd never met and couldn't be assisted by a barista?

During the ideation phase they came to the question, "how should we organize our dozen or so coffees on the website?" Looking at other websites, they saw most organized them by growing region: Costa Rican coffees over here, Ethiopian over there, Columbia in this corner and Indonesian on the other side.

But then one of the outside consultant involved in the "sprint" said something I identified with, "I'm in coffee, okay? I have a scale at home and everything.".... I do too. He then continued, "I don't know what the regions mean." What they came across is while other roasters may be grouping coffees by region, many ordinary customers don't know the difference between a Yirgacehffe and a Sumatra. Or they may be told this coffee has a flavor of chocolate and caramel while this one has blueberries and not really be sure which flavors they want in their coffee.

As part of this revelation, the team then circled back to, "what would we ask them if they were in the shop?" The company's founder rattled off, "the brew method is very important. So we train baristas to ask the customer a simple question: 'how do you make coffee at home?'" Some coffees perform better in a chemex, a French press, an espresso or a drip.

As I think about this discussion unfolding, what occurs to me for people choosing to afford coffee like Blue Bottle, Intelligentsia, or from a St. Louis level, Sump or Blueprint, many may not know exactly what flavor profile they want, but what they do want is delicious tasting coffee. And brewing method plays an important role in that. Rather than start with region or roast, first start with, how are they making the coffee and then begin to tighten the funnel. Realizing this fundamental question needed to be accounted for, they knew where they should likely start with their online channel. This also helped them achieve the founder's goal of being able to practice great hospitality on their website too.

Jargon, pretension and making the assumptions our customers have the knowledge they need is a dangerous place to start. Don't be afraid when you're out to ask the dumb question or if you're the seller, make sure you're working hard to answer the dumb question in advance for others.

Go Forth Boldly

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