Plug & Pancakes?

When I recently saw signs at IHOP boasting wireless access, I was stoked: breakfast, high speed access, decent tables and a bottomless cup coffee. This didn't seem like a bad substitute for a decent internet cafe. Unfortunately, we don't have many of those in Northern VA.

Last Friday, very hungry after skipping breakfast, "IHOPped" over for a late breakfast and a four hour click and grind.

Laptop at the ready, I attempted to find a seat with an outlet. I quickly discovered, with the help of a hostess, that there were no table accessible power outlets.

Not one outlet anywhere near one of the 47 tables - or 182 seats - in the restaurant. The only ones I could have stretched to use would have forced the wait staff to hurdle my power cord, at risk of life and limb. This was preturbing.

On battery power, I had enough time to work through an eggwhite omelette a switch to decaf before I got the half hour warning on my laptop... I ended up packing up for Starbucks. In the end, they made their two bucks (or whatever their Wayport internet access was) in addition to the price of my breakfast -- but they failed to make me a happy customer.

Driving to Starbucks, I began to ponder the following:

First, I thought business in general, and how important it is to fully plan customer experience before attempting to capitalize on new markets. With regard to the growing mobile workforce, it's necessary to think through logistics like power outlets, table space and comfortable seating. Make customers happy and build the profit model around the experience- not the other way around.

Next, I wondered if the failure to add outlets by IHOP is an intentional move. After all, IHOP makes the bulk of its profit from the quick rotation of breakfast rush patrons. This is true Monday through Friday - and an extended rush occurs on the weekends. Therefore, people who “park” at IHop during these peak hours might be considered a curse.

Finally, I decided that places like IHOP are missing out on good opportunity. Many are located in or near hotels, and most are on major thoroughfares. Why not create a small allocation of space within these places for mobile workers? Many of these restaurants are eradicating smoking areas! Why not convert part of this space into IHOP lounges? Offer us high speed, bottomless coffee, a few trash cans, comfortable chairs and even tables big enough for a few papers! Sure, this may change the model, a bit, but so did play equipment at McDonald's at one point in history. Now, they're everywhere.

Changing times drive experiential change. Planning slightly ahead of the change curve can help businesses capture new markets with simple innovation. By capitalizing accordingly, companies can offer new experiences that drive customer loyalty and foster the repeat business that will drive future successs. Where is your next opportunity?


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I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.


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