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Starbucks CTO Gerri Martin-Flickinger
Starbucks CTO Gerri Martin-Flickinger speaks at the Starbucks annual meeting.

Starbucks hired its new chief technology officer, Gerri Martin-Flickinger, just four months ago. While she’s new to the coffee chain, she already has a clear dream for its future — that every Starbucks store will feel like your own neighborhood Starbucks, by leveraging data and new technology to create personalized customer experiences.

“Imagine you’re on a road trip, diving across the country, and you pull into a Starbucks drive-through that you’ve never been to before,” she said at the Starbucks annual shareholder’s meeting Wednesday in Seattle. “We detect you’re a loyal customer and you buy about the same thing every day, at about the same time. So as you pull up to the order screen, we show you your order, and the barista welcomes you by name.”

“Does that sound crazy?” she asked. “No, actually, not really. In the coming months and years you will see us continue to deliver on a basic aspiration: to deliver technology that enhances the human connection.”

Starbucks CTO Gerri Martin-Flickinger
Starbucks CTO Gerri Martin-Flickinger

Martin-Flickinger comes from Silicon Valley, where she worked previously at Adobe Systems. She believes that technology will help Starbucks to further its core mission to connect with customers “one customer and one coffee at a time,” particularly through using the Internet of Things and customer data.

“Today’s retail store is being coming hyper-connected in a way we’ve never seen before,” she said.

The company has been putting a heavy emphasis on smartphones and mobile technologies with its Mobile Order and Pay feature, in addition to delivery through Postmates, which is currently being piloted in Seattle.

Another way that Starbucks stores are connected is through internet-enabled devices, like Starbucks’ ovens and coffee machines, which all are programmed with the same standards, she said. For example, Starbucks uses warming ovens to heat their food. These ovens are updated over the internet, so that when when a new food product is introduced to the store, it will instantly be heated to the right temperature in every location, with no learning curve, Martin-Flickinger said.

Starbucks also has coffee machines that update remotely “with the brewing standards for every single origin and type of coffee,” Martin-Flickinger said. “So when your barista brews on any machine, anywhere, it’s just right.”

“We end up knowing through the Internet of Things what is working in a store, how well it’s working, how much it’s working, and how it can work better,” she concluded.

Martin-Flickinger also said that Starbucks is leveraging its vast reserves of customer data to create more personalized experiences for people who come to any of its stores.

“All of these IoT devices generate a lot of data,” she said. “With about 90 million transactions per week we know a lot about what people are buying, where they’re buying, and how they’re buying. If we combine that information with other data like weather, promotions, inventory, insights into local events, we can actually provide better, personalized service for customers.”

Martin-Flickinger closed her talk by saying that technology is playing an increasingly big role at the coffee chain and will continue to do so into the future. The company now reaches tens of millions of customers digitally and, as Martin-Flickinger’s vision for the future of Starbucks becomes realized, it will reach millions more, she says, in an increasingly personalized way.

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