When Speed Kills Experiences

Photo: Smitten/Alex Loscher

In an age of efficiency and immediate gratification, we are constantly working to get things done faster. Ask Google a question, and you instantly get answers. Tap the Uber app and a car comes immediately to your door.

While it’s important to be fast, recognize that the fastest path isn’t always the right path.

Faster ice cream isn’t better ice cream

Take Smitten for instance, an ice cream shop that looks like a mad scientist’s laboratory mixed with a swanky 70s diner. It’s not your ordinary Haagen Dazs where ice cream is scooped out of a tub. Instead, ice cream is made on the spot using liquid nitrogen and industrial machines that stretch from counter to ceiling.

A slow, but beautiful process

Cheerful workers dressed in bright red aprons pump the machines up and down, causing liquid nitrogen to billow out like misty clouds. Ice cream forms on rotating metal coils and the workers scoop it artfully into cones and cups. Customers watch in awe, making videos of the magic.

I was enjoying my salted caramel sundae when I overheard someone say, “It’d be so much faster if they automated the ice cream maker. They spend almost a minute making each serving.”

I stopped mid ice cream bite.

The process was repetitive, but automating it would take away a significant part of why customers came here.

When the slower path means happier customers

A coffee shop once conducted a study that compared two different coffee machines made to be used in coffee shops. Both machines produced identical tasting coffee in the end.

Option 1. Coffee machine made the coffee instantly and quietly with one press of the button.

Option 2. Coffee machine required the barista to maneuver multiple complex levers and created loud coffee grinding sounds.

While Option 1 was faster and created the same tasting coffee as Option 2, customers felt ripped off because they believed they could make the same coffee at home.

In Option 2, even though the levers and coffee grinding sounds didn’t change the taste of the coffee, customers were happier and more satisfied. Seeing the ritualistic process of how their coffee was made and observing the effort that went into it enhanced their experience of drinking the coffee.

This connection to the process was something they could not get at home, and made them happier to pay a premium for an in-store experience.

This is a case where the slower path provided more value for customers and could win more business than the faster path.

Important things besides speed

When designing experiences, remember that there’s a lot more to customer perception and decision making than efficiency. Customers also consider comfort, enjoyment, ambiance, entertainment, and more. Be clear what your goal is. If your goal is to make an ice cream shop that provides an incredible experience for customers, don’t just ask how you can make things more efficient. Ask how you can make customers happier.