ATD Blog

How illy caffè Brews Up Better Brand Experiences—in Just Minutes a Day

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Enabling your sales “messengers” to live up to the expectations of today’s savvy buyers can make or break their ability to empower your brand. More importantly, it can drive long-term customer relationships that deliver growth.

Reinforcing a high level of essential product knowledge to sales reps—and ensuring that they are prepared to deliver the best customer experience—requires a methodology that is both effective and non-disruptive. For most companies, the challenge doesn’t stop there. Management also needs a way to know if their approach is working, identifying any gaps in order to address them proactively. 

Case in Point 

With a mission to deliver the most authentic brand experience for customers, Mark Romano, senior director of education and quality and sustainability at illy caffè North America, decided it was time to try something new. As a leading international provider of super-premium coffee, brewing the perfect cup of illy coffee very much depends on the level of knowledge and preparation skill each associate possesses—from bean to cup. 

 Romano wanted an efficient solution that allowed associates to stay in the field and simultaneously create a learning methodology that would maximize the level of field knowledge essential to the illy brand. After some investigation, he decided to leverage a powerfully simple approach: games.   

Using an approach developed at Harvard to boost knowledge retention and change critical customer-facing behaviors, Romano started a program that had staff play a game on their phone or tablet for several minutes. By pushing brief Q&A-based scenarios to employees every other day, the system reinforced associates’ understanding of technical and scientific information about coffee products and preparation methods. Participants then competed for points on a leaderboard, based on their responses. 



Initially deployed with North American sales staff, as well as quality assurance, technical, and administrative team members, Romano reports that feedback from participants has been extremely positive. Staff has embraced the convenience, and there is a general sense of camaraderie and friendly competition among individuals and departments. Even the company’s most seasoned associates found value in the way information was presented through the solution. 

In other words, it was a fun and flexible way to maximize staff knowledge essential to the customer experience. What’s more, in the 16-week program, illy caffè achieved 100 percent engagement, and measured a 15 percent increase in essential brand and product knowledge that is critical to the brand experience. 


In addition, the management dashboards and insights extracted from participant data also enabled illy caffè executives to identify opportunities to strengthen their brand in new, strategic market segments. For example, the program flagged an opportunity to provide more information to sales associates about decaffeination, a product attribute that represents a competitive edge, particularly in the natural products channel. 

Moving Forward 

Bottom line: illy caffè demonstrates that the best companies are not just handing out devices, but adopting learning strategies that take advantage of them to improve customer experiences—in just minutes a day. Based on the enthusiastic response, illy caffè now plans to expand this approach to include consumer-facing staff at its branded cafes, too. 

About the Author

Vice President—Marketing and Business Development, Qstream Lisa’s focus is on establishing Qstream’s acclaimed platform in fast-growth market sectors worldwide. She has 20 years of experience building high-value software companies, brands, and market share. Prior to Qstream, she led marketing for several successful early-stage startups, including Avid Technology and Centra Software, and was responsible for successful repositioning, product launches, and pipeline growth at Bottomline Technologies and the FeedRoom. She holds a journalism degree from American University in Washington, D.C., and a master’s degree in business communication from Simmons College in Boston.

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