Starbucks – The Way I See It:

In February, I wrote part one of this series in conjunction the Re-Experiencing Starbucks project started by Becky Carroll and Jay Ehret. Over the next year, Becky and Jay are going to write a series of posts which analyze the current Starbucks experience, make suggestions for improvement, and then compare at the end of the year. Readers are invited to contribute with comments and suggestions.

It’s been nearly two months since Starbucks closed all of their stores for a nationwide in-store education and training event and reopened promising to transform the customer experience with newly energized partners.  I can only speak for my local stores, but I have not seen any difference.  My grande sugar-free vanilla breve latte tastes pretty much like it always did, which is to say that it’s generally good, but with occasional inconsistencies, depending on which barista makes it.  Ok, so perhaps the event was in fact a PR event.  Starbucks certainly got lots of free publicity as a result.

Last month at their annual meeting, Starbucks announced a laundry list of new initiatives designed to transform the customer experience including a new brewing and espresso machines, a rewards program and a new unique coffee blend (Pike Place Roast) which will be hand scooped and ground in store.  Starbucks also took a page out of Dell’s playbook by launching

Involving Customers in the Innovation Process

Like Dell’s Ideastorm, is an online community idea market where customers are encouraged to suggest and vote on ideas for improving the Starbucks experience.  A team of 40 “Idea Partners” is responsible for reviewing, commenting on and consolidating the entries and for presenting “most popular and most innovative ideas that are the best fit for Starbucks” to key decision makers.

I’m a big proponent of Open Innovation.  Inviting your customers to help design the experience gives company insiders fantastic perspective on real customer needs and desires.  It also goes a long way in helping to ensure that the ideas and innovations that are selected are ones that will resonate with customers.  The reason most companies haven’t eagerly adopted an Open Innovation program is that it requires giving up control.  If a company asks for feedback and customers speak loud and clear the brand needs to be prepared to act.  If they don’t, they risk damaging the relationship with their most engaged customers.

GoodNews / Bad News

The good news is that Starbucks is asking customers to participate in the process.  The bad news is that the site looks like a collection improvements that are already in the their marketing plan.  The “Ideas in Action” section lists those ideas that are being taken forward.  Almost every idea listed in this section is either something that Starbucks announced when they launched the site (Wi-Fi, Rewards, Pikes Peak Roast) or already had in test markets (Splash Sticks, Bite-sized pastries).  Authenticity is what’s lacking.  I applaud Starbucks taking the bold move of involving customers in conversations about the experience.  They need to resist trying to control the conversation if they want to be seen as genuinely caring about what the customer has to say.


7 comments so far

  1. Harvey M. Pearlman on

    Dear Corporate!

    Store 9396 was recently visited by a general manager who completely destroyed the friendly,inviting and home-like environment that I and my friends enjoyed so much!
    I request you allow the 9396 store in St. Pete, Fl to put the TALL bookshelf back on the North wall between the two big easy chairs. Please make it like it was as being tall really made the space look more like a home. Move the handicapped table back to the space next to the entrance, put the small table back between the other 2 big chairs so we have a place to put our coffee on the East WAll.
    Also, put the display back so it blocks some of the noise from the machines near where the book-shelf was. Bring the books and magazines back which will help bring back the quiet. It’s way too noisey now. Please find another maker of the “Pumpkin Eclipse Cookies as I understand they are going out of business. If you can get some to 9396 that would be great.They went so well with my Mocha!
    Thank you for considering these suggestions.
    The managers Mike and Tonya are great and so are all the employees! They really pour their HEARTS into their work. I can not say enough good things about them!


    Harvey Pearlman

    I recommend StarBucks to ask it’s clientele if we want it changed before taking such drastic measures.
    I have been patronizing this store since the day it opened a few years ago. My office is 100 feet from the entrance.

  2. Kevin on

    While I also applaud Starbucks for creating a process that brings customers into their innovation process, there is also a downside you didn’t mention. Competitors, ranging from Peet’s to the hole-in-the-wall corner coffee shop, can also access Starbucks’ innovation discussion. This is a treasure trove of what customers are looking for, what has been tried, and what works or doesn’t work. To top it off, Starbucks is doing a great job of interacting, thereby providing more free market research.

    I’m still in favor of what Starbucks has done, but if I was a small-timer I’d also be perousing the suggestion boards every day!

    More on this specific topic from a business excellence perspective at:


  3. Jeff on

    Before Starbucks gets too concerned about losing market share to McDonalds, look at your Starbucks drive-thru sales volume. That’s where I suspect you’ve lost most of it because it (literally) bypasses the “Starbucks Experience”. Not to say Starbucks shouldn’t continue drive-thru service. Just don’t expect it to relate to Starbucks USP (unique selling proposition), which I believe continues to be The Experience of being/relaxing in the store.

  4. Tammie Mulroney on

    I am very disappointed that the Greensburg Starbucks is one of the new stores which is closing. Honda has not opened yet, and I feel you have not given the store a chance to survive. The corporation has not advertised with signs from the interstate coming into Greensburg from Indianapolis or Cincinnati. It is a shame to build a new store, spending so much money and not give it more time.

  5. Patricia Malloy on

    I recently visited store #9915 in Minnetonka and believe it would be a great mistake to close that store. Please keep it open, it is in a strategic location and brings refreshment to many!!


  6. Mike Tice 12 on

    Some blind people can see happiness more clearly than others

    One side represents childhood, the other represents adulthood, the bridge between them represents family

  7. […] to posting images from the campaign on their tumblr and flickr accounts while others have created blogs dedicated to exploring the sayings. Did Starbucks really know what they would be creating? How […]

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