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 MyStarbucksIdea.com.
Involving Customers in the Innovation Process
Like Dell’s Ideastorm, MyStarbucksIdea.com 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.