Starbucks – The Way I See It – Part 1

starbucks_escher-767149.jpgThere’s been lots of discussion lately about Howard Schultz and how to improve (restore?) the Starbuck’s Experience. Nearly a year after John Moore issued his “What Must Starbucks Do?” manifesto, Becky Carroll and Jay Ehret have started working on their own Starbucks project. Over the next year, they are going to write a series of posts called “Re-Experiencing Starbucks”. They will 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.

I told Becky I would provide some input for the project. I must admit that I only started drinking coffee a few years ago, so I don’t have perspective regarding what the Starbucks experience used to be like, but as a regular customer, I can think of a few experience improvements. I plan to submit my first observations later this week. In the meantime, I want to comment on Becky’s second Re-Experiencing post, written last week following an announcement by Starbucks of a couple of new initiatives. You can read Becky’s post here, but the bottom line is that Starbucks is going to be doing two things:

  1. Offering free WiFi (2 hours/day) for registered Starbucks giftcard holders.
  2. Holding a nationwide in-store education and training event for more than 135,000 store partners across the United States. Starbucks will close each of their nearly 7,100 company-operated stores in the U.S. on Tuesday, February 26 at 5:30 p.m., local time, to conduct a nationwide hands-on espresso training experience, designed to energize partners and transform the customer experience. Stores with evening hours will re-open at 8:30 p.m.

A press release announcing the training said:

“Our unprecedented level of commitment to and investment in our people will provide them with the tools and resources they need to exceed the expectations of our customers. We believe that this is a bold demonstration of our commitment to our core and a reaffirmation of our coffee leadership.”

Sorry Howard, but I gotta say that these two initiatives miss the mark. Regarding WiFi, it should be free. Period! Most of your competitors offer it and don’t charge me after two hours. I would gladly park myself at Starbucks when I work from home on Fridays and drink more than one cup of your coffee, but I can’t justify paying for internet access or even registering a card with you when I can go to Panera or any number of locally owned establishments and connect for free; without strings attached.

I like the idea of the second initiative as a jump starter, but Howard, a one time “event” is not the way to “energize partners and transform the customer experience”. Annual turnover for Starbucks partners is about 80%. Within a month of the “event”, 9000 partners will be replaced and there is no mention of any ongoing espresso training for the new people who come into the organization. A “demonstration” sounds great, but where’s your program to ensure that new partners get the same training. And if that turns out to be part of the solution for energizing the team, where’s the program for sustaining that energy over time. I think the first place to start would be finding a way to get that turnover rate down. Way Down! 80% says “we’re not engaged, not committed”. And Howard, giving your partners free internet access at Starbucks locations is not going to move that needle. If you are serious about changing the experience, you need to commit to an ongoing program that transforms and sustains a new, energized culture in the stores.

As I mentioned above, I’ll be writing another post later this week with some other suggestions for Starbucks and I’d love to include your ideas. Let me know what improvements you would suggest to Mr. Schultz.