Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Starbucks, I Love You But...

Image courtesy of nunnun
I love Starbucks, but Starbucks annoys me, too. Do you have that kind of love/hate relationship with the brand?

I enjoy going to Starbucks for the many reasons that you probably do, including the friendly staff and the inviting environment.

But here's where the problems arise: I think they have consistency issues. And consistency is a key component of the customer experience. It sets expectations and creates predictability. And guess what that leads to? Trust.


I've said it before: Consistency breeds predictability and trust, and trust breeds loyalty. You just know what to expect. You feel good about it. And you'll do all the things loyal customers do.

So, as my mom would say: I have a bone to pick with you, Starbucks.

You see, I have a lot of options when it comes to Starbucks locations. (This is not a news flash to anyone.) Between my house and the gym, which is 7 minutes away, I have five locations to choose from! Two are freestanding; two are in grocery stores; and one is in Target. (The freestanding stores are corporate stores, while the others are licensed stores.) So, as you can imagine - and I think it's a fair assumption - I have expectations that each of these locations will offer me the same experience.

Not so. 

Bear in mind that I'm a creature of habit when I go to Starbucks, probably not unlike many/most customers. In the cooler winter months, there's a specific hot drink that I order, and in the warmer months, I get either iced tea or iced coffee. Trenta.

I have a Gold Card, and I use the Starbucks mobile app. I have Starbucks cups and coffee mugs at home. I brew both Starbucks and Seattle's Best at home. Am I a One Percenter? No, but I'm a fan.

Here's what I've observed. 
  • I can get a Trenta drink size in some stores, but not in all of them.
  • Unless I go to the freestanding stores, I cannot use the mobile app to pay. (Nine times out of 10, I'm not buying my drink in a freestanding store). There's a sign posted at one of the locations that says, "We're waiting for the software upgrade so that you can pay with the mobile app." It's been there for six months now. I can, however, use my Gold Card.
  • When I've earned enough stars for a free drink, I can show the barista my phone to prove that I have a free drink but it feels icky (yes, very technical CX term) knowing that it's not removed from my account or marked as used. (I've not abused that at all, but there are probably others who might be fine with doing that.)  
  • Even though I'm notified that the reward is on my Gold Card, swiping my card doesn't remove it from my card or apply it to my purchase.
  • Coupon codes that I get via email or on the app cannot be redeemed in stores that are not freestanding.
  • The quality of their drinks varies from store to store, barista to barista. 
  • And so does the pricing. A barista asked me on Saturday, "How much do they usually charge you for that drink?"
I believe the issue lies with the stores that are not freestanding. But here's the thing: The sign above the counters say "Starbucks." The employees wear the green aprons. And by all other accounts, they  sure look like Starbucks. So what gives? The experience from store to store ought to be seamless.

Starbucks' brand promise is to provide the highest quality coffee, exceptional customer service, and a truly uplifting Starbucks Experience - around the world.

If only it just rang true in my neighborhood.

For the most part, I think they are living up to their brand promise - just not consistently. And that's the problem. That's not good enough. It needs to be every day, every location, every transaction.

Are you living your brand promise at every touchpoint? Have you observed your customer experience across channels, across locations, across employees, across partners. Is it consistent? Are you losing customers because it's not?

The hardest thing about skateboarding is consistency: The slightest flick of your foot or gust of wind can send your board flying, so it's really anybody's game out there. -Shaun White

10 comments:

  1. If only I had that amount of Starbucks around me...I used to have in London, and it always amazed me how different the experience in each one was. Thanks for this reminder that consistency needs to be....well, consistent lol...always great to read your posts...Dave

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    1. Thanks, Dave! Now we know why the experiences are so different... the problem is that the customer knows the brand, not whether one store is licensed and the other is company owned. Doesn't make it right, but it explains it, I suppose.

      Annette :-)

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  2. I'm pretty much a one-percenter when it comes to Starbucks and I must admit my experiences here in the Boston area have been fairly consistent. BUT, I agree with you that those Starbicks inside supermatkets, other retailers, and in some airports that look every bit like a Starbucks and where you come to expect the "Starbucks experience" are dragging the brand into the dirt. I call them pretend Starbucks. AND yes, their product and output really doesn't follow the model at all. Much as I love Starbucks, if they were the model, I'd go elsewhere. Who at Starbucks is responsible for these pretend Starbucks operations and why does leadership not see what they are doing to diminish the brand? I really feel the consistency is a lot better if you eliminate those pretend Starbucks from the analysis. To your question "Are you living your brand promise at every touchpoint?" Apparently Starbucks is not. Come on Starbucks, where's the customer experience going here?

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    1. Karl, I like that... pretend Starbucks. You ask the question I'd like to know the answer to: who is responsible, and why can't they see what's happening to the brand? Don't they care? Or understand the ramifications?

      Annette :-)

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  3. Totally agree... some of the franchise stores are pretty good. The one at the far side of Victoria Station, in London, is great even if you can't use your card there any more. I think it was a bad move for them to go down that route, but brands don't seem to learn this mistake without running headlong into it.

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    1. Yup, I agree. But based on what I heard from one former employee, they are aware of it. Question is, what are they doing about it?

      Annette :-)

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  4. Terrific post today! It totally annoys me that I have to pay with my gold card/app to get credit toward my free drink. What if I want to pay for a $2 tea with change and just scan my app to get credit for the purchase. I tend to say "Whatever, it's not a big deal and I should just enjoy my drink" but it does bug me!

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    1. Thanks, Jeremy! That's a great point, too. You're right... you ought to also be able to pay cash and just scan your card to get the star. If it bugs you, then it's not a good thing... they clearly didn't design this from the customer's viewpoint. And perhaps they don't care as much about the customer experience as they purport to.

      Annette :-)

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  5. Great article Annette. Consistency of experience if the key and Starbucks has been failing in the consistency lately.

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    1. Thanks, KP. I'm hearing this same thing from a lot of people. Curious to know what Starbucks is doing about it!

      Annette :-)

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