Sunday, August 7, 2011

Starpower of Starbucks

Starbucks has sparked a lot of controversy for being just a coffee company.  Most people have a definite opinion on the barista-centered brewer - kind of a "love 'em or hate 'em" kind of thing.  Here's a quick run-down.

Reasons people love Starbucks:

  • made-to-order drinks of all shapes and sizes: you want no caffeine? half-caf? 4 shots of espresso in a cup of ready-brew?  You've got it.  How 'bout some flavoring? In addition to standards like hazelnut and vanilla, you can get special syrups by the season - coconut? Don't mind if I do! A friend waits all year for Pumpkin Spice, and I'm pretty pumped for Gingerbread's return.  You can also get any "level" of milk your little heart desires - no fat, full fat, or soy
  • they deal in Fair Trade coffees, helping the world out a little, if Coffee can be a Superhero.
  • they support local, non-commercial dairy farms, sourcing their milk from the area around their stores (no matter where their stores may be)
  • In fact, they have an entire section of their website devoted to the actions they are taking in 5 areas to make the world a better place: 
    • Community - getting involved locally, which includes youth programs and AIDS fundraising, among other things.
    • Environmental stewardship - recycling, reusing, "greening," and other ways Starbucks is trying to reduce their environmental impact, which is important since most of their business relies on agriculture.
    • Ethical Sourcing - this is where the local suppliers thing comes in, as well as Fair Trade.
    • Wellness - they eliminated all trans fats and HFCS from their pastries and offer lower calorie options, as well as the new Bistro Boxes with complete and nutritious meals inside.
    • Diversity - actively seeking out women- and minority-owned suppliers is one way Starbucks is trying to "level the playing field."
  • If you register that Starbucks giftcard your distant aunt sent you for your birthday, you can get free drink enhancements like free non-seasonal syrups, free upgrade to soymilk, and once you buy enough stuff using your reloadable, registered card, you can earn free drinks, which is the perfect opportunity to try out that TripleVentiCoconutMochaWithSoymilkHoldTheWhippedCream without paying $7 for it.
I'm sure there are many other reasons people love Starbucks - the convenience of them being pretty much everywhere, the consistent nature of the drink preparation, etc - but I want to give the Haters a fair shake as well, so here we go.

Reasons people don't love Starbucks (hate is such a strong word...):
  • The perceived, and probably in some places very real threat Starbucks poses against independent coffee shops.  I consider this competition, which is good for the consumer, but I can see how it might rain on some small business owner's dream parade.
  • A lot of people complain that the coffee they keep in the urns tastes "burnt."  Although I think that is sometimes the case, I appreciate the darkness of the roast and think most people are too used to Maxwell House to tolerate the bitterness.  (That being said, there is a reason I almost always order a made-just-for-me espresso beverage.)
  • In this economy, you have a lot of nerve asking someone to pay $2 for brewed coffee...that tastes burnt...and pours from a large silver urn with the wrong label on it.
  • The On-The-Go nature of most urban Starbucks anyway usually results in a lot of disposable stuff. AKA Trash.  In a recent graph I saw and can't find now (of course, why would I need it now??), after fast food giants McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendy's, the most litter found across the country bears the Starbucks insignia.  Sure, you can bring your travel mug or you can actually sit and enjoy your coffee and ask for a real mug, but I'd say most Starbucks drinks find their way out the door in a paper cup (or 2).
Again, I'm sure there are many more reasons people would rather not spend their hard-earned cash at Starbucks, but there's no need to dwell on the negative, right? 

In case you can't tell, I'm a [registered] card-carrying, travel mug-bringing (most of the time), faithful Starbucks consumer.  I completely understand people's reasons for "hating," but for me, the experiences have only been good.  After all, this is a blog about superior customer service, not social and environmental responsibility.  Here are a few of my experiences that have sold me on Starbucks:
  • When I did want to just buy a $2 cup of brewed coffee and they did not have any readily available, they made me my favorite drink - an Americano - for free.
  • When they have a line, there is sometimes a person who goes along the line getting orders started so that by the time you get to the register to pay, your TallDoubleRaspberryMochaSoyNoWhip is already ready to go with you wherever you're going.
  • If my drink is not perfectly how I want it, they will remake it, no questions asked.
  • Their staff is [almost] always polite (the one exception, ironically, is the Starbucks at Market East train station in Philadelphia, where there are two girls who are too busy talking about their personal drama to correctly and efficiently prepare your drink and by the time you have it and it sucks, you'll miss your train if you ask them to remake it).
  • When my boss gave me a Starbucks card for Christmas, the girl at the register told me the benefits of registering it.  Although I recognize this is an effort to increase sales, it is also refreshing to have a knowledgeable employee share exactly why I should spend more money there.
  • If I run out of money on my card, the cashier takes the initiative to ask if I'd like to reload.  Again, I realize this is a clever upsell, but it sure beats the trouble out of trying to remember my login info for the website and do it myself at home some time when I happen to remember.
By now, you're thinking [hoping?] that surely there was some impetus for this post, some reminder to me of why I love Starbucks enough to spend way more money than I should there and then spend an hour writing a post singing its praise, right?  Rest assured, dear reader - there is.

When I was in California recently, I was packing up to leave for my 1pm flight home to Philadelphia when I got an automated call letting me know that my flight had been cancelled and I had been rebooked on a flight that left 10 hours later.  This was not exactly what I wanted to hear and since I had intended to get breakfast on the way to the airport, as well as coffee, I was not in the right frame of mind to process this information and take next steps.

I finished putting on my make-up and packing up my things since I had to check out of the hotel regardless of my changed flight time, then headed down the street to a Starbucks (they're everywhere, folks!) to have some coffee and food and figure out what to do for the rest of the day.  A friendly girl took my order and handed off my Tall Hazelnut Americano to the barista while she pulled out my slice of pumpkin bread with nice sanitary tongs and placed it into the waiting bag without making a smidge of human contact with it.  She rang me up, discovered my card had run low, courteously informed me and asked if I'd like to reload, which I did, and then we were finished.  I headed to the counter where the finished drinks are placed to wait for mine.

And wait.  And then start looking around, since miraculously I was the only person waiting for a drink (this is a miracle because every other Starbucks I saw while in San Francisco had been packed, with a line from the door to the counter).  And wait some more.  Suddenly, the barista saw me standing there and had this amazing-to-behold, Simpsons-like "d'oh" moment when he realized he completely dropped the ball on making my drink.  The girl who had taken my order noticed this and immediately and with a smile walked over to me and handed me a card.  This is what the card read:
We apologize if your Starbucks experience was anything but wonderful.  We want to know how we can make things better and always invite you to share your thoughts with us. The next time we see you, please enjoy a beverage, on us. We hope your next visit is better.
On the back, it gives the phone number for Client Relations, so if I wanted to, I could have given them an earful about the young man who forgot to make my drink.  I won't, though, because mistakes happen and when they do, Starbucks appears to be completely willing to take responsibility and make it right.

In my book, that is World Class Customer Service.

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