Starbucks listens – at last

Following Dell’s Ideastorm, Starbucks has no opened a forum — also powered by — where customers can make suggestions then discuss and vote on them. Starbucks, of all companies, with its loyal and opinionated customers, should have been doing this years ago. Every company should be doing it now.

If auto companies had this five years ago, we’d all have told them to force their radio manufacturers to include a damned 39-cent plug so we could hook up our iPods. If airlines had it today, we’d tell them how to get out of their customer-service mess. Why does listening to your customers sound like a web 2.0 idea? It should be a business 1.0 necessity.

Already, there are clear themes coming out in the Starbucks discussion. Many customers are suggesting — and many more are agreeing — that our frequent-sipper cards should have our regular orders embedded in them so we could swipe the card at the door, make the order, pay for it, and avoid that damned line (making that damned line shorter for everyone else). Others are also suggesting they want to do the same with their iPhones. This genius comes not from MBAs or executives but from customers. If you’ll just listen.

More customers want express lines for simple drip orders or sandwich purchases. More want employees manning the cash registers instead of running around taking orders in advance and then messing them up (well, that’s my variation on the theme). Note the underlying chorus: those damned lines.

One customer gives decorating advice to avoid the stores wearing down and looking so ratty, as so many do.

One suggests what I’ve long wanted: a drain at the cream station to drain that excess coffee. Yes, it’d be expensive to retrofit that, but shouldn’t it be part of the spec for new stores now?

Get rid of the tip jars, says one customer — but others in the comments disagreee. That’s what is great about these Salesforce storms: out of the conversation will come some measurement of consensus.

There are calls for whole wheat.

Lots want free wi-fi (which means Starbucks hasn’t done a good job of telling people that it’s coming with its switch from T-mobile to AT&T).

This customer wants softer music. It is, after all, our office.

And, of course, stop the Vente madness.

What an incredible wealth of information, ideas — and caring — from customers. All you have to do is listen.

I believe that Salesforce’s Storms are an important new infrastructure for customer conversation — a forum mixed with Digg mixed with a suggestion box mixed with a company blog. I don’t understand why companies aren’t falling over themselves to at least offer their customers this opportunity. Too often, it’s because they’re scared of what their own customers will say. Except now, they’re saying it on the web anyway. That’s the lesson of Dell and now of Starbucks.

  • Great stuff. Thanks for posting. What a great tool to finally enable open co-authorship of the brand story (any brand story). Hopefully more brands will follow suit. And customers will stay engaged in their brand stories. Fun.

  • Jeff … nice to see you applaud a company for entering the social media waters. It’ll be interesting to see exactly how SBUX handles this. The company has never participated in online communities and it’s not like they can turn to switch to ‘on.’ Hopefully they will learn from Dell how to evolve its corporate culture to embrace customer-generated ideas. (From my years at SBUX, this will be a major culture shift for the company. The results could end up being a “Meatball Sundae.” Dig?)

    FYI … when SBUX switches to AT&T as its wi-fi provider, Internet access will not be free to all customers. Only customers with dollars on their Starbucks stored value card and of those customers, just the ones who have registered their Card at will have two-hours daily of free wi-fi access. Laptop toting folks without registered Starbucks Cards will not have free wi-fi access in SBUX locations.

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  • chico haas

    Desperate times call for desperate measures = suggestion box, er, social networking. Fine, maybe some good thoughts will be generated. Certainly it makes customers feel engaged with the brand. No doubt Starbucks should’ve opened itself up earlier. But, ultimately, as with all companies in a slump, the only entity Starbucks wants to please is Wall Street. Analysts’ suggestions will go to the head of the line. EVEN SO, the print ad will read: “We listened to our customers and our customers said blah blah blah.” What they’re doing is marketing not mind-melding. imo.

  • “The server is temporarily unable to service your request due to maintenance downtime or capacity problems. Please try again later.” You’d think would be able to scale a Venti forum such as this.

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  • For me the links alternate between a blank page titled “Portal Header” and another blank page with one of those hexidecimal URLs so long that they run well off the title bar. Probably broken javascript.

  • I’m in agreement that this type of tool should be commonplace in all consumer focused businesses. However a company has to be careful not to overweigh their consumer consensus. As it’s been proved time and time again, sometime we (consumers) just don’t really know what we want. And a company that weighs this too heavily could really wind up way off track. Not sure how obvious this is to everyone; just thought I’d throw it out there.

  • Brit

    O, hindsight! Could such a customer forum have helped The Borders Group steer itself away from the turbulent financial straits it finds itself in? I wonder… My career in bookselling has spanned so many trends and changes. Have the customers had way more to tell us than we ever suspected? No doubt. How bitterly ironic for a company that claims it wants to be America’s preferred choice for information and entertainment.

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  • Roscoe

    “If I gave people what they wanted, I would’ve invented a faster horse.”

    — Henry Ford

    Customers should be able to communicate with their vendors across many different channels. But this one has some potential issues with follow through and customer satisfaction.

    If two people offer contrasting public opinions on your new ideas forum, and you implement one, have you lost the other customer? Maybe you’d have lost them both had you done nothing.

    But I could see this creating a false expectation with customers. It’s one thing to roll out a new means for customers to voice their opinions (which this does). It’s another for a F500 company to rapidly implement those suggestions. Yet another whether they were the *right* decisions.

    I don’t know if wants to point to DELL and SBUX as exemplars of customer responsiveness after implementing their ideas gadget.

  • Brit

    Re: Roscoe’s comment:

    The Henry Ford quotation is apt. It’s the flip side of giving customers a voice, and brings up a crucial point: while customers may have valuable insights, they will also be full of stuff and nonsense a good deal of the time. The key is having the wisdom to discern the difference, and the genius to act accordingly.

  • Thanks for the great rant. It’s typical of corporate mind-entrenchment. They expect us to be the docile sheep that reshape our needs and expectations to fit their products and services when, duh, shouldn’t it be the other way around? Well, these days the sheep are online and bleeting loudly. ‘Bout time.

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  • It is great that Starbucks are doing this however the real proof will come in whether they actually follow through. I think Starbucks is great but they aren’t exactly known for giving it to the customer their way. Typical experience in the UK:
    Customer: Can I have coffee?
    Starbucks waitress (sorry Barista): An Americano?
    Customer: Er yeah whatever
    Barista: Venti, Grande or Tall?
    Customer: Er what? Oh give me the big one. Can I have some milk in it?
    Barista: You need to add it yourself
    Customer: Oh, OK do you have semi-skimmed? (which is pretty much the standard in the UK)
    Barista: Er no, you can add half the full fat and half the skimmed stuff…

    They have been in the UK for over 5 years and they still don’t have semi-skimmed. I’m not betting we are going to see it any time soon…

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  • J. Stewart

    Where have all the FRAPPUCCINO Bars gone???? Can’t find them in any grocery stores in Silver Spring, MD area. You got us hooked — now what??

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  • Carl Lindow

    The cup insulators should be square on both ends. They would then be useful on the smaller cups when they were turned upside down. The small cup does not seat solidly in the insulator when it is used normally. I almost spilled mine because of that.

    [email protected]

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  • Joe

    Well. They massively overbuilt their stores. What exactly did you expect to happen in en economic downturn.

  • Joe


    A strange Starbucks experience today. I went into a Starbucks and ordered a coffee and when the guy went to get a regular cup a girl with short brown hair said ‘give him this one”. I asked about the cup and they said “she was the resident artist” and designed the cup. I thought nothing of it until I saw the cup in detail which I am enclosing pictures. How ridiculous?

    Their new logo is a beaver and they promote using all the buffalo. And to “recylcle this for realzies”

    What do you think? Does this happen regularly?

  • Joe


    A strange Starbucks experience today. I went into a Starbucks and ordered a coffee and when the guy went to get a regular cup a girl with short brown hair said ‘give him this one”. I asked about the cup and they said “she was the resident artist” and designed the cup. I thought nothing of it until I saw the cup in detail which I am enclosing pictures. How ridiculous?

    Their new logo is a beaver and they promote using all the buffalo. And to “recylcle this for realzies”

    I have pics if interested.

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  • Starbucks just mnade a big boo-boo!
    I understand the new ad for some coffee or whatever they’ve come up with lately knocks those of us red-blooded americans who are proudly part of the tea-party crowd, because we believe in our hard-earned freedoms! Well, guess what! I don’t believe I’m not going to be the only one to quit buying starbucks! I love their coffee, but I love my freedom to assemble and voice my opinion even more! They oughta fire or replace their advertising team: they obviously don’t know who’s buying their coffee! You don’t slap your customers in the face like that and get away with it!

  • Shirley Johnson

    I have had to quit buying your coffee. I can’t afford to buy it except as a special treat since you raised your prices. Iam on a fixed income and felt your coffee was a treat but now my coffee treats are even farther apart. Can’t you find a way to give us seniors a special discount so we can drink your coffee more often. I don’t even drink coffee at home so your flavored drinks are really special to me. I love your White Chocolate Mocha’s. I just can’t afford them anymore. Sincerely, S. Johnson

  • jb

    Can you put a line(s) on the outside or inside of the cup for people who use cream etc in their coffee?
    Even stating to leave room for cream there is always something that is poured out in order to fix your coffee.
    Probably quite an impact on the bottom line I would think as well.

  • Chris

    Total necro post sorry, “Starbucks has now opened a forum”.