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SELL THE DIFFERENCE: Establishing your Unique Solution Value

Starbucks manage to screw up offline and online

Posted by Bob Apollo on Fri 3-Sep-2010

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If it ain't broke, don't fix it! Starbucks might have done well to embrace this principle in their relationship with me.

starbucks cupI'd always had a positive impression about the Starbucks brand. I paid for my coffee with cash or a credit card.  They always appeared to be efficient. I even enjoyed their coffee. Everything seemed wonderful...

Until one zealous barista made the mistake of pointing out the benefits of buying a Starbucks card and loading it with £10. I would, apparently, enjoy a free extra shot. I would get the benefit of WiFi. And I'd even get a free drink when I bought a bag of coffee beans.

Starbucks wanted me to have a "truly rewarding experience". As a proud member of the Starbucks inner circle, and no doubt a "valued customer", I couldn't wait to use my card - even before I'd got around to registering the card online to further amplify my privileges.

My cup spilleth over into the trough of disillusionment...

Dear reader, you must be wondering how much better it could get. Well, sadly, I had already crested the high point and was about to descend into Starbuck's version of what Gartner refers to as the "trough of disillusionment"...

So at the first available opportunity, I put my card to use. Or tried to. I called into a motorway service station for a late lunch. I was absolutely starving. The Starbucks there had a long queue. But I didn't mind joining it. After all, I was now a fully paid up card holder.

Panini panic

Whilst making my way along the queue, I ordered a panini. I got to the coffee ordering point and ordered a grande cappuchino with my free extra shot. And I finally arrived at the till and presented my brand new Starbucks card with a flourish.

Only to be confronted by a sign telling me that Starbucks cards were not accepted. In Starbucks. I could have paid up, as I had always done before, with cash or my credit card.

But you know, I was so pissed off with the experience - the raising and dashing of expectations - that I turned around and departed, leaving them with a half-warmed panini and a coffee going to waste, and drove another half an hour to the next service station, where I bought a Costa Coffee.

Brand devalues

On reflection, I'm guessing that it might be something to do with that Starbucks outlet having been franchised. But you, know, they were still Starbucks as far as I was concerned, and they had broken their freshly-made brand promise.

It couldn't get any worse for my relationship with Starbucks, could it? Yes. When I got home and tried to register the card online it repeatedly rejected my proposed password. I followed the instructions on the error message. I included an upper case letter, a lower case letter, and a digit, as instructed. So I tried again, and again.

A Phyrric victory

I finally figured out that they must have an undocumented minimum password length. So I tried Expletive_deletedStarbucks1 and it worked. I felt a trivial moment of victory. But I felt no better about Starbucks.

So here's a lesson - if you have a satisfactory relationship with a client, before you try and up-sell them, make sure that their subsequent experience reinforces their impression of your brand, rather than consigning it to the dustbin like a steaming pile of old coffee grounds.

It could have been Pequods

I'll leave you with a final little known fact, courtesy of Wikipedia (so it must be right).  Apparently the founders (obviously Herman Melville fans) originally thought of naming the company Pequod, but rejected it in favour of Starbucks. Imagine what fun we could have had if they had stuck to their guns!

Topics: B2B Marketing