Try and think about this for a moment. If you wanted to go somewhere to work, that wasn’t work; to chill out, that wasn’t home; leaf through a paper or magazine or just watch people come and go…where would that somewhere be?
For many people, that somewhere is likely to be a coffee shop and for a fair proportion of those, the coffee shop is probably Starbucks. A key driver in Starbucks’ marketing success has been to create a destination between home and office which provides an environment and an atmosphere that its customers can relax into and enjoy. Sure enough, there are other coffee brands offering a similar ‘experience’ for caffeine lovers – notably Costa and Caffe Nero in the UK and Tully’s and Caribou in the States – but Starbucks has been at the vanguard of creating this ‘third place’ for longer than other brands and has consistently set the benchmark for customer comfort.
The environment of Starbucks is a central pillar in the company’s successful approach to customer service.
Of course, how you take your coffee is a matter of personal taste and the way they roast the beans in Seattle isn’t to everyone’s liking. Equally, having to learn a new language just to get a drink can be somewhat of a turn off for those who simply a cup of java. If you’re going struggle with a ‘triple venti no-fat latte with room’ then maybe Greasy Joe’s is the place for you. But even the jargon – akin to all the language around gaming and electronics, is about cleverly creating a community of followers who want something completely different and enjoy buying into that.
Coffee strength and jargon aside, there can be little doubt that Starbucks endeavours to make the customer experience as pleasant as possible once they’re through the door. This is built on a number of simple premises which are worth testing next time you visit a mermaid: common courtesy – Starbucks appreciate that it’s your money they want and are taking from you and if the staff can’t offer up the most basic of common courtesies then they may as well shut up shop tomorrow; make a difference – the price of a Starbucks’ coffee can be above the average rate and justifying paying for that comes from the quality of product, being made to feel special and being served quickly and intelligently; reward loyalty – the tendency to offer customers another ubiquitous stamp card (your 27th coffee is FREE!) is a lazy and unimaginative default and Starbucks manage this key area differently and do it well.
Rewarding loyalty has many benefits and for a company like Starbucks, who rely heavily on word-of-mouth promotion through their community of happy customers, innovation of this marketing tactic is crucial. Picking low-hanging fruit such as the addition of imaginative menu options and sticking in free wi-fi for your customers are more ‘must-haves’ than ground breaking revolutions. Mind you, being FIRST to do it does give your base of loyal customers a nice warm feeling. For example, the simple idea of placing a community board in each shop where good, local causes and events can be pinned up and advertised free of charge is, when you think about it, a bit of a no-brainer…but it still had to be thought of! (not that the local post office or newsagent would have been too chuffed about it)
But Starbucks has managed to go that little bit further than most on customer loyalty by way of some smart tie-ups and collaborations. The fact that you can pop into a store and grab a free, weekly song/game app to download via their association with iTunes is a well-judged thank you. Yes, it’s pure pester power marketing in action – ‘come on mum, let’s see what this week’s free app is’ – and consumers aren’t stupid, they know what’s going on, but it is clever and subtle enough to do the job. In fact the whole music wi-fi community that Starbucks drive through their own stores, website and mobile apps maintains a young, aspirational feel to the brand that its competitors just don’t have.
Of course, the company does have a card loyalty scheme for purchases but its delivery is closer to that of a supermarket clubcard or credit card. It is an eCard that can be sent to friends as a present. It has a mobile application so it’s not a flimsy piece of card just waiting to be lost or destroyed in the washing machine (have you done that too?). This is proper brand loyalty for proper people.
And the reason why Starbucks is a paradigm of customer service.
Starbucks actually set their stall out on customer service by saying, first and foremost, it’s ‘nothing to do with the coffee’. Yes, they are a global phenomenon and will have their fair share of critics who will voice a contrary view on their marketing success. But if you stand back from the rhetoric and examine what they deliver, it is a compelling argument. Nothing to do with the coffee: a place to come and relax; large, comfortable chairs (store icons!); meet with [new] friends; be part of the music. They conclude this portfolio of added value loveliness by suggesting it delivers an emotional, personal connection with the Starbucks brand which, as I’ve never exited one of their stores in tears before, may be pushing it a little far. However, as we have no choice these days but to accept the popular use of ultra-expressive marketing speak, this Pacific coast coffee giant seem to have the game all wrapped up.
The final piece of this focused, customer service jigsaw is the company’s acceptance that they don’t always come up with the best ideas and entrust their faithful fans with the opportunity to come up with some thoughts. ‘My Starbucks Idea’ is a great platform for customers to share an idea which may have originally been a grievance. If that’s the case, this process offered by the brand softens the blow and forces the customer to put a constructive twist on it. Very smart.