Customers Rock!

A blog about customers, their experiences, and how businesses can make sure their customer experiences rock!

Re-Experiencing Starbucks: Update 6 – The Card

Posted by Becky Carroll on May 12, 2008

Starbucks card collection - flickr photo by mightykenny Part 6 in the ongoing Re-Experiencing Starbucks series in partnership with Jay Ehret at The Marketing Spot.

Update!  I was just at my local Starbucks and had the opportunity to speak with two Starbucks partners (employees) who were there to review that store and its customer experience.  I was very impressed by the questions they were asking their customer (me) about the experience, as well as how they were seeking out my opinions for improvement.  Kudos to you, Starbucks, that you have great people working for you like Kevin and Marcus who really care about their customers!  🙂

Now, back to the post:

What is the latest on the Starbucks experience?  Let’s listen in to the Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz.  Per Schultz’s latest Communication (#14),

I would like to reiterate that we are still in the early stages of our transformation and efforts to enhance our customers’ experience.  There is still much work to be done, but we will succeed.  Our summer, fall, and holiday promotional periods are coming up, which, I believe, will be enthusiastically embraced by our customers and partners.

I would tend to agree here with Mr. Schultz.  The Starbucks re-experience is still in its early stages as evidenced by the inconsistent execution of their revamped loyalty card program.  Now, my long-time readers know that I focus on the positive here at Customers Rock!, so I am reluctant to criticize.  However, I have not had good experiences with the new Starbucks card program, and I am not alone. Both Leslie Price at Racked and John Blue at InnovationCreation have recently blogged about some frustrating card experiences.

The main concern seems to be the process by which Starbucks partners (employees) apply the discounts that should be available to the owner of a registered Starbucks card.  According to the Starbucks website, benefits of a registered Starbucks card include free shots of syrup, free brewed coffee refills, and free coffee with a whole bean purchase.  I was pretty excited about this, since I like to add syrup to some of my coffee drinks.

However, I also discovered that, unless I inform the barista ahead of time that my Starbucks card is registered, the discounts are not applied.  In other words, the Starbucks card database is not tied to the cash register system.  In one case, I told the Starbucks barista that my card was registered before I ordered my sweetened Iced Tea, and her response was, “Well, it doesn’t make any difference with your order.”

I do know that if someone has a problem with their drink or transaction, Starbucks will fix it for you; often they will give you a free drink coupon for next time.  However, this doesn’t always make up for the inconvenience for the customer doing the ordering (or the customers behind them in line who have to wait).


As with any new program, there are always kinks to be worked out.  However, it does seem a little short-sighted to implement this type of program and expect the customer to take full responsibility for reminding the store about the discount.  For this very reason, it is always recommended to think through a new customer-facing program (especially a loyalty program) before implementing.  This should include goals for the program, operational details, the stages of the customer’s experience, and the measures of success.

I would recommend that Starbucks quickly have each barista ask a simple question of each customer using a Starbucks card: “Is this card registered?”  They may have a few people that sneak in, but for the most part, customers are honest and will do the right thing.  It would certainly make the customer experience much better.

Also see Jay Ehret’s blog The Marketing Spot for more Starbucks insight.

Related Customers Rock! posts in the Re-Experiencing Starbucks project series:

Re-Experiencing Starbucks

Part 2: Transformation Starting

Part 3: The Training

Part 4: Little Things

Part 5: MyStarbucksIdea

(Photo credit: mightykenny)


5 Responses to “Re-Experiencing Starbucks: Update 6 – The Card”

  1. I totally agree with you Becky. And, I think as Starbucks aficionados, we’ve come to expect at least a “really good” customer experience. It’s supposed to be part of their culture. In fact, back in the 90s when I worked at AT&T, I was so impressed with Schultz’s customer focus, I bought a copy of “Pouring Your Heart Into It” (Schultz’s historical review of how Starbucks came to be at that point in time), for each of my Sales Managers. We then reviewed the customer-focused philosophy that existed at Starbucks and discussed how we — as a Leadership team — could coach our sales folks to embrace such a philosophy when selling telecommunications services. I just love that book — and our customer satisfaction numbers definitely improved as a branch as a result of our implementation of Schultz’s ideas.

    Now, back to the current times . . . when Starbucks is available on each corner and has become such a huge company — and now, the customer re-experience. You are absolutely correct — the fact that you have to tell the barista that your Starbucks card is registered to get your discount is not good — the databases need to be tied together so that the customer doesn’t have to ask for it. Or worse, not get the discount applied. Or even worse, have to get told that the discount doesn’t apply on “your drink.” That’s not the customer re-experience that we want — not at all.

    I hope that Mr. Schultz is paying attention to these blog posts — he certainly should be. It’ll be interesting to see how the customer experience does change over the Summer and Holiday seasons. Let’s hope it’s for the better!

  2. Nancy, thank you for adding your thoughts to this post. Starbucks definitely has a lot of great ideas that can be applied to other companies that will help their customer strategy. I think we have now come to expect a lot from Starbucks, and they are probably scrutinized in a way that others are not. I think they can achieve their goal, and I look forward to seeing it happen!

  3. BJ Cook said

    It’s a shame that technology is the culprit for a lousy experience, gotta love legacy systems 🙂 It’s good to see them at least listening and implementing some of the ideas for starters. But if the free coffee coupons are like pacifiers and like children, don’t you think we’ll grow out of those at some point and expect more? Just a random thought. I’m thinking I need to update my own Starbucks card here. Good coverage so far Becky.

  4. BJ, integrating technology is often a sticking point; it could make our lives so much easier…! To answer your question, customer expectations are always changing – and are often set by others outside of our organization. That is why it is important to constantly be in conversation with customers.

    Great to see you here, and it was great to meet you in person the other day!

  5. […] Re-Experiencing Starbucks: Update 6 – The Card May 12, 2008 […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: