Serves you right!

One of the reasons I keep pushing Marketing as Service is that old-fashioned messaging (buy brand x because its great) is a so often an empty vessel. Advertising for years has been a steady stream of promises unfulfilled… this shampoo will make you beautiful, this beer will get you the girl, this car will help you drive like Nascar-winner Jeff Gordon. Many mass marketers have gotten lazy, substituting sizzle when they should be focused on the steak.

This was clearly on the mind of Starbucks founder Howard Schultz when he made the extraordinary statement of shutting down all the Starbucks across the country for three hours yesterday. Schultz simply couldn’t live any longer with the ordinary service standards his barista’s now offered. The Starbucks experience had become more like McDonalds than the classic Italian coffee bar he originally tried to replicate. So, he shut down every store and every news media carried the story. In shutting down the stores, he made an enormous statement both internally and externally. He used the three hours to reiterate Starbucks’ mission via a video message to all employees, to retrain his barristas on the expresso machines, to remind them that personalized service is not an option but rather the key to the company’s success.

Externally, Schultz sent a message to every Starbucks customer, every prospect and every competitor that they were renewing their commitment to the original Starbucks standards of service. Outside each store during the shut down, a Starbucks employee explained what was going on to passersby, turning away customers with the promise of better service afterwards. The media did the rest of the work, carrying Schultz’ message almost verbatim in print, radio and TV. Even with Dunkin’ Donuts opportunistically offering 99 cent lattes for stranded Starbucks’ customers, the media story played out well for Starbucks–no one could miss the main point.

Undoubtedly, this effort will be far more effective than the recent TV campaign Starbucks which offered vacuous imagery and little else. Of course, the onus will be on each individual barrista to deliver on the new promise—better and more personalized service–tender loving caffeine if you will. Should the service improve, so will the word of mouth. Customer satisfaction will rise because the service is better, not because they spend ad dollars saying it is.

So, before you can get to Marketing as Service, you need to remember that no amount of sizzle can make a bad steak taste better or a poorly prepared latte a heart warming experience. But then again, if your service is good, it serves you right!

POSTSCRIPT–a fellow Renegade, Miss Jennifer Steele, visited her Starbucks this morning and noticed a significant change. A greeter welcomed her and directed traffic. The order taker wrote her name on the cup and her Grande non-fat latte arrived faster than usual. After noticing spotty service over the last three years and several times vowing to never return, she has renewed her commitment to a daily Starbucks stop. Serves her right, indeed!

2nd POSTSCRIPT 3/8/08:  Laura Ries writes a very good essay on this topic called Backwards is the New Forwards on her blog.

3 thoughts on “Serves you right!

  1. Yesterday when I went to Starbucks, the server, for the first time, not only asked me what I wanted but what my name was. “Get me a drip for Trip” he yelled, upon hearing my name. “Is this what you usually get?” “Every time”, I responded. This morning when I walked in, and before I was even at the counter, I heard to my amazement “Get me a drip for Trip”. Now that is customer service.

  2. So I’m the Steele in question…it’s true…the first day after the shut down, the experience was great. But it didn’t last. In line on the second day, the staff was joking about serving people by name (“oh is this the blueberries for Shaniqia” I heard from one guy, as well as this from his co-worker, “how about strawberries and cream for John”). I was embarrassed to be one of the names. Also there was no greeter this time. Despite the jokes, no one took my name. And they lost my order, forcing me to wait much longer than people who had ordered/paid after me.

    What did this mean? The next day, Friday (2/29) I finally ventured to 9th Street Espresso inside of Chelsea Market. I often frequent the Avenue C location, which is close to my apartment. I love the coffee, but I often dislike the hipper-than-thou attitude among the staffers. In any event, I was pleasantly surprised that the fellow asked me how my morning was going. There was no attitude. And the coffee was brilliant. Will I go back to Starbucks? Probably, but I will always remember the strawberries and cream joke.


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