I wrote this letter to a friend who is a loyal customer to Starbucks, but had encountered three bad visits very recently in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and West Bloomfield. Names were changed to protect the innocent. This was sent 9/9/2009.
As the lead reporter on the second-most-popular national weather television network, I am on the road constantly. As we attempt to pry viewers from the Weather Channel, there are two crucial times of year—1) torrential storm season (right now!), and 2) (to a lesser extent) blizzard season. Every little thing, good or bad, affects our ratings. The weather patterns that dictate my schedule care little about things like “sleep” and “downtime”. Consequently, I am dependent on my daily coffee. When it comes to coffee, there has always been only one alternative—Starbucks.
As your brand becomes increasingly popular, it becomes easier to get my fix. And now, your stores are popping up everywhere—grocery stores, Target, and on the cozy corners of Anytown, USA. Now, however, I am wondering if you’re becoming too big for your britches, and losing touch with your most important asset—your customers. In the past few weeks, I have had three unfortunate experiences.
First, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I brought a “thank you” iced coffee, “light on the ice” for my coworker Marvin. His great lighting really saved our coverage of the Ferrysburg Funnel Cloud. When I presented his iced coffee, a livid Marvin accused me of sabotaging his coffee—he showed me a cup FULL of ice, and low on coffee. Ever since, my lighting has been “ever-so-slightly” off. Viewership is down a quarter point. Letters began filing in from angry weatherphiles: “Replace her! She looks so sinister!”
My second incident occurred the next morning in Kalamazoo, MI, where I ordered my make-up artist’s standard “wake-me-up” Venti Soy Latte. We had been up late the night before, celebrating successful coverage of the Muskegon Mudslide. We were in a hurry, chasing the next storm as usual. When I checked, Lisa’s beverage was Grande, and not Venti. Her make-up application that day was sub-par—Lisa made me look hideous! Viewership dropped another quarter point. Letters began filing in from angry weatherphiles: “Replace the monster! She’s frightening our children!”
My third incident occurred in West Bloomfield, MI, on August 20, 2009. I was in my hometown covering the West Bloomfield Windstorm. As a treat, I bought my crew a free round, as we were heading out. I placed a bigger order than usual-- a Strawberry Banana Smoothie (for Marvin), a Vanilla Crème Frappacino (for me), and a Venti Coffee Frappaccino (for David, the sound guy). The order took a VERY long time, plus, the barista mistakenly made a Caramel Frappaccino with whipped cream instead of the simple Coffee Frappaccino with no whipped cream. She apologized, but because we were in a rush, I had to leave, so I paid for my order and left. My sound guy was upset with his Caramel Frappaccino, and did a poor job of mixing. That evening, my voice sounded very “bassy”. Local radio personalities accused me of being a man. Viewership dropped another quarter point. Letters began filing in from angry weatherphiles: “Replace the man! She sounds like Barry White.” Now no one is talking to me. I see execs in the big boardroom, and anxious 22 year-old blondes nervously walking in with leather-bound binders and resumes.
As you can see, our business is very fickle and catty. People depend on their coffee, and they want it to be made to order. Can you provide a written explanation? How do these things happen? Why do they keep happening to me? Does Starbucks own The Weather Channel or something? In the meantime, I wait to hear my fate--I may be the next infomercial assistant.
Starbucks didn't answer right away. We sent a follow-up note on 9/21/09.
Livid. That’s the word that I use to describe my recent experiences with Starbuck’s. A week ago, I took the time to communicate to you, three bad experiences. One in Grand Rapids (too icy even though I asked for light ice), one in Kalamazoo (wrong size), and one in West Bloomfield (plain Frappuccino instead of vanilla. Did anyone from corporate bother to respond? No. But then, I guess I’m not thirsty and coffee-deprived, waiting in line with a $5 bill.
The sad thing is, three “mess-ups” would really hurt a mom and pop place. The very type of place that you’ve been putting out of business all across the country. In a way, I’m thinking I need to start supporting those smaller businesses.
I would be embarrassed if I was Starbucks. You have a license to print money, and you know it. You don’t really care if people are unhappy.
I guess I’m wondering how you justify not responding to complaints. Not even any inquiries for more information about each incident. In the meantime, I would recommend stopping the two hour lunches and perhaps running a lap of shame around the Starbuck’s compound.
From: Customer Relations
Subject: Response from Starbucks Coffee Company - Case # 7420059
Date: Wednesday, September 23, 2009, 6:17 PM
Thank you so much for taking the time to write to us. I am very sorry that your beverages were not enjoyable and made incorrectly during your trip.
It is our passion to provide the finest coffee beverages to our customers, and it's disappointing to me to hear that you were unhappy with yours. I know that a primary reason that you come to Starbucks is for the highest quality and consistent drinks. I want to assure you that I will be following up with the stores and its management teams in order to ensure that we are making these beverages correctly.
Unfortunately, I am unclear at which specific stores these incidents happened. If you could please respond to this email with further information about the store location (such as cross streets), this would help us greatly. Please also feel free to take a look at our store locator at http://www.starbucks.com/retail/find/default.aspx for store information.
What I would like to do, is to invite you back to our stores to have a drink done right. I would be happy to mail you some beverage coupons so that your next drink will be on us.
Thanks again for giving us the opportunity to fix this situation. I assure you that we take feedback from our customers seriously and will use this as an opportunity to improve the experience for you.
If there are any questions or concerns that I have not been able to address, please don't hesitate to call us at 800 23-LATTE (235-2883), we are here Monday through Friday from 5:00 AM to 6:00 PM (PST).
Starbucks Coffee Company
Note from my friend, to Starbucks, sent 9/28/2009
Thank you, I would appreciate coupons. My address is below. The stores at which I had problems were Spartan - Breton Village #1572, 1814 Breton Road SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506; Stadium & Drake, 4700 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo, MI 49008; Orchard Lake, 6765 Orchard Lake Rd, West Bloomfield, MI 48322.
This note was sent, along with two free product coupons:
October 5, 2009
Thank you for taking the time to contact Starbucks Coffee Company. Please accept the enclosed beverage coupons with my apologies for your experience, as discussed in our email correspondence. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to address your concerns and improve our operations. If you have any further concerns, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-23-latte.
Customer Relations Starbucks Coffee Company
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