What Does Starbucks’ Business Pause Say About The Customer And Small Business?

You could not miss the news yesterday: Starbucks closed their U.S. stores Tuesday night to spend three hours working on their customer service.

Starbucks is an incredible success story about meeting customer needs and desires. I don’t use the term “desire” lightly, Starbucks is really all about the desire, the customers desire. Visiting Starbucks is an event. Even when it is an extremely short visit, a drop into a Starbucks has a consistency and familiarity that screams out the value the company places on customer service.

And that’s why they closed for three hours, to raise their level of customer service. Although the specific activity taking place in all those 7000-plus Starbucks was barista training, the actual effect was to reinforce the customer experience and deliver better customer service.

So what does this mean to small business? Here’s a huge company, over 135,000 baristas in the U.S. alone, that stopped to refocus on customer service and a prime differentiator for their business. Small businesses everywhere have learned to use customer service as a differentiator from their competitors and especially from big business, this is a small business way of life: learn to Dance Among Elephants.

That a big company like Starbucks recognized this need for superior customer service demonstrates how important customer service is to all businesses. Even better, Starbucks plans to expand this refocus activity internationally to all their stores and include the 4000 licensed outlets, too.

Here’s my challenge to you: Take a few minutes, wander around you business. Is it time to refocus on your core business strengths? Is it time to renew your focus on customer service?



Filed under Business

7 responses to “What Does Starbucks’ Business Pause Say About The Customer And Small Business?

  1. bennyinny

    This was (at minimum) a two front success.

    It had everyone, everywhere talking about Starbucks in a positive light. A small fortune worth of advertising in exchange for a few hours (and I am sure those were well-calculated “we are closed hours”) of down time. And even if the meeting was three hours of “what’d you do last summer” the positive spin was priceless.

    On the second front the ability to attack your entire base of employees (and we are not talking a sales staff of twelve here) in just three hours is fantastic. Rejuvenating them, refocusing them and I am sure the results were positive at the employee level as well as the management one.

    This was the proverbial win-win!


  2. mikemathews

    All good points Benny. You are correct that there are a number of wins for Starbucks on this: celebrating the return of Howard Schultz as CEO; announcing the corporate reset on quality; enhancing their customer service abilities; putting a positive spin on what has been lackluster corporate news; embracing their employees at a difficult time (remember, they are laying off 600 employees and closing 100 stores); whipping up support among the shareholders; and probably a host of other wins that I just cannot think of in the time it takes to write this comment.

    Thanks for your thoughts.


  3. Marcia

    “Consistent”? Apparently you haven’t visited Starbucks at the Cleveland airport. 🙂

    While I’m not a fan I certainly agree that this was a major feat for a large corporation to pull off. Reinforce your brand and tie it to customer service at the same time. Amazing.

  4. Did you see the latest news about Starbucks launching instant coffee soon? I think is could be brilliant, but the general feedback has been a concern about denigrating the brand. What do you think?

    • mikemathews

      Hi Mike — It seems odd that a company looking to repair their brand, and spending a considerable amount of their budget for employee training and PR to bolster their core value of quality coffee served with consistency in familiar and comfortable surroundings, would then turn around and embrace the precise opposite of their core value.

      This move risks confusing their customers’ brand perception. Will customers consider the addition of Starbucks’ instant coffee as moving from a Cadillac status to a Chevy position? On the other hand, will a brand move like this even matter in today’s economy? We all know that Cadillac’s status is in shambles and Chevy’s position is moderately secure only because it is more affordable.

      So what we don’t yet know about the Starbucks instant coffee is whether this will succeed as a line extension that extends the take-out aspect of Starbucks coffee, similar to the drive-through window. But, as you describe, this could be a brilliant way to expand the sales opportunity for Starbucks coffee. Either way, one needs to wonder how well the Starbucks brand can stand up to being removed from the location brand.

  5. Here is a link to my blog post and the original article. It will be very interesting to see if Starbucks can navigate these treacherous waters.


  6. Pingback: Starbucks’ New WiFi Plan: Building Customer Loyalty « Dance Among Elephants

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