The Starbucks Screwup Story

As I tweeted this morning, starbucks_logo I was appreciating Starbucks customer service. But it didn’t start that way. I ordered a Venti Pike Place and a low-fat blueberry muffin, and paid with my prepaid Starbucks card, but the coffee hadn’t quite finished brewing. No problem, at least it’d be fresh. The barista was going to bring out my coffee when it was ready, so I took a seat in the comfy armchair and opened up The Whuffie Factor, which I’m still reading and enjoying. I dug into my book, thinking after a while that my coffee must have been ready a while ago. I admit I was a little annoyed… the last time I had to wait for a coffee at Starbucks, they told me it would be complimentary. I was impressed with that — different location though.

Now I should say that I’ve never been much of a fan of their coffee… it always tastes over-roasted to me, with too much aftertaste. I’ve found I don’t mind the Pike Place blend though, and Starbucks is ubiquitous, so although I still opt for an independent shop when I can, I finally caved and began to learn the Starbucks lingo. (Since when is “Tall” a small, and why do the other sizes have to be non-English?)

Well. I returned to the counter, where the same barista asked to take my order: not a good sign. I reminded him why I was there, and he asked if I’d been sitting and waiting that whole time (about 15 or 20 minutes — I was reading, after all). Apologizing, he presented me with a “Recovery Coupon” Outside Inside as well as my coffee. No harm done, I figure, and an appropriate response for a company like Starbucks. I’m not going anywhere anyway — not until the tire is repaired on my car across the street, anyway.

So maybe these “recovery coupons” are old hat for Starbucks regulars, but it was new to me. It’s a 5¾”x5″ foldover card (to 5¾”x2½”) with a cutout to show the coffee-colour through the lower half of the cup. (Click these to enlarge; mine are bilingual Eng/Fr, I found these online.) A little while later when I was back sitting in my chair and enjoying my book, my muffin, and my coffee, Mr. Barista creeps around the corner and apologizes one more, thrusting another Recovery Coupon into my hand. And that’s when I was impressed, because I actually thought about it.

The profit margin on coffee is astronomical… almost as much as bottled water, so the cost to the company is next to nil. But the goodwill… heck, here I am blogging about it. You can’t buy that without having it backfire. But here are the two key points: (1) the coupon (both of them) is offered by the front-line staff with no management approval. It appears that all the staff are empowered to give away the product when they screw up. And (2) the coupons are attractive, ready for distribution, and include instructions on reaching Starbucks Customer Relations department. Having them at the ready makes sense… because they know they’re going to screw up, eventually. We all do — but they’re ready for it, and know how they’re going to handle it. Ill will thwarted right off the bat. Good move, Starbucks. And the fact that the coupon is redeemable for product of greater value than the one on which they transgressed? Nice.

Lesson: Don’t scrimp on customer retention. It’s always cheaper than acquiring new ones.