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Bringing you news, tips, and trends to help you deliver customer service at the next level.

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Next Level Customer Service Blog

News, tips, and trends to help you reach that next level of customer service.


Will Starbucks rediscover their customer?

Howard Schultz , the founder and chairman of Starbucks, has returned to head the company as CEO. The press releases make it sound like he's leading a crusade, and I hope he is. Sure, the company has been growing rapidly, with revenues increasing at least 20% a year over 10 years, steadily rising profits, and an expanding global presence, but there increasingly seems to be something missing.

Mr. Schultz's stated goal is to help deliver a superior "Starbucks Experience". Here's a company that's swimming in profit, has become one of the brands, and now they want to start a customer service revolution. There's many places to get the "big picture" story, but for me the little picture is more interesting and more personal.

Why do I go to Starbucks?
This is a great question many of us can ask ourselves. Or, why do we frequent any establishment or buy any product? Are we even consciously aware of the reasons and are our reasons rational?

My reasons for going to Starbucks have definitely changed over the years. At first, it was the great coffee. There soon appeared many far superior options, so then it became their outstanding service. For a long time, they had me on that one. I was a "regular" at a local Starbucks where they knew my name and knew my order.

Over the past few years that has changed a bit and now I go to Starbucks because its convenient and the habit is ingrained in my brain. But they definitely feel more corporate, and I definitely don't feel like a regular. I guess I should have seen the writing on the wall when they stopped displaying the daily horoscopes and a barista told me it was a "corporate" decision. We all know that corporate and astrology don't mix, and Starbucks was definitely feeling more corporate.

Where do I go now?
It's a fun exercise to re-think why you are loyal to a brand. You just may find, as I did, that there are better options out there. As a customer service professional, my first thought is service, so I now have five places I go for coffee instead of one. That may seem a lot more complicated, but it actually seems to have made things easier for me. Here are my coffee house favs:

  • Best Local - The Living Room. There are a few of these, but mine is near San Diego State University. They have comfy couches and overstuffed tables, coffee is served in big mugs, they offer free wi-fi, and I'm pretty sure they have a policy that all employees must have at least one visible tattoo or piercing. Isn't that what a coffee house is supposed to be like?
  • Best For Meetings - Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. This growing chain feels like Starbucks used to feel. Their coffee is good, they have plenty of locations (at least in Southern California), their stores are comfortable, and the staff is friendly.
  • Best for Lunch - Panera. Panera has great sandwiches and free wi-fi, so this is a great place for a working meeting or casual lunch. Oh, and their coffee is very good too.
  • Best Coffee - It's a Grind. I love It's a Grind, especially their iced coffee. I really loved the one in downtown San Diego, but a few of their key people left, so we'll see if they can sustain the service.
  • Because it's there - Starbucks. I'm not anti-Starbucks, and they are awfully convenient.
So, why do you choose a brand? Or, what do you go to Starbucks? Better yet, why do your customers choose you? And, are you giving them any reasons to reconsider?


Service still counts when you're the only game in town

Some companies think they are the only game in town and cannot see the benefit of delivering outstanding service. They assume their customers are captives with no other options. I am on the last leg of a cross-country road trip and have seen this many times in the past few days as I've patronized small-town restaurants, gas stations, and motels.

First, the bad example
My wife & I are traveling with our dog, Melrose, so we made an advance reservation at the Holiday Inn Express in Ft. Stockton, Texas. I noticed they charged my credit card at the time I made the reservation, which is unusual, so I called to check on things a few days before our trip. To my surprise, the person who answered the phone couldn't find my reservation (even with a confirmation number) and didn't seem interested in helping me resolve the situation. She did inform me the motel was now a Quality Inn, but was insistent this change couldn't have created my problem. She finally offered to connect me with her manager who got me a new reservation, but also could not explain the credit card charge. The manager at least agreed to do some research and call me back, but I'm still waiting for that phone call ten days later and have left another voice mail in the meantime.

I got tired of waiting for the manager to call me back so I called them, cancelled my reservation, and made a new reservation at the Days Inn in Van Horn, Texas. This hotel is about 120 miles away from my first choice, but I'm saving $40 and I'll be 120 miles closer to home in the morning. Does the Holiday Inn Express/Quality Inn miss my money? Maybe not, but by the looks of things here in West Texas, it couldn't have hurt. Lesson: You may be the only game in town, but there are other towns!

Now, the good example.
Driving on Interstate 10 between Houston and San Antonio you'll notice billboards for a convenience stop called Buc-ee's. The billboards start about 100 miles out in either direction and are often a bit humorous and off-beat. Example: "Ice made from scratch". The best part is they truly deliver everything you'd ever want from a convenience stop in the middle of nowhere: reasonably priced gas, clean and spacious restrooms, a full-service deli, cheesy gifts, and friendly (folksy, even) employees who are happy to help. Buc-ee's is the only game in town, but they've developed a winning formula by being the best they can be. I've stopped there a few times (repeat business!) and they have always had a much larger crowd than the usual convenience stop.

Finally, the lessons we can all apply.

  1. Lesson #1: There are other towns. Your customers may have many more options than you think, so it's always best to treat them as though they could bring their business to a competitor. The Fort Stockton hotel was the only dog-friendly hotel in its class for a 100 miles, but I was willing to drive 120 miles to avoid being treated so poorly.
  2. Lesson #2: Deliver the best service you can, even when there appears to be no competition. Your customers may reward you with more repeat business, a higher average ticket, and perhaps even free advertising (referrals, blog posts, etc.). I've made a point to stop at Buc-ee's several times over the years and have happily spent more there than I would at a typicl convenience stop.

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