Monday, March 1, 2010

Starbucks Appreciates Customer Calls, But Not Enough To Solve Their Problems

After my recent experience with Starbucks' online feedback service over the weekend when its customer service line was down, I called today to find out what Starbucks would do to solve my problem.

They reviewed the notes from the previous call, listened to my explanation of how ridiculous their feedback system was and how worthless their "solution" to my concern was. The response? They appreciated my call to let them know.

Not that they felt like lifting a finger to look into the problem, much less solve it. They could – had they desired – contacted the manager of the store in question, found out who was on duty when my card was rung, and ascertained the facts behind the problem transaction. They could have learned something about how to prevent it, not simply recorded an incident of failure. They might have learned about the peculiar conversation between the school teacher who didn't like Where The Wild Things Are and the barrista, and about how Maurice Sendak thought children afraid of his monsters didn't need to see a watered-down version of the movie but could stay home and wet themselves, and while they were learning about the day in question they might have found out that I was really there and there really was a transaction that got messed up and they really needed to do something to fix it, at least in the future.

Because Starbucks didn't get me to answer a survey before I hung up, they've obtained only good feedback from me to date in their customer survey system. This kind of bias – where unhappy customers driven off the line by obviously insincere saccharine niceties never last long enough to provide a survey result, and only happy customers interested in rewarding apparently adequate customer service stay on the line by way of appreciation – likely pervades all Starbucks' feedback systems, and assures management (in error) that everything is copacetic out on the front lines.

Check out the five-year chart comparing Starbucks to McDonalds:

Starbucks' hold line contained information about a coffee grinder recall. If Starbucks' effort to make money in coffee has really degenerated to the point of trying to increase profit by helping them make coffee at home – and their apparently sluggish (the salesman laughed as he tried to sell it to me) effort to sell customers "via" instant coffee confirms that this is the case – SBUX is really headed toward a sad life as a commodity vendor selling stuff people can get anywhere, including more convenient places and places that will sell for less.

Starbucks certainly won't be differentiated by its customer service.

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