Though it's tough to remember now, there was a time when going to a Starbucks made you feel kind of special, or at least a little more informed than the rubes who would drink any kind of coffee, even (shudder) instant.
It got tough to preserve this illusion as Starbucks outlets filled with long lines of people who wouldn't touch coffee unless it was loaded with whipped cream and flavored syrup. Plus, the company seemed as interested in hawking CDs as in brewing good coffee.
Starbucks developed a problem similar to one suffered by beleaguered discount retailers Kmart and Sears, which can't compete on style with Target or on price with Wal-Mart. Similarly, Starbucks isn't as special as local coffeehouses or as convenient as McDonald's, which brews a pretty good cup of coffee these days.
Howard Schultz, who recently returned to the CEO's chair after an eight-year absence, admitted as much at the company's recent annual meeting, reports TIME.
Schultz announced a long list of moves the company hopes will reverse its well-documented identity crisis, ranging from grinding fresh coffee in stores again to rolling out a loyalty program. One of the most interesting items on the list is a Web site called MyStarbucksIdea.com.
The stores may have lost their intimate feel, but maybe you can get it back by going online -- at least that's what Starbucks appears to be thinking. According to its press release, it "takes the Starbucks Experience outside the store and enables customers to play a role in shaping the company's future."
Similar to Dell's IdeaStorm, the site invites users to post, discuss and vote for ideas to improve the Starbucks experience. (My first suggestion: Hey Starbucks, could you be more pretentious? Lowercase the "e" in experience.)
As I've blogged before, I am bothintrigued by and a little skeptical of the idea of engaging customers in this kind of a public, two-way dialog. It has to be tough for companies like Starbucks to relinquish this much control to their customers.
As Paul Greenberg, author of "CRM at the Speed of Light: Essential Customer Strategies for the 21st Century," told me in an interview last February:
You have to keep an experience on the customer's terms. Your customers are empowered enough to know what they need. That's not always in the best interests of your business. The trick is to balance your company's needs with the customer's needs. You collaborate with customers to come to a conclusion and an agreement. Intellectual property is now much more of a shared item. Customers don't respond to you if you are protecting yourself constantly.