Starbucks Gives Social Networking a Shot

Ann All

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.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Mar 24, 2008 2:28 PM Matt Milletto Matt Milletto  says:
the whole coffee social networking plan has been successful for my site www.baristaexchange.com not surprised to see sbux see the value in the open sharing of information. Reply
Mar 26, 2008 8:39 AM James Wolfe James Wolfe  says:
This whole social networking thing is a bunch of rubbish for people who have no social skills. Sitting around a coffee shop pretending to work, pretending to be important, spouting off all the popular catch phrases, while the real people running the business are back at the office counting the hours til they can get back to their real lives away from work and social networks. Social networks are just a place for self important fools to show off so the rest of us can laugh at them. $3 for a cup of coffee? Yeah right! Reply
Mar 26, 2008 10:07 AM Karin KS Glazier Karin KS Glazier  says:
I realize alot of people bash social networks--and some reasons are valid. However, from a marketing perspective, reaching out to customers for their opinion is key and worth the time for both the company and customer. The issue really resides in "is the company really going to do anything with my suggestions...". If you take the time and energy as a company and ask the same from your customers than be sure to ACT ON IT! Too often customers voice their ideas or disapprovals and where does it go, nowhere. So, over time many customers give up and stop caring about improvements because they feel the company doesn't care. So, if Starbuck's really wants to make a difference...that means they have to not only listen but they have to act--and prove they acted upon actual suggestions by the customer. Otherwise, don't waste the time because it will fail quickly as people don't see any results. Reply
Mar 26, 2008 6:21 PM Shaun Shaun  says:
The customer has a say.yeah right!Its hearts and minds - make them think it's their idea and they'll 'buy' into it.The only purpose of a business is to make money/profits now and more in the future.It is not concerned with improving your life! Reply

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