How Kind is Your Company?

If you’re an avid reader of Gini Dietrich’s Spin Sucks you will have read her fantastic story of the ultimate Starbucks customer experience. Those of us who regularly patronize Starbucks aren’t really surprised.  Just last week How Kind is your company?my daughter and I  drove through our old Starbucks and ordered our regular drinks; without even seeing us the drive through barista said “I know who this is! How’s Addie?”  Of course we felt special.

I have friends who still try to convince me I’m getting ripped off when I buy my $4 chai, but I know I’m not. The personalized, friendly customer service one receives at Starbucks is incredibly rare.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.   Social Media was supposed to make us more human… give us an opportunity to connect with our customers in a real way, uncluttered by traditional marketing speak.  It is supposed to allow for conversational exchanges between brands and buyers.  Sadly, most of us have forgotten that, and use it too much like a promotional machine… a digital billboard we aim at our targets.  We have forgotten how important being nice actually is.

What Starbucks knows is that kindness works.  People want to be treated as if they matter. Don’t believe me?  Try this: mail a handwritten Thank You to all of your customers from the past week.  I guarantee you will get a reaction. Why? Because companies have forgotten the human dimension.  Because we all want to be remembered.  Because in this age of automated bill pay and internet banking, the humanness has been sucked out of our lives.  Our customers crave it.  We ALL crave it.

Now go and look at your company practices:

  1. Who answers the phone and how do they do it? Have you ever instructed them on what you expect?
  2. What did the last 10 Facebook posts look like?  Was there any attempt to generate conversation?
  3. Is your Twitter stream just a broadcasting mechanism?  How many actual conversations have you had on there in the past month?
  4. Are you telling your company stories?  Is there a mechanism for your employees to hear them internally?
  5. Are you asking your customers for THEIR stories?  Are you giving them a voice?
  6. When was the last time you took an anonymous company poll to ask for employee input?
  7. How are you rewarding employees for excellent customer feedback?
Maybe Mitt was half right; maybe corporations are supposed to be people.  When was the last time you looked at your company practices seeking out evidence of kindness?  I know, it all sounds a bit mushy, but It Is REAL.  I believe it’s the single greatest ingredient in Starbucks’ incredible success.  If more companies made it part of how they do business, we’d have more success stories, and posts like Gini’s would be a lot less rare.

 

Starbucks sells a lot more than coffee

I have a brilliant but antagonistic friend who has big issues with my deep admiration for Howard Schultz;  he doesn’t understand how I can admire a man who figured out a way to charge $4 for coffee. I don’t admire Schultz simply for his genuine rags to riches story, or his Indivisible campaign… although the latter is something that I think is remarkably inspiring.

My admiration for Schultz and the company he created began when I fell in love with his product… and in case you didn’t notice, his product is NOT coffee.  As a VP- Sales who traveled extensively to manage Sales Reps Starbucks isn't about the coffeeworking primarily out of their vehicles, I spent hours upon hours having meetings in Starbucks.  I don’t even drink coffee, but I am intensely loyal to the brand that Schultz built.  Here’s why:

1. Consistent quality products; I’m a big tea drinker – try getting a decent cuppa anywhere outside of a major metropolitan area that ISN’T Starbucks.

2. Always friendly and helpful employees.

3. Comfortable and attractive interiors.

4. Never the feeling that you’ve overstayed your welcome.

5. Free wi-fi

I know there are plenty of Starbucks haters who deride the demise of the independent coffee house, and I totally get that… but most of us living outside of major cities never had a decent coffee shop, let alone a pleasant place to meet for a leisurely hour.  Starbucks sold, and we BOUGHT, and experience.  A pleasant, warm, quality experience that did not exist before they built it.

The question for your company is: what’s the experience you’re building for your customers? If it’s just product, you’re in trouble, because there’s always a newer, shinier product that comes along to entice them away.  What about the experience of dealing with you will build this sort of loyalty?  It’s NEVER been just about the coffee for Starbucks.    It can’t be just about the product for you either.

 

 

Why Starbucks Makes Me Smile

I know, I know, Starbucks has not looked like the untouchable juggernaut it once did; with the l-o-n-g recession mindset hanging over us, paying $4+ for a cup of coffee doesn’t seem as cool as it once did. But Starbucks has survived, despite closing 600 stores during this economic downturn.

And anyone who looks beyond the hype knows why, and it ain’t the coffee.customer service
It’s the experience.

When you walk into nearly every Starbucks you know you will be greeted by a cheerful staff and find free wi-fi, two things I found priceless during my years as a frequent business traveler. I have logged more hours in my ‘other office’ at Starbucks than I can count, and despite sitting in the same seat for hours on end I have never been made to feel unwelcome. As a matter of fact, most frequent Starbucks visitors will tell you that the barristas are now their friends.

This didn’t happen by accident. There’s an entire book written on The Starbucks Experimence if you want to delve deeper, but suffice it to say that it is part of company policy that customers are to be treated with kindness, always.

This may sound simple, but we all know how rare it actually is. There’s a local convenience store near me that I swear to GOD has the exact opposite policy. But they’re the only game in town so they get away with it, for now. Once another convenience store moves in hoards of customers will flock to the new place with glee as punishment for years of being taken for granted, or worse.

So what experience do your customers have? If they don’t smile at the thought of interacting with your company you’ve got some work to do. And it ALWAYS starts at the top.