What has Starbucks done that makes them so successful? Over the next few blogs I’m going to look at the good the bad and the ugly of customer service and carry out some analysis of why things work and why they don’t. I wanted to start with Starbucks. Boy, how many case studies, blogs and journalistic pages have been dedicated to this subject? So what makes me think I can bring some new insights? I don’t think I can, but what I think I can do is look at this phenomenon from the perspective of building relationships. You see what Starbucks has done is build a brand by building relationships, one drink at a time with their patrons. We know they are not really selling coffee and tea but that small break and luxury in the day. It’s a reward that appeals to all sorts of people who see Starbucks as a pause from the day to day hubub and it has grown to be a habit and brand to wear, like Nike or Adidas or North Face.
That Starbucks cup tells people about you when you walk around with it or turn up to work with it. It is also a place to be seen, not necessarily with others, but more of a cave where people are comfortable being on their own, listening to their music, working on the iPads and computers while they sip their chosen caffeine infusion. It represents a receptacle or platform for individualism.
But how did it start and how did it snowball. It started of course in the U.S. with the love of coffee as the basis. After living here for over three years, and travelling to here for the last 25 years on a regular basis, it has always amazed me at how almost reliant the average person is on coffee in the mornings to get them going. It may be true or not, but there is a coffee culture, so much so that people will not walk the dog pick up the paper at the end of the drive or take their kids the 2 minute drive to school without a cup of coffee in their hand. Starbucks capitalized on this by offering a choice of beverages that were provided hot, were convenient and in available in accessible places.
But it was more than that. In fact, I would suggest that there is very much a parallel between the British pub and Starbucks. Both established relationships with local clientele, people who worked and/or lived in the area. So while the pub or Starbucks may be part of a national or global chain, customers saw it as THEIR local place. It’s where they got known as regulars. It’s where they were asked if they would like their ‘usual’ today (be it a pint of bitter or a tall latte).
They felt it was theirs, and because of this, they felt familiar when going to another town, state or country where they could feel comfortable in a familiar setting in unfamiliar surroundings. I was in a neighborhood Starbucks recently in La Grange and the atmosphere was one of a meeting place, almost a social club…all the staff knew the customers, there was camaraderie with with the staff and between the staff and the patrons. It was wonderful. It was like to the family for Thanksgiving, only better as there weren’t any relatives. I even witnessed staff giving hugs to customers. It was like an episode out of ‘Cheers’ but in a Starbucks! The basis was relationships. Relationships with Cheers staff, customers, a trusted brand and forming friendships. What a great business…. founded on providing simple pleasures, in comfortable surroundings, allowing us to award ourselves the little rewards and it’s all legal! It has become the local social club or town hall where gossip, news and jokes are shared. Relationships are made and trusted friends can be found. Why else would you pay $4 for a coffee when you can get it anywhere else for $2?