What you can learn from Starbucks Coffee’s blogging boo-boos

Oh Starbucks. Why are you walking away from the conversation?

As a every-day SBUX addict, I was researching their latest loyalty program – the Starbucks Gold Card (which, apparently, is black – not gold. Um…?) For $25, I would get 10% off most purchases, free wi-fi for two hours, access to exclusive sales and what they call “member recognition” (strike one: I have to pay $25 on top of my daily coffee purchases to be “recognized?”).

So, like a good social media chick, I went to the Starbucks Blog where they posted a “sneak peek” of the Gold card. Although the tone and feel is a little too…corporate…for my taste, the original blog post did a good job outlining the benefits.

But then the problems began…

Comments started rolling in.  People were (understandably) confused.  Did they need to combine their new Gold card with their regular Rewards card to get maximum discounts?  Why does someone need to pay to get a discount? What kind of cool insider “member recognition” benefits will they recognize? And why did the official Starbucks blog post specifically say, “so don’t be surprised if your barista isn’t up-to-speed yet!” (Great…so that means I have to pay for a discount AND educate my barista?)

So, let’s examine where Starbucks went wrong.

  1. There were 128 comments about the initial post. Starbucks responded twice. That’s it.  Just two times – even while there was a whirl of controversy going on.  If you read through the comments, you’ll notice one customer who was incredibly excited about receiving a Gold Card get more and more discouraged with the Starbucks customer service process.  At no time did anyone step in and address his concerns.  I would venture to say that the process basically turned a would-be evangelist into a cynical detractor.
  2. The official Starbucks response made it seem like a very elite group of people received a free card – and the rest of the registered Starbucks card users didn’t count.  Saying “Those that received the Gold card early were among our most dedicated and consistent registered card users,” is a slap in the face to people who (according to comments) spend thousands of dollars every year with Starbucks.  Heck, even I was miffed that I didn’t get a free offer – I’m in a Starbucks every day, sometimes twice a day.  It would have been much easier (and less offensive) to say that people were “randomly chosen.”  People won’t argue with random…but they will feel cheated if they don’t feel “special” enough.
  3. They should have had a chart (or some kind of visual) showing the potential savings.  The big objection Starbucks needs to overcome is “I don’t want to shell out $25 for a loyalty card.”  For many people (me included) that is a big enough stop sign to halt the consideration process in its tracks.  If people are in coffee-buying mode, they probably aren’t in number-crunching mode…especially for early-morning Starbucks visitors who need that first cup to wake up. It would have been more effective to show in dollars and cents how the card would pay for itself in less than three months.
  4. Saying that I, as a Gold Card member, would have to “educate my barista” is just wrong, wrong, wrong.  From a corporate communications standpoint, you’re basically saying that either (1) Starbucks can’t get their acts together to train their baristas properly or (2) their baristas are too slow to “get it (which is not the case – I heart my Starbucks baristas!) Either way, way to make the corporation look bad.  If I’m paying $25 for a loyalty card, I shouldn’t have to tell my barista how to give me my discount.  I’m typically hitting my store at 6am sharp – that’s not exactly the time that I’m eagle-eyed and in the mood to fight for an additional 10% off.

Unfortunately, this isn’t new behavior for the coffee giant.  Lisa Wehr discussed how Starbucks didn’t update their 2007 holiday podcasts, calling it a clear sign that “Starbucks was falling out of touch with their customers.”

I congratulate Starbucks with trying new forms of marketing to connect with customers.  They have a loyal following (me among them,) great brand recognition and their partners are awesome.  However, just as Starbucks would never let a barista walk away in the middle of a conversation with a customer, they should frequently check their blog posts and keep the conversation (or “connection” in Starbucks-speak) flowing – NOT walk away from a post just ’cause it’s posted.  Additionally, Starbucks should carefully consider their blog post wording – as experienced copywriters know, how you say what you say is exceptionally important. An innocuous phrase like “our most dedicated and consistent..customers” can actually alienate people if used the wrong way

Part of Starbucks new mission statement specifically focuses on “our customers” and “our neighborhoods.”  Now, it’s time to redefine “customers” and “neighborhoods” to encompass online communities and provide the same level of communication you’d find in any retail store. THAT would keep with the customer-service oriented Starbucks corporate culture…and it would help their online customers feel heard.