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Chris LoCurto

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December 19, 2011

Is Starbucks Losing People To Perceived Indifference?

December 19, 2011 | By | 49 Comments">49 Comments

I have to admit that I am a Starbucks fan, and have been for a long time. There are mornings when I wake up and think, if I hurry up I can make it to Starbucks in time before work.

And I always order the same drink: decaf short vanilla latte 140 degrees. (And the Live Events team quoted it before they even read it. :-)) The drink may sound funny, but there’s a method to my madness. Decaf because I stress too much and I don’t need the caffeine.

Short, also known as the children’s hot chocolate size, because I don’t want a ton of milk with my espresso. (Side note, there’s no x in espresso.) Vanilla is self explanatory, and 140 degrees because to me, I can taste a difference between 140 and 160, which is what they normally steam to. It’s not because it’s too hot, it’s because it tastes differently…to me. Which is what matters right?

For the last few months, I’m starting to get really heated…literally. What is causing my frustration with Starbucks? The fact that more than half of the time they can’t get my temperature right. It doesn’t seem to matter where I go, somebody’s is going to mess it up more than not. How do they do that? Many ways.

They ignore it all together, like the cup that is sitting on my desk right now. Which, by the way, has no vanilla in it. Or they do weird unnecessary stuff like, leaving it on the counter to cool off in the milk steamer.

I’ve watched many a barista put a thermometer in already steamed milk and wait for it to read 140. Then they pour it in my cup. When I ask them about it, they say something to the effect, it’s cooled down to the right temp.

I watched a guy the other day steam it to 160, pour it in the cup, then open the milk jug and add milk to it. When I made a comment, he said that it was at the kids temp for coffee. Grrrr. But my favorite has to be the guy in Houston who turned around and grabbed a scoop full of ice to put in it. ICE!!! I said, excuse me and he quickly looked at me and said, I did that wrong huh? Ummmm, yeah.

So now, as a customer, I am constantly waiting for the next person to mess up my drink. And it’s just coffee!! But the problem isn’t weighted less since it’s just coffee is it? The point is Starbucks inconsistent in handling their product. So much so that I feel bad every time I go, because I feel like I have to stand to the side and watch them just to get my order right.

In I’m Sorry, Do I Know You? I talk about a very important statistic – of people leaving your business, 68% leave due to perceived indifference! Almost 70% think you stopped caring about them, so they leave. They believe that their business is just a number to you. Guess where I am with Starbucks right now.

Do they care? Probably not. I’m one of a bazillion customers they have. They can afford to not be concerned with me. It’s a terrible way to run a business, but that’s just my opinion. As for you? How many customers do you have? Can you afford to be inconsistent? Personally I think it doesn’t matter what size company you are, but that’s just me.

Question: What are you doing to insure that nobody leaves you due to perceived indifference?

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  • http://www.SevenPillarsOfSuccess.Net Louise Thaxton

    I have ordered “UN-sweet” tea and received SWEET tea for 3 of the last five times I purchased tea. It is a bit frustrating.

    Because of an “experience” I had almost one year ago with a dentist, what began as a “rant” ended up with 6 consecutive published articles in two industry magazines called “The Dentist Diaries”. All of it was as you have said “perceived indifference” to my situation! BUT I took how the dentist had handled me and used it for examples on how we should NOT handle our clients purchasing a home. And how we should examine our actions to make sure we are not indifferent.

    Here is part 1 of 6 in the event you are interested:

    http://www.nationalmortgagenews.com/on_features/the-dentist-diaries-1024038-1.html

  • http://www.medicalaccountsolutions.com Misty Gilbert

    This is a tough post for me to read as 3 days ago, I had a client make the decision to part ways with my company. Do I know the “true” reasons or just the “superficial” ones provided? I don’t know but I have asked questions anyways because I want to learn, I want to improve, I want to be better than I am today. I know God knows my heart, knows that I tried beyond words to make them a satisfied customer and know that I will be continuing to evaluate the arrangement we had and learn all I can about me, my company, my clients, and how to avoid this in the future.

    Starbucks should care about your opinion, even if they have a million bazillion customers, every one should matter. If the customers/clients don’t matter, you are not providing service. If the customers/clients don’t matter, you care more about yourself then them. If the customers/clients don’t matter, you deserve the feeling of the kick in the gut. You have to be consistent…100% of the time. As Glenn Shepard says, you must be firm, fair and consistent in his book How To Be the Employee Your Company Can’t Live Without…but I believe that concept applies to more than just employees. I believe communication will be the only tool to battle the perceived indifference on any level, whether it is with a customer, client, employee, manager or other individual. When we strive for excellence we will make this our aim and therefore we have the weapon against indifference because it all matters.

    • http://www.ChrisLoCurto.com Chris LoCurto

      Dang girl!!! Awesome stuff!!!

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    That’s the great power of customer satisfaction in business. Amazon and Apple are great success stories of excellent customer service in their day to day business. There is no margin for error in their culture. That makes their business strong.

  • Roger

    WOW!!!! that is a scene from my daily life!! Fits to a tee. your article made me chuckle, I figured i was the crazy one.. one less pump of this.. and one more of that… etc… Have to watch very carefully otherwise it will be wrong every time.. never used to be that way…. I think the indifference factor can be devastating to a business… The company with kazillions of customers stands to lose a similar percentage of dissatisfied patrons… they just might not be able to measure it…. thanks for your entertaining post ;)

    • http://www.ChrisLoCurto.com Chris LoCurto

      My pleasure Roger!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Haralson/100000209770542 Richard Haralson

    Try the mom & pop places. They are all over the places. I realize you travel a lot and I am sure you have a smart phone that can help you find them… I’m sure there’s and app for that. And I would say this post of yours was a great customer resignation letter to star bucks.

    • http://www.ChrisLoCurto.com Chris LoCurto

      Hahaha…someone needs to come out with the mom & pop app. ☺

  • Batron352

    Solution idea for you Chris, Mr. Coffee:

    http://www.mrcoffee.com

    No more Starbucks fore you.

    • http://www.ChrisLoCurto.com Chris LoCurto

      You crack me up!!!!

      • Batron352

        Thank you, I am here all week. Be sure to try the fish and tip your waitress.

  • http://twitter.com/christophermust christopher battles

    Interesting observation. Consistency is key.
    Thank you sir for sharing your insight.

    K, bye

    • http://www.ChrisLoCurto.com Chris LoCurto

      Hahaha…thanks Christopher!

      • http://www.medicalaccountsolutions.com Misty Gilbert

        I agree with you Christopher, consistency is one of the main keys!

  • Anonymous

    Seems that inconsistent products and poor service is the norm. This is puzzling because I thought businesses were struggling and people couldn’t find jobs! If that is true, I’d expect businesses to bend over backward to provide great service and products, and employees to knock themselves out doing their best in order to keep their jobs.

    My solution is to shop locally, avoid franchises (not too hard in my little town of no chains!) and only do business with the best companies online. (LLBean, Zappos, Amazon, Sierra Trading Post and Soap.com all come to mind here)

    That still doesn’t answer the question of why such poor service is happening so frequently in this supposed bad economy!

  • Anonymous

    Seems that inconsistent products and poor service is the norm. This is puzzling because I thought businesses were struggling and people couldn’t find jobs! If that is true, I’d expect businesses to bend over backward to provide great service and products, and employees to knock themselves out doing their best in order to keep their jobs.

    My solution is to shop locally, avoid franchises (not too hard in my little town of no chains!) and only do business with the best companies online. (LLBean, Zappos, Amazon, Sierra Trading Post and Soap.com all come to mind here)

    That still doesn’t answer the question of why such poor service is happening so frequently in this supposed bad economy!

    • http://www.ChrisLoCurto.com Chris LoCurto

      It’s all about vision. People have to know WHY they should treat people well. I know, it’s crazy, but it’s true sometimes.

      • Batron

        Vision? For sure! And sometimes the companies and/or employees need to go see an optometrist or even an ophthalmologist ;).

        • http://www.ChrisLoCurto.com Chris LoCurto

          BAH!!!!!

          • http://www.medicalaccountsolutions.com Misty Gilbert

            I doubt Starbucks has spent the time to give their employees the vision needed to serve their customers…if they had, this indifference and nonchalance would not be taking place. Its a tough thing to get your employees to see, but they must so your company can be successful.

  • Chris

    I’m not sure what it is. Companies known for great customer service in the not so distant past seem to be slacking off today.

    We recently traveled and witnessed iffy customer service breakdowns at two Chick-Fil-A’s. Since I’m not normally a regular Chick-Fil-A customer and before these experiences haven’t eaten there for probably 3 or 4 years, I don’t have a baseline to compare their normal service and how they operate. I mainly know what I’ve read in many different places. Since these locations were choices where we exited to eat, that’s why we tried them.

    While the less than stellar customer service situations did not involve us personally, we did witness them. And the situations weren’t huge mess ups, but they were mess ups. (Someone had to wait on an item that wasn’t ready when the rest of their order was finished and for some reason the back order was never acknowledged until the customer returned to the counter after finishing their meal. The other was an order mix up as they were assembling the orders. )

    But it does make me wonder if sometimes if the marketing of great customer service exceeds the reality of the great customer service.

    I know some people who work for a car manufacturer that is known for its high quality. The people have worked there for years. They have expressed concern that what would never pass for quality in years past is now passing. Nothing major, but just little attention to detail items that once were taboo are now waived on.

    I often wonder if companies that have built a reputation as being superior in one way or another begin to believe the momentum and good will they’ve built over the years now allows them to ease off what made them great. That like the car company letting things through that they believe most people won’t notice. And in situations where the marketplace for the company has began to mature with more and more competitors or a downturn in the economy causes weakening profit margins.

  • Chris

    I’m not sure what it is. Companies known for great customer service in the not so distant past seem to be slacking off today.

    We recently traveled and witnessed iffy customer service breakdowns at two Chick-Fil-A’s. Since I’m not normally a regular Chick-Fil-A customer and before these experiences haven’t eaten there for probably 3 or 4 years, I don’t have a baseline to compare their normal service and how they operate. I mainly know what I’ve read in many different places. Since these locations were choices where we exited to eat, that’s why we tried them.

    While the less than stellar customer service situations did not involve us personally, we did witness them. And the situations weren’t huge mess ups, but they were mess ups. (Someone had to wait on an item that wasn’t ready when the rest of their order was finished and for some reason the back order was never acknowledged until the customer returned to the counter after finishing their meal. The other was an order mix up as they were assembling the orders. )

    But it does make me wonder if sometimes if the marketing of great customer service exceeds the reality of the great customer service.

    I know some people who work for a car manufacturer that is known for its high quality. The people have worked there for years. They have expressed concern that what would never pass for quality in years past is now passing. Nothing major, but just little attention to detail items that once were taboo are now waived on.

    I often wonder if companies that have built a reputation as being superior in one way or another begin to believe the momentum and good will they’ve built over the years now allows them to ease off what made them great. That like the car company letting things through that they believe most people won’t notice. And in situations where the marketplace for the company has began to mature with more and more competitors or a downturn in the economy causes weakening profit margins.

    • http://www.ChrisLoCurto.com Chris LoCurto

      That kind of hubris is exactly what Jim Collins talks about in his books. He takes companies down before they realize it.

    • http://www.ChrisLoCurto.com Chris LoCurto

      That kind of hubris is exactly what Jim Collins talks about in his books. It takes companies down before they realize it.

  • http://specializingintheimpossible.wordpress.com/ Laura Johnson

    One of my first jobs was at a grocery store where the mantra was ‘the customer is always right’. As an employee in the different departments, I was expected to go above and beyond to make sure the customer got exactly what they wanted. Of course, every once in a while you run into a customer who’s being completely unreasonable. Even then, I was not allowed to ‘disagree’. Someone in management would handle those situations personally.
    I worked there for four years, so that mantra has stuck with me. I have had to deal with the difficult customer since then. But it’s a good reminder in the back of my head….be open to how I can meet the customer’s expectations/desires/needs, within reason, and always treat them with respect.

    • http://www.ChrisLoCurto.com Chris LoCurto

      I think the respect part is the biggest piece. I as a customer may be wrong. But since we are a society who’s used to being treated like crap from companies, try and work with me as long as you can to rectify the situation. You neutralize the customer, and they most likely become someone who now promotes you.

      • http://specializingintheimpossible.wordpress.com/ Laura Johnson

        I understand exactly what you’re saying.
        I worked for three years at a bank as a teller/bookkeeper (people can get pretty irrate when it comes to their money). When a customer came in all huffy (usually because of a mistake on their part; not ours) I would listen to them and give them feedback letting them know I was listening, understood their frustration, and wanted to understand what they needed. Even before rectifying the situation, because I respected them, they cooled down drastically.
        It can be easy, especially when you know the customer is wrong, to show irritation on our faces. But because of how I handled irrate customers, when they came back time and again (usually in a much better mood :) ), they would come to me.

        • http://www.ChrisLoCurto.com Chris LoCurto

          Nice!!! Great example!!

        • http://www.ChrisLoCurto.com Chris LoCurto

          Nice!!! Great example!!

  • Em

    When you care about someone, you try to know their likes and dislikes. What better way to show your customers you care, than doing everything in your power to appeal to what they tell you they like. Can it get much simpler? You don’t have to figure out what someone likes as you often do in friendships and family relationships. Your customers are telling you what they like. It is a simple concept that can make all the difference in any relationship.

    • http://www.ChrisLoCurto.com Chris LoCurto

      Spoken like a true lover of people!

      • http://www.medicalaccountsolutions.com Misty Gilbert

        Really appreciated your comment Em!

  • http://about.me/jonedlin Jon Edlin

    Once a company has been perceived as being indifferent…they have to go above and beyond to show the customer they really care. We recently did this in October by hosting a Children’s Pastor event in our building and lavishing them with love! These were pastors who thought we forgot about them…but through this event we were able to show them that we care about each one of them.

    • http://www.ChrisLoCurto.com Chris LoCurto

      Nice! That’s a must. Way to go Jon!!

    • Batron352

      Yeah, that is for sure. More then one compney has lost my personal bussiness due to that.

      • http://www.ChrisLoCurto.com Chris LoCurto

        Sad huh?

  • Kathy Malone

    Read Onward by Howard Schulzt, subtitled How Starbucks Fought for its Life without Losing Its Soul, I couldn’t put it down, it addresses this issue (IMHO, should be in the EntreLeadershiop Bag O Books). When Howard first came back on board, they closed all the stores for an afternoon to teach the baristas how to make the beverages properly, because all those kinds of things were happening. If you explain to the barista that the beverage is not up to snuff, they will remake it instantly–it gets written up in red ink and gets done before anyone else’s (even if you come in from a different store), and I think they have to count those in their metrics, and they take it seriously Next, pass the negatives up…if you go to Starbucks.com and comment, you can tell them the particular store that failed your expectations and they will target it for coaching–plus send you 2 free drink coupons for each complaint. Last, there is a lot of difference between Starbucks, airports and convention centers are franchises and a totally different experience, but even among stores, I have taken a badly made Starbucks to another one and asked them to remake it (at one client site there are 3 starbucks essentially equidistant). The crew at the one that remade the mistakes of the other 2 locations joked and said “see, you should have come to us first” (and remade the beverage perfectly), and I do now (and when you find one of those, send attaboys to starbucks.com from time to time when they are exceptional). Venti peppermint mocha, half caf, nonfat, no-whip, 190, in my Starbucks stainless insulated mug (keeps it hot, you get .10 off the price).

    • http://www.ChrisLoCurto.com Chris LoCurto

      It’s just sad that even in their own company they are aware of stores that don’t do it right.

  • http://seekoutwisdom.blogspot.com Joseph Iliff of SeekOutWisdom

    An excellent observation, Chris. I have used perceived indifference in own work, but under different circumstances. As a safety inspector, I display perceived indifference when I find a safety violation, and the violator is giving me a long list of reasons why they didn’t do it right the first time, or can’t fix it now. I let all those excuses roll off my back and let them know that none of them matter. As the inspector, I can’t care whether or not they do it right and pass or don’t and fail. I can’t let them think I don’t want to fail them if they really deserve it. But, this of course is a very different circumstance from your Starbucks experiences.

    • http://www.ChrisLoCurto.com Chris LoCurto

      Hahaha…I can see that!

  • Robert Warren

    Great point Chris! We were just discussing this type of thing yesterday at a family Christmas gathering. It seems no matter how well I put together a contract and specifications for a kitchen remodel somewhere along the course of the project the homeowner will say ” Robert said you would do this for me” and of course it is not in the contract which can be 15 pages long on a kitchen! We are constantly working to eliminate this problem including some ideas learned from the Entreleadership 3 day we attended. For us it all boils down to properly setting expectations and then over delivering and under promising! And then communication, if I listen better to my client during the design he probably would have told me the very thing that came up after we started. After it moves into production it is up to our production staff to follow our process and this improves with training and oversight. The other thing I see here is that an upset customer can be your greatest gift, it can allow you to see a problem and correct it before it sinks the whole fleet!

    • http://www.ChrisLoCurto.com Chris LoCurto

      Amen Robert! They absolutely can. As for your situation, I would start writing down EVERY Robert said this comment. Look for a theme. And start a checklist of all of those things that you go over with the client so you can be ahead in the contract. That’s what I did with my team and it worked really well.
      What do you think?

      • Robert Warren

        I like that, it seems to be that my discernment and listening skills need to get better and that could help
        Thanks !

  • http://twitter.com/joelfortner03 Joel Fortner

    I’ve had similar experiences with Starbucks in the past and it was quite frustrating. A great challenge it seems to me in running a gigantic enterprise like Starbucks is instilling discipline into every employee. Every employee is an ambassador and either adds or subtracts to the total company. Hiring the right people is another challenge. From years of experience with Starbucks, it’s quite evident they sometimes get this right and often don’t. Training is also huge. How do you instill discipline all the way down the ranks to those interfacing with customers to ensure every product is made perfectly every time? Having spent in 8 years in restaurants, I saw how hard it was in those small businesses alone. Sounds like Starbucks has some work to do.

    • http://www.ChrisLoCurto.com Chris LoCurto

      They do. And if they care enough, they can get it done.

  • Mark

    Having gone from 13 people all pretty much within earshot of each other to 45 empployees in 4 buildings as well as remote and on the road, I have been accused of this, and it baffles me on how to be able to stay in touch and up to speed to the point I am perceived as being involved and interested in the different facets of what is happening with the folk here. I thought the solution was additional management of specific departements to maintain comuunication – that was ineffective, all it did was give me 4 more folk telling me that there were folk here thinking I was disinterested…. I am more than ready to see what folk have to share on this

    • http://www.ChrisLoCurto.com Chris LoCurto

      I think vision is the most important element. That have to know WHY it’s important to stay consistent. We are always pushing that the customer is the most important part of our business. Without them, we don’t have one. This gets the team focused on going the extra mile.
      We figure if Chick-fil-A can do it with 60,000 team members, so can we…and so can Starbucks. :-)

      • http://www.medicalaccountsolutions.com Misty Gilbert

        Size has nothing to do with being consistent, having a caring attitude and providing service. It doesn’t matter if you are a big guy or the small mom & pop, you have to provide all three of those things or you will loose customers.