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Open letter to Howard Schultz
Starbucks problems are not limited to cookies, in-store clutter and automatic espresso shot dispensers. The cracks I have been seeing are far worse. Increasingly, the Baristas seem unaware that they themselves are the brand. As Starbucks slowly turns itself into a dimly lit version of Wal-Mart, the same friendly faces I have become used to have soured.
The latest example was in the Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix Arizona. It was a bad brand experience – one that actually made me quite mad.
I am (perhaps “was” would be a better word choice) a loyal customer. Not only do I have a Barista espresso machine at home that I use it every morning, I also buy my espresso grinds at Starbucks each week. Then I measure and tamp down the shot with utensils also bought at Starbucks. Each morning after arriving at work I also hustle down to grab a cup at on Yonge St. Often, when in a strange city, I will walk two blocks out of my way past a dozen other coffee shops to get my Grande black bold. I always use my Starbucks branded charge card that I keep loaded up for convenience.
In the past few months, my perception of the brand has changed at locations that I frequent in Toronto as well as random outlets across North America I have visited during my travels.
The issue yesterday was the adaptability and empowerment of the manager at the
Phoenix airport location to make a judgment call and make good of a bad situation. I am not going to get into the details and explain the particulars of the problem I encountered. Although I will say that the same problem affected another customer who raised much more of a fuss than I did and was left unsatisfied as well. It boiled down to a $2 descion.
It is this simple: as soon as anyone pulls out that Starbucks card loaded with their hard earned cash, you know a loyal customer is in your midst. In moments of brand truth I think it helps to know those customers from the rest yet, it did not seem to matter one little bit yesterday. My experience (as well as others like myself) seems to be symptomatic of what is going wrong at Starbucks. My word of mouth for the brand is no longer in the positive camp and I have heard others echo my concerns.
Howard, I hope you are read this and I invite Starbucks to respond to my concerns and let myself and readers know why the loyalty should continue as the brand continues to erode.
Until then, I have downgraded Starbucks brand stock rating from a “lovemark” to a bruise.