Monday, March 10, 2008

A Unique Starbucks Strategy

Every now and then, a company's management comes up with a simple but brilliant public relations move where the very action itself shows how much it cares about its customers. The move scores a triple whammy: it gets media attention in advance of the action, during the action and afterwards, maximizing visibility. And to add further impact, it has the advantage of potentially building sales. Starbucks' recent strategy had all of these ingredients.

A couple of weeks ago, on February 26th, from 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. local time, Starbucks closed nearly 7,100 of its stores in the U.S., ostensibly to retrain its baristas in making the best possible espresso shots, steam milk and other drinks for its customers.

The Seattle coffee giant made a public announcement, saying that, starting Wednesday morning, it is promising customers that their drink should be made perfect every time. If not, the company is urging customers to let the barista know and they will remake it correctly.

"Over the years we kind of lost our way," Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told workers in a video that started the training, the Wall Street Journal reported. Schultz urged workers to "really embrace this moment" and make a more genuine connection with the company's customers, after the training session.

What more can a Starbucks' customer want than a demonstration from management that it desires to produce the best drink possible ... in accordance with its customers' expectations?

Further, think about the transparency of the strategy from a customer vantage point and the support it likely engendered from many quarters. Most of the time management in similar situations does not publicly acknowledge the problem and would conduct such training sessions in secret. In this case, the president openly announced that things were not what they should be and needed to be improved. We can all not only identify with that, but sympathize as well. I have always believed that the truth triumphs. This is a refreshing example of that.

The triple-whammy publicity I saw with my own eyes ... in everything from ABC News and The New York Times to the BBC and Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report.

Although I do not have access to the sales report, the next day I went into a Starbucks to get some coffee; the product was excellent and the store was as busy as ever. Whether that was true everywhere, I cannot say, but the move did get me into the store. It also told me that this management is "tuned in" in so many ways. Overall - meaningful to the business as well as a reputation plus.

Technorati Tags: Starbucks, Howard Schultz, reputation, Wall Street Journal, ABC News, The New York Times, BCC, The Colbert Report, business, communications, public relations


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