Starbucks Proactively Building Community Around it's Brand

It's an unhealthy and expensive habit, but I stop by Starbucks in the Mall every morning. There is a coffee bar up in my office, but I like the routine of grabbing a newspaper, reading in line, having the pause before the work day. I also like the incredibly friendly staff that works there, the familiar taste of the coffee, and now I'll add that I like Starbucks itself to my list.

Starbucks seems like a company that you can really feel good about.

You don't usually get to say that about international chains, but after reading the Times Article about founder Howard Schultz and spending time on their company blog Ideas In Action, I'm willing to get behind them.

Howard Schultz has me totally convinced that he cares about his consumers, and his employers. He's going against normal business tactics and breaking up the streamlined assembly-line process that Starbucks has inherited over the last few years from bottom-line-dollar-first CEO's to raise the quality of the coffee. The beans will be ground fresh again, the espresso machines will be exposed to the consumers waiting in line for a more personalized experience. He's giving away internet and removing egg sandwiches, even though they were cash cows, because he wants loyalty for one and he wants nothing to steal from the smell of coffee for the other. He provides health insurance to his employees, which means they stay loyal to him, and I as a customer appreciate the minimal turnover.

The new company blog "Ideas in Action" is allowing customers to write in suggestions and feedback, and is one-by-one responding to the ideas that are brought up, in a detailed and candid manor. In one post about automated ordering they address something I'd been thinking too - why can't we just type in our order when we enter the line, so it's ready at the cash register? On the blog they address that they are in fact looking at ways to speed up the processing, but that automated ordering has it's drawbacks:

As a company, we want to be innovative and use technology to meet the needs of our customers. Ironically, when tested, technology often does not prove to be faster or more efficient than our current deployment and customer service model. Most importantly, we love the personal interactions we now have with our customers. Many of the comments on MyStarbucksIdea express regret that personal contact would be taken away if we replaced the barista who takes your order with an automated system.

Sometimes companies, my own included, forget that it's not enough to be working on an idea, a problem, a potential point of progress, you have to let your customers and employees know that you're working on it. A lot of the ideas Starbucks recognizes are in the works, but they are trying and they do care about the solution, they just aren't there yet. This open dialogue is invaluable to the little people not involved in the inside thinking.

My only complaints with the blog, since I can voice them here: No RSS feed, and no direct linking to articles (otherwise you'd see them in this post). These are usability problems that shouldn't happen in any blog.

This morning when I arrived at Starbucks I was greeted with a new coffee-colored coffee cup, a sign that said when the coffee beans had last been ground, a sign that said the coffee is being brewed fresh every three minutes, a new every-day coffee flavor "pike place roast", and a gift-card in USA Today issues for a free cup of coffee each Wednesday for the next month. The back-to-coffee approach that Schultz is implementing as he steps back into the CEO role starts now.

Oh and I'm not the only one who was acutely aware that the new cups were a sign of something big... this popped up on Twitter around the same time I began thinking of writing this: