The Never-ending Journey to Customer Experience Excellence


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There are some fairly subtle and under-the-radar changes taking place for a brand about which, I have written two books (The Starbucks Experience and Leading the Starbucks Way). Let’s quickly look at five of them and what each tells us about the adaptive course Starbucks is taking toward continued customer experience excellence.

  • Removal of newspapers/replaced by a digital news service
  • A test-and-learn “pick-up” only store in New York City
  • Reduction of drink complexity
  • Coffee delivery
  • Globalization of mobile pay

I suspect I will dive into some of these in greater detail in future posts, but for now, let’s understand the changes and their broad relevance.

Try to find a newspaper in your local Starbucks this week. If you locate one, it is because a prior customer left it behind.

The days when you could buy your favorite newspaper in Starbucks are gone. When the decision to pull newspapers was announced, cynical reporters suggested it was because of entitled customers who took the newspapers, read them in the café, and didn’t pay for them.

When I heard that analysis, I knew there was more to the story. Starbucks leaders could have found a solution that didn’t punish people who pay for newspapers because of the actions of those who don’t (e.g., put the newspapers out of easy reach). The Starbucks leaders I’ve known hold a positive view of human nature and they are students of changing consumer trends.

As such, Starbucks’ recent announcement added clarity to the newspaper removal decision. Starbucks will be launching a limited-time complimentary digital news service featuring content from seven major U.S. Newspapers (e.g., Wall Street Journal, USA Today) on the Starbucks in-store WIFI.

The Starbucks blog post announcing the service notes, “This is just the beginning. We will continue to listen and learn from our customers, looking for new opportunities to deliver news content and experiences relevant to our customers, inspiring to our partners and meaningful to our communities.”

Let’s look at how the other four items I mentioned earlier reflect Starbucks’ focus on “new opportunities to deliver experiences relevant to” customers and “inspiring to” partners. Watch for Starbucks pick-up stores to be piloted in New York City soon. According to Starbucks leaders, this new concept will be “unlike any Starbucks you’ve seen before—a space devoted entirely to mobile orders, with no obstacles standing between you and your coffee.”

In support of in-store partners (a critical component to the café experience), Starbucks recently announced that it was removing popular drinks that are exceptionally time-consuming for baristas to create (e.g., the Unicorn Frappuccino).

In Shanghai, Starbucks announced it is launching voice ordering and product delivery using Alibaba’s smart speaker – look for U.S. delivery to follow. Finally, the success of mobile ordering in the U.S. is being introduced globally in markets like Singapore.

When you bundle these five recent announcements together, you get a sense of Starbucks’ willingness to aggressively champion evolving customer experiences and streamlined service ecosystems.

In my book, The Airbnb Way, I explore the growth mindset needed to be effective in customer experience (CX) today. CX success requires an understanding (as Marshall Goldsmith puts it) that “what got you here won’t get you there.”

Leaders at companies like Starbucks and Airbnb see change as an opportunity and complacency as a decline. 

How is your appetite for customer-centric and service ecosystem change?

In addition to benchmarking brands like Starbucks and Airbnb, I’d love to talk to you about your customer experience and digital service ecosystem adaptivity. Simply reach out to me here.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joseph Michelli, Ph.D.
Joseph Michelli, Ph.D., an organizational consultant and the chief experience officer of The Michelli Experience, authored The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and the best-selling The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary.


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