Click here to preview the new Fast Company

Want to try out the new

If you’d like to return to the previous design, click the yellow button on the lower left corner.

Starbucks and the Customer

Hi everyone, it's me — Alison Overholt of the infamous Starbucks customer service/customer loyalty rant.

First, I want to thank Paul Williams of Starbucks and John Moore of Whole Foods for joining us this week as guest hosts. Back in November when my blog post made its way to Starbucks' customer care department, I received a phone call in which I was asked, "How can we make it better?" I'm guessing that the normal answer is, "Give me some free coffee and we're back in business," but it occurred to me that not every disgruntled customer works for a magazine, posts a complaint on a public site, and gets a chance to air a grievance with the head of the customer service department.

So I didn't ask for free coffee. I told the woman on the other end of the line that the conversation generated on our website was downright exciting, because it was causing our readers — who are customers and business owners alike — to ask some important and difficult questions about branding, customer service, and customer loyalty. And perhaps the best way to "make it right" was to continue that conversation. To show our readers — and me, the disgruntled customer — that my phone experience that day was an aberration and that there are lessons to be learned here on both sides.

Our readers can learn what it looks like from where Starbucks is sitting: what are the trade-offs one has to make? What factors are considered when building a customer loyalty or branding campaign? How hard is it to maintain service standards? And Starbucks can hear straight from the horse's mouth how effective those choices and decisions have been.

And now here is Paul, and he's even brought John with him, to give us a second perspective from the high-end grocery business.

So post away — ask your questions, tell us what's on your minds, and give a big round of applause to Paul and John for taking on the challenge. This looks to be an exciting week on FCNow.

Add New Comment


  • Donna Steed

    I am a very good customer of the Starbucks store
    on Lake and LaSalle Streets in Chicago and not
    only go in there for coffee any more but for food.
    Lately, I have been very dissappointed. I usually
    buy the, what I call a French lunch, apples, grapes, a piece of Brie, three pieces of American
    cheese and three pieces of raisin bread. Well,
    now the American cheese is one fat piece, and the
    grapes are not fresh, they are soft. In fact, the
    grapes sold separately in a plastic container that
    I bought yesterday were almost all inedible. The
    wonderful Tuscan sandwich that I and friends love
    has a lot less chicken. Our newspapers yesterday
    said Starbucks aim is to have 40,000 stores in
    this country. I know you think that people won't
    change their habits once they start coming to your
    stores, but this is one customer that finds it easy to change habits if quality fails. This
    particular store I'm talking about, has an all time great manager in Molly Gray. I don't know if
    you are aware of that fact.

  • M. Horosny

    I've been a faithful starbucks customer since you moved into SE Fl., and before when I was in Seattle. I am very dissappointed in how service has changed., my favorite as close to me is on East Hallandale Beach Blvd., Fl., the help seems to change daily, never see manager around anymore., table, floors are always dirty., the help seems cannot make drinks correctly, could care less., yesterday I ordered my Mocha Granda., had to take it back twice., tasted like lukewarm water with a hint of mocha and cold. I asked nicely to make another., than I see they gave the same one back just put some whipped cream on top to cover up. guess they think the customers are idiots. last week had a cold caramel frapaciono so sickening sweet as all ice and too much syrup., Something is wrong as when this one opened same help was around for a long time., they were "good" and new their "job" as a stockholder I am getting scared as to this type of service continuing, the name Starbucks will go down with it. Could be a SE Fl things., than better check out who you emply and have managers around to make sure job is done correctly. never wrote a letter like this., but am still sick from what I had yesterday., cannot even work just want to throw up. I would love to hear your comments on this., as I myself am tired of listening to customers complain but no-one takes the time to complain to Starbucks., well, I just did.

  • Student CSUB

    How does a large service provider such as Starbucks learn to distinguish between potential customer catastrophies and standard customer complaints? This current situation sounds like a better reaction by the Starbucks headquarters than the reaction to the Starbucks "terrorist" case. This is a similar situation discussed in service marketing courses about a cappucino machine and a very irate customer.