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Customer Loyalty: How Fickle Are We, Really?

Yesterday I had a terrible customer service experience.

Yesterday I had a terrible customer service experience.

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I lost my Starbucks card, which has an automatic reload that is connected to my Visa card. Concerned that someone could charge up a storm at my expense, I called 1-800-STARBUC and asked to cancel my card. They assured me it was cancelled, and that I’d receive a credit for the $20 that had automatically reloaded and been charged to my Visa. It took 40 minutes on the phone to get to this point. And scarcely 5 minutes after I hung up the phone, I got an email saying they’d replaced — not cancelled — my card. When I called back to ask what happened, they said they didn’t know what I was talking about, that no refunds are ever issued, and I was stuck with the charges.

In that moment, I completely lost my loyalty to Starbucks. I normally go there every day — often more than once a day — for coffee, to use WiFi when on the road, for a quick snack if I’m hungry. I’m so loyal to Starbucks that I tried their “loyalty card,” until losing it made me realize it might be more hassle than it was worth. So it was surprising to me, shocking even, to realize that years of brand loyalty could be wrecked by just one negative interaction with the company.

Which raises an interesting question: are customer loyalty programs worth the money that companies pour into them? Indeed, does customer loyalty exist anymore, on even the most basic level? If one negative interaction (which, granted, took about an hour out of my day, was handled extremely rudely, and resulted in my being charged an extra $20) was able to turn off my years-long loyalty to Starbucks, then how deep was my loyalty to begin with?

I’ll be pondering this while I head out for my morning coffee…at Peet’s, down the street.

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