I’ve been a loyal Starbucks customer for years. My affection and love for Starbucks runs so deep that I even worked for the company for a few years after college. It was during my stent as a Starbucks Partner that the value of connecting with every individual customer was ingrained into me. Greeting the customer within seconds of stepping in the door, writing names on cups, and engaging in conversation while crafting each drink are all expectations Starbucks has for each of it’s Partners so that the hallmark of the company remains legendary customer service and a welcoming, third place environment.
Yesterday during a visit to the Gervais Street Starbucks here in Columbia, SC I was jolted by a change in my normal Starbucks routine. After the Partner (who honestly had the personality of a wet paper bag) rang my order into the POS system, a sticker printed near the espresso machine. The sticker had my drink order nicely printed on it. I asked the Barista if she wanted my name to write on the cup. She told me no, that Starbucks has decided to do away with writing names on cups and marking cups by hand and that going forward Starbucks will use a label maker to mark each cup. I questioned the change and asked if Howard Shultz is aware that one of the distinguishing factors of his company is being eliminated. I was then told that the label maker and no longer writing names on cups is Starbucks’ latest idea to make them a more efficient and profitable company.
Since that experience I’ve contacted Starbucks’ corporate office as well as the District Manager. Both have assured me that Starbucks as a whole has not changed the policy regarding cup marking. By the end of my conversation with the District Manager, I was being offered a job at a new store opening soon. (Guess my passion for the company is a bit high.)
So why do I care so much about names on cups? Without taking the time to connect with each customer (including writing names on cups), engaging in conversation, and creating a hospitable environment, Starbucks is nothing more than a glorified McDonalds. I believe there is power in knowing a person’s name. For many, their daily trip to Starbucks may be the only time their name is ever spoken during the day or they’re asked “how are you doing.” And while the conversation may be surface level, I believe there’s a since of community and belonging that’s formed during repeated Starbucks visits. I do however realize Starbucks is a for profit business and names on cups and their “third place” methods are part of a greater business model, but for years these values and practices are what has distinguished the company from it’s competitors and created a loyal customer base.
This morning I decided to take my business elsewhere. There’s a new locally owned coffee shop called Drip, located in Five Points. Maybe it’s selfish, but I’d rather take my business to a locally owned business that values the consumer. In my mind I hear the old Cheers theme song…
Sometimes you want to go—
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
7/25/11 Update: My post has caused much chatter/debate/yelling/kicking/cussing/conversation at StarbucksGossip.com and StarbucksMelody.com. I tend to side with the views expressed on StarbucksMelody.com: “The heart of the Starbucks Experience must be preserved. I am not actually stating whether there should or should not be handwritten drink cups. That’s not the relevant conversation. The relevant conversation is ‘Does this affect the experience?’ and ‘how, when, and why can label makers be introduced or should they be introduced at all into the stores?’ Looking back to the thoughts on the yardstick we measure ourselves by, ‘how would you feel if you walked into 1912 Pike Place (the original Starbucks) and the partner slapped a drink label on the cup?’