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March 25, 2008

Starbucks embraces customers' input

by Charlene Li

Today I tried out Starbucks' new customer feedback and idea generation site at mystarbucksidea.com, which is powered by Salesforce Idea (it's the same product that's behind Salesforce's own Idea Exchange and Dell's Ideastorm).  Josh and I feature these two sites in our Groundswell book, as an example of how a company can execute an "embracing" objective.

On these sites, people like you and me can "share" an idea. Then other people can "vote" for them, and the ideas with the most votes float to the top.  People can "discuss" an idea by adding comments, and  finally, to close the loop, Starbucks will provide feedback and status reports on the most promising ideas.

The results: Starbucks "launched" the site on March 19th. The top idea as of today is for Starbucks to offer a "punch card" to provide a frequency discount or free drinks. It has 29,410 points, which means that 2,914 people have voted for it (each vote counts as 10 points). The site's "Ideas In Action" section has a post (sorry, no permalink!) has an entry on March 24th saying that this particular idea is being reviewed and will be incorporated into the Starbucks Card Reward program.

The reason why I was so intrigued with the Starbucks site is that I'm a loyal user of Starbucks, so I have plenty of ideas on how they can improve their service. Just how much do I use Starbucks? It's my default place to work on weekends (the empty office is too depressing and having spouse/kids at home is a recipe for non-work) and my remote office when I'm traveling. As a result, I know where the electrical outlets are at all of my local Starbucks and bring along an extension cord. I also have a list of Starbucks stores bookmarked on my phone browser.

What's impressive is that I'm feeling more connected with other Starbucks fans, especially those craving healthier breakfasts, automatic ordering with my Starbucks card (mine is a simple Grande decaf), and my pet peeve, more power outlets.

But Starbucks, please don't let this engagement end! I want to subscribe to your Ideas in Action "blog" via RSS so that I can find out more about what's new -- and to see if my favorite ideas are being implemented. I want to comment on your blog too, to let me know that I'm happy/not happy about your future decisions. Close the loop, and you've not only got me hooked, but I'll walk the extra block in NYC or drive the extra mile to go to you rather than another coffee house.

Update: It hit me that I'd like to know your experience with Starbucks Ideas. What do you like/don't like about it, and more importantly, what brands/companies would you like to see adopt something similar? I'm curious to see if you would participate and contribute more to personal, consumer brands like Starbucks, or if there's also an affinity to business-oriented companies like Salesforce.


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Brick Marketing

This is a brilliant idea by Starbucks and far more companies should take after this model! Social Media is taking over!

neil blecherman

I'm a big fan of Dell Ideastorm. The ideas are (mostly) interesting but the customer engagement and crowd effect make the site powerful. It's much more than a "suggestion box" with limited feedback and dialog. Supermarkets like Whole Foods could use this to look into new products and store service. Television shows could use this for story development, like "Blog Cabin".


I love the idea and immediately felt i had to contribute (which I did). But looking at all the post I was dissapointed with the number of original ideas, maybe the good ones are taken of as soon as they are posted ;-) It came down to 2 major ideas: a loyalty card and free Wifi. You don't need this platform to come up with this, do you? And to answer your question, yes I think it is relevant for any brand, product , service or whatever. If you have passionate customers they will contribute and you have passionate customers for any product or service, wheter it is B2B or B2C, no?


Great write up Charlene. One thing I'd point out is that when creating these types of communities it is not enough to put up a site and hope for the best. Starbucks did a great job seeding the community with ideas they had gotten from surveys, they showed strong executive sponsorship with Howard Schultz announcing it at the shareholders meeting, they marketed it in stores and through email, and they created a formalized review process and customer communication strategy. Hopefully other companies will see how powerful these types of communities are and follow Starbucks’ lead.


I think it's great that a company is seeking feedback, however I think Starbucks is not a helpful organisation - quite simply because of how much of a premium it charges for a coffee that actually costs a fraction to provide. Not to mention their questionable ethical record. Every company needs to make a profit - but there's a point when they're just plain greedy.


Charlene, I've been watching the Starbucks site since it started, and I think that it's an admirable effort in your category of Embracing. It's not a great Listening solution in that there doesn't seem to be much real insight in the "electronic suggestion box" mode. I wonder how Starbucks feels about the comments and I'd BET that they are looking at everything and saying, "I knew that already", etc. The advice is pretty standard and repetitive and it would not fall under the category of deep insight. Re engagement, if Starbucks were smart, they would have launched the site last week and by now, they would have announced when loyalty cards will be out.


Interesting article about Starbucks: http://beagleresearch.typepad.com/beagle_research/2008/03/automating-the.html

Josh Bernoff

The key with these idea communities is: is the company listening? If Starbucks doesn't act on these suggestions this will backfire; if it does, this will be brilliant.

Becky Carroll

From reading several blog posts on this subject since the launch of MyStarbucksIdea, many seem to feel this is merely a PR move for Starbucks. I think we should applaud an organization that wants to better engage with its customers. I wonder which goals Starbucks had with this idea? I have assumed it was for some combination of listening as well as co-creating products with Starbucks.

The main ideas right now seem to be those that Starbucks already knew existed (free "loyalty" drinks and free WiFi). Perhaps once Starbucks gets past the long-desired customer wants, the conversation will broaden.


I must agree with Diane. If Starbucks really wants to make this work, they need to ACT.

I drink Caribou Coffee. I am not a Starbucks drinker for several reasons.
1) Pay for Wifi, no WAY! Caribou is Free
2) The grade of bean at Caribou is higher. This translates into a bitter taste for regular Starbucks drinkers but you get used to it and then will want to throw your Starbucks away!
3) Caribou grinds their beans immediately before brewing. The lucky Starbucks employee who gets there at 4 am gets the chore of grinding the beans for the entire day. That’s fresh! (Direct information from Starbucks employees)
4) Caribou has www.cariboucoffee.com/BuyMoreGetMore you get $$ back on your card! Similar to a frequent buyer program however I like the idea of seeing $ put back on my card!
5) Caribou gives free drinks on your birthday. Just need an I.D. I was able to get 2 since the evening shift had different people from the morning shift ;-)
6) Lastly, their traditional means of customer service is working perfectly. Recently, I tried to use a “coupon” I received in my email via my blackberry. The young person behind the register wasn’t sure about accepting my “Customer Appreciation buy one drink get a second free” coupon from my Blackberry since their process was to staple the coupon to the receipt. I called customer service, told them I refused to PRINT the coupon (how un-green) and THAT very night, when I returned to the store, the Manager asked if I had my Blackberry. She then informed me that they changed their process and would now accept my “coupon” via my Blackberry.

So...my question...is MyStarbucksIdea really social media? If it was, frequent buyer cards would already be in stores. Or is it a PR stunt? They sure got you, Charlene, to write about it. Or better yet, a customer service tool?

Vectorpedia (Rick)

I do hope Starbucks get back to basics which made them a superior company......its too bad they didn't listen to their customers two years ago.

Rodney Rumford

charlene. i have used the site last week. i contributed 3 seperate ideas. while it is good in concept the execution could be far better. there is no easy way to find you suggestions and see how they did in the vote count. there are multiple suggestions that are they dame (they should use something more digg style let shows you similar stories before you submit yours).

there is no way to vote down (digg style) bad ideas.

the fact that the page displays limited ideas and you always have to reload is areal poor user experience.

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