S is for… Starbucks

Posted on 24th April 2010 in Art/ Blog/ caffe nero/ coffee/ customer service/ review/ School Governor/ starbucks

Anyone who has kindly read C is for… Coffee, Cats and Caffe Nero will know that I have recently expressed my views about the differing levels of customer service that I have experienced in Caffe Nero and Starbucks.

A million years ago when I used to work in customer service I was taught to invite feedback, whether positive or negative as then you get the opportunity to: ‘turn every complaint into a compliment’

For this reason, I feel strongly about bad service and if I ever experience it, then I do like to the let the company in question know. Equally if I feel that I have received exceptionally good service I also like to let the company know – it does a person good to know that they are appreciated.

So I wrote C is for… Coffee, Cats and Caffe Nero as a way of acknowledging the great service I’d received at my local Caffe Nero. But then as I had made some less than complimentary comments about Starbucks I thought it only fair that I offer Starbucks the chance to see what I’d said.

I think it is true to say that I wasn’t really prepared for the events that followed!

After exchanging a couple of tweets, the Starbucks UK MD (nice American man called Darcy) rang me and said that he would arrange for the district manager to call me and arrange a meeting.

The meeting was set up for Tuesday 20th April and I duly went along to Starbucks, not really too sure what to expect.

OK – The Good Points

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by how seriously they took my concerns.

I was in Starbucks for about an hour and a half, which means that the district manager and the branch manager both gave up an hour and a half of their time just to speak to me.

I asked them all the questions that I had been given by the good people of twitter, they listened, made notes and answered them all.

They gave me a coffee at the start of the meeting (latte – with an extra shot of course) and about half way through a barista delivered a caffetiere with some different coffee in for us to ‘taste’. What was nice about that was that the branch manager had specifically selected the blend of coffee as it was one of their ‘bolder’ coffees because he had noted from my blog that I prefer strong coffee.

They were both very knowledgeable about Starbucks. After listening to the DM at length, I am also now very knowledgeable about Starbucks! The branch manager, in particular, came across as being genuinely concerned that he had an unhappy customer, which was quite touching.

They have a display of ‘local art’ on the wall, they see this as being of benefit to the community. I thought that was quite a nice touch.

And – The Bad Points

On Sunday 18th April I did a ‘secret squirrel’ visit to Starbucks with my family as I suddenly felt conscious that I hadn’t been in for a while and maybe it was lovely now….  However, we were served cold coffee, we weren’t offered any cutlery with our food, there was a broken plate on the floor and the staff were quite unattentive even though the place was very quiet. Also the upstairs was roped off, leaving only the downstairs tables and just one toilet available to customers.

I’m left a little confused as I felt a real sense of Starbucks being a ‘corporate’ enterprise and I wonder if that is why they are lacking the personal touch.

My Questions

1. Myself and people from various different towns on twitter feel that Starbucks is lacking cleanliness, especially in it’s toilets. They made a note of that and said they would feed it back to HO.

2. Is there a problem with your wifi as people have mentioned that they’ve found it very frustrating to buy a coffee, then sit down with their laptop only to find they can’t connect. The district manager did admit that this was a problem that Starbucks were currently experiencing, he said they are currently changing their service provider which will hopefully alleviate the problem.

3. Why are your drinks sometimes cold? Apparently the ‘flat white’ is meant to be served at an immediately drinkable temperature – in one gulp.

4. I have had cold latte before – is that because your milk isn’t hot enough, if so, could there be a risk of bacteria? They said the only way that could happen would be if a barista had steamed some milk for one customer and then let it sit and used it again for a subsequent customer rather than steaming more milk. The branch manager said he would speak to his staff to make sure this wasn’t happening.

5. Why don’t you have a full range of merchandise in all stores.Apparently merchandise is only available in larger or newly renovated stores. The district manager told me that Starbucks merchandise is quite collectable.

6. Why don’t you offer a loyalty scheme – like the Caffe Nero buy 10 coffees get 1 free scheme. The DM said categorically that Starbucks would never do a scheme like that.I said I thought that was a little short sighted and that the reward card is very popular and I couldn’t believe that it didn’t lose them customers. He did say that it was potentially a problem for them in the London branches.I have to say I felt he spoke quite derisively of the Caffe Nero loyalty scheme which surprised me.

7. Will your ‘proudly brew’ concessions ever do frappuccinos? The DM said that Starbucks will very soon be bringing out a massively extended range of products across the board including ice creams, shots in a can and many take away items.

8. On behalf of @nudieprincess I asked why in the Brighton store they often serve a latte with half a cup of froth. The DM told me that a latte should have no more than a quarter inch of froth. The BM said that if you are served a latte with much more froth than that then you should return it to the counter as ask for a fresh one. They also said you need to ask for a ‘wet’ one if you want no froth.

My Conclusion

I massively appreciate how much effort they took to listen to me. I am after all just one disgruntled customer in a sea of happy ones. When I left they gave me a couple of coffee samples from the Via range and a preloaded starbucks card (which I haven’t decided yet whether or not to use – I’m not sure if it would be hypocritical of me to use it?). This was nice of them but certainly not what I went there for.

What meant more to me was that the BM wrote down both his email address and mobile number and asked me to keep in touch. The DM asked me to ‘work with the BM’ and feedback after future visits to say whether I felt there had been improvements in the branch.

I went there thinking they would tolerate me, that they would listen for 10 mins, give me a coffee and then send me on my way. But they didn’t, and whether I like their coffee or not, whether I feel their branches could be cleaner or not, I cannot fault Mike and Carl for the way they handled my complaint and the fact that they both made me feel that they valued my opinion and had all the time in the world to listen.

I can’t say right now that I’m ready to ditch Caffe Nero, but I can say that Starbucks have an impressive reaction to customer complaints which is clearly led from the top – and the branch manager of my local Starbucks is a real asset to their company.

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  • Reply The Moiderer 24th April 2010 at 8:44 pm

    Thanx for asking my questions. I must say I have never experienced the cleanliness problem but clearly a few have. I always order a wet latte now because of the too much foam problem- especially when there are new staff. I have taken coffee back a few times but only because I know what’s right. If I wasn’t so familiar with how it should be I would never dare take it back!
    I have found Starbucks approach to customer service a deep routed philosophy throughout the organisation which is executed as well in the UK as is possible and very sub-standard to the US and Canada.

  • Reply mrsljhall 25th April 2010 at 9:27 am

    Thanks Dawn, I know we disagree on our coffee providers! I have to say customer service – from the top down – is faultless, until in my opinion you get to the front line. But that is probably just new staff and I am 100% sure the staff in this particular store will now be re-trained. I’ve never experienced a customer service reaction like it in my life! Thanks for commenting xx

  • Reply Naomi Richards 25th April 2010 at 1:13 pm

    Lisa, I like Starbucks because it does my favourite drink – frappucino but also I find they have always been polite and the cafe’s I have been to are clean. The staff are great with my kids and always give them mugfuls of babyccino and play games with them when it is quiet (not sure they are suppose to!)

    However, all is good until you go into central london and there are queues of people waiting for their drinks after they have ordered. You can wait ages to get your drink and then when you get it it is not what you ordered. This has happened to me a few times recently and when I complained they have given me vouchers for free drinks which of course I use in outer london. I think they honour the mistakes they make and do have fairly good customer service. I have been to ‘the others’ but they are just no ‘home’ to me. Good on you for the meeting, lets see what they do next.

    • Reply mrsljhall 25th April 2010 at 1:26 pm

      Hi Naomi – thanks for commenting. I think it differs massively store by store doesn’t it as really depends on the strength of the team in any individual store. Your local sounds like a good one x

  • Reply nudieprincess 26th April 2010 at 7:59 pm

    Thank you for this post (and for mentioning me, bless you). Though, I feel I should point out that I actually really like Starbucks *hangs head in Shame*
    That is to say, I like the taste of their coffee more than anyone elses. Only however, when it is made ‘correctly’. I can’t stand it when a latte arrives with an inch of foam, as I said to you- if I wanted a Cappuchino, I’d have asked for one. I have learned from experience to ask for a ‘wet’ latte and I always have an extra shot, because their coffee is weaker than other chains for some reason. That said, their coffee still tastes nicer than everyone elses. I don’t know why.
    I lived in London for a long time and obviously there are some great places to have coffee. The Monmouth Coffee Company being one such place. I still frequented Starbucks the most.
    On the subject of customer service, I’ve never found it to be a problem. They are the one chain that practically invite you to ask for your coffee the way you want it, mine’s a ‘Grande triple skinny wet latte’ by the way. When I worked at Great Ormond St, the Southampton Row branch nearest the hospital used to give us a 15% discount upon presentation of our ID badges. The manager in there also knew my ‘regular’.
    I do agree, however that the toilets don’t appear to be maintained as often as they should be. I really think they should have a loyalty card system too. The amount of money I have spent in there over the years, would also have amounted to a number of free coffees!
    Anyway (I have gone on for ages) my local coffee haunt these days is Caffe Nero. There are a few Starbucks in Brighton, but I actually live outside so don’t frequent them as much. I don’t have any complaints about my Caffe Nero as such, but as I don’t enjoy their lattes as much- I’ve developed a Caramelatte habit. So I’m implementing them in the increase in my girth of late……..:0)

    • Reply mrsljhall 26th April 2010 at 9:10 pm

      Aw you worked at Great Ormond St – like you even more now! (Don’t care if you were cleaner, vending machine filler or top surgeon!) From what the guys at Starbucks said to me they are planning a massive product launch this summer which should be interesting – think they are planning to take over the world! It’s all about taste at the end of the day and that’s why there is so much choice, viva la difference or some such bollox!
      Thank you for super duper reply x

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