THE BLOG

How Starbucks Turned me into a Brand Ambassador

10/01/2012 12:17 EDT | Updated 12/01/2012 05:12 EST
AP
In this Thursday, July 12, 2012, photo, a cup of Starbucks coffee sits outside a shop in Cambridge, Mass. Starbucks Corp. reports quarterly financial results after the market closes on Thursday, July 26, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

As an entrepreneur, I am always looking for my newest inspiration, something to continually improve the way I'm doing things and to differentiate my business from those in my industry. This is what entrepreneurs do, we are constantly evolving and adapting.

What may come as a surprise though, are the sources from which we learn the most. I tend to be inspired by topics and businesses that have absolutely nothing to do with my industry. I subscribe to science magazines because whenever a task seems too overwhelming, I read about the universe and its complex organisms and how long it took to sequence the human genome (yes, I'm a bit of a geek) and all of the sudden the marketing program I have to work on no longer seems insurmountable.

I love walking through stores and analyzing how they have thought through the customer experience even though my clients rarely require a visit to my offices. Business books are also a great source of information and for me, in fact, they are perhaps too effective. I often find that I can only get through one or two chapters before I have found an idea in the book that I want to immediately implement. I then leave the book to work on the idea and never end up finishing the book. It's a vicious circle, yet proof that inspiration can come from anywhere.

For me, the quintessential source of inspiration comes from where I start every morning, and that place is Starbucks. It has nothing to do with my business model and yet it is a business model that I love to emulate. If you are not a fancy coffee kind of person and don't know what I'm talking about, splurge on the $4 latte and write it off as market research.

From the moment you step through the doors, you know Starbucks has done it right. From the aroma of the coffee and desserts, to the sound of the coffee beans being ground, the experience hits you before the door has swung closed behind you. There are learning opportunities at every corner. Everything is designed to make you feel cozy, to make you want to visit often and to get you hooked. Yes, you can get addicted to a coffee house but caffeine addiction is not my topic here, it's Brand addiction.

I am a Starbucks Brand Addict because they have created an environment and a brand that has me hooked. From the cashier who has punched in my order before I've uttered a word to the app on my phone that tracks my rewards. It's the barista that knows I like my Americano Misto extra hot, and my Petite Vanilla Bean scones that are always ready and waiting for me. The couches that invite me to hang there every Friday morning at 7:15 with my kids for our Friday ritual, and the overall environment that provides me with a relaxing place to go finish work that I feel I can no longer accomplish in my office.

It's my go-to place to hang out with my girlfriends over coffee and it's my hang out joint while I'm waiting for my kids to finish karate and gymnastics. Yes, I do have a full time home, but Starbucks is like my summer home only without mortgage payments.

My point? Yes, I actually have one... Here are some ways that Starbucks is doing it right and how you can learn from their holistic approach to the customer experience:

Starbucks took me into consideration when designing their store experience. They designed it around my wants and needs.

Lesson Learned: Take your customer into consideration when creating your product or service experience, get their feedback, build it around giving them the best possible experience.

Starbucks considered that I likely have many choices when buying my coffee and that my experience with them would have to be unique in order to justify their price points.

Lesson Learned: You need to stand out from your competition, so offer something that no one else has or simply make sure you do everything better.

They considered that even though the coffee might take longer to make, watching the barista grind the beans and prepare your fresh coffee is part of the experience and is worth the wait.

Lesson Learned: Listen to your potential client and hear what they have to say! A well thought out and customized proposal that directly addresses their needs will help them understand that you care about their project and are in it with them for the long haul.

Starbucks knows that I might want to spend some time there relaxing so they have set up comfortable seating for me and provided me with free wi-fi.

Lesson Learned: Throw in some bells and whistles at no cost because your clients want to know that it's not just about the money but that you have a vested interest in seeing them succeed. It's your opportunity to really wow them and stand out from the crowd.

They have set up rewards that don't take me a lifetime to accumulate but that give me what I want for free without stipulations. Large latte, muffins, scones etc. Whatever I want is free with my rewards. They even take the time to remember me on my birthday and send me a free drink certificate.

Lesson Learned: Create a Loyalty program with tangible, attainable rewards for your best customers. Discounts and referral programs are the simplest forms of loyalty programs but there are many creative ways to design something the works for your business. Loyal customers help grow your business, they are VIPs and deserve to be rewarded as VIPs.

The number one lesson learned, and what Starbucks has done rather ingeniously, is create a Brand Ambassador out of me without me even knowing it. I tweet about my favourite drinks, I post on my Facebook wall about my mornings at Starbucks with the kids and I make plans to meet up with friends there whenever I can.

They have subtly created the most effective form of advertising out of me, a walking billboard. The most clever part of this? Instead of paying me for that, I'm paying them every morning! Ingenious? I'm pretty sure they have the market cornered on that word.