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I see that founder Howard Schultz is returning as CEO to Starbucks and have some advice for him. All good brands are relationships, not just products, and Starbucks’ relationship with me and millions of other people has gone from amazing to awful.
I went into the big Starbucks on the route to work in NYC today—and left within five seconds. The single line was huge and looked like a 10-minute wait for me. The Starbucks employees, with their fancy headgear, were looking at each other and not the customers. I thought, for a microsecond, I’m going to feel like a sausage on an assembly line, waiting, talking to people not paying attention, then waiting again. And for what? A cup of coffee? It was all so transactional. I don’t need Starbucks for that.
Now contrast that to a recent trip I had to Portland, Oregon where I had a wonderful, now-traditional Starbucks experience at a small store. Employees were friendly, they knew all their customers (except me) from the neighborhood, didn’t wear the microphone headgear, looked at you. They made a relationship with the customer, even walk-ins. That I like. I stayed, ordered food, ran up the bill, my friend flipped open his computer, we stayed a while. Good.
It’s the kind of experience I always have at Peets in Portland.
So you still have a chance, Howard. In your company’s race to make more money, it is sacrificing its relationship with customers and eroding its brand value. That relationship, not new products, is what will make or break your company. So bring back my Starbucks experience in NYC, OK?
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