Will Starbucks rediscover their customer?

Howard Schultz , the founder and chairman of Starbucks, has returned to head the company as CEO. The press releases make it sound like he's leading a crusade, and I hope he is. Sure, the company has been growing rapidly, with revenues increasing at least 20% a year over 10 years, steadily rising profits, and an expanding global presence, but there increasingly seems to be something missing.

Mr. Schultz's stated goal is to help deliver a superior "Starbucks Experience". Here's a company that's swimming in profit, has become one of the brands, and now they want to start a customer service revolution. There's many places to get the "big picture" story, but for me the little picture is more interesting and more personal.

Why do I go to Starbucks?
This is a great question many of us can ask ourselves. Or, why do we frequent any establishment or buy any product? Are we even consciously aware of the reasons and are our reasons rational?

My reasons for going to Starbucks have definitely changed over the years. At first, it was the great coffee. There soon appeared many far superior options, so then it became their outstanding service. For a long time, they had me on that one. I was a "regular" at a local Starbucks where they knew my name and knew my order.

Over the past few years that has changed a bit and now I go to Starbucks because its convenient and the habit is ingrained in my brain. But they definitely feel more corporate, and I definitely don't feel like a regular. I guess I should have seen the writing on the wall when they stopped displaying the daily horoscopes and a barista told me it was a "corporate" decision. We all know that corporate and astrology don't mix, and Starbucks was definitely feeling more corporate.

Where do I go now?
It's a fun exercise to re-think why you are loyal to a brand. You just may find, as I did, that there are better options out there. As a customer service professional, my first thought is service, so I now have five places I go for coffee instead of one. That may seem a lot more complicated, but it actually seems to have made things easier for me. Here are my coffee house favs:

  • Best Local - The Living Room. There are a few of these, but mine is near San Diego State University. They have comfy couches and overstuffed tables, coffee is served in big mugs, they offer free wi-fi, and I'm pretty sure they have a policy that all employees must have at least one visible tattoo or piercing. Isn't that what a coffee house is supposed to be like?
  • Best For Meetings - Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. This growing chain feels like Starbucks used to feel. Their coffee is good, they have plenty of locations (at least in Southern California), their stores are comfortable, and the staff is friendly.
  • Best for Lunch - Panera. Panera has great sandwiches and free wi-fi, so this is a great place for a working meeting or casual lunch. Oh, and their coffee is very good too.
  • Best Coffee - It's a Grind. I love It's a Grind, especially their iced coffee. I really loved the one in downtown San Diego, but a few of their key people left, so we'll see if they can sustain the service.
  • Because it's there - Starbucks. I'm not anti-Starbucks, and they are awfully convenient.
So, why do you choose a brand? Or, what do you go to Starbucks? Better yet, why do your customers choose you? And, are you giving them any reasons to reconsider?