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Brands We Love To Hate Making A Play For Our Hearts

March 24th, 2010 10 Comments

If I have a choice, I will buy my coffee anywhere but Starbucks.  Even the gas station (which actually has a decent cinnamon drip).  But I have to admit the cookie-cutter coffee house really saved my tail today, AND I learned a few tricks they’re employing to actually reach out and show me they care about my business.

Let me tell you the scenario first.

I went to Empire Cafe (a cute coffee house in Houston) to set up shop on this dreary day, enjoy a decent coffee, and get some work done.  To my surprise, actually more like SHOCK, they didn’t have Wifi.  I found this out 15 minutes before I needed to be on Skype for a call.

So I raced over to the nearest Starbucks, ordered a coffee, and inquired about Wifi, which STILL isn’t free (in the US).  Seriously?!  Yes, businesses are still trying to scrape an extra couple of bucks off of our necessity to be connected.

Because it was three minutes until my call, I would have gladly paid, but the barista offered a better solution.

“You know, if you register a Starbucks RED card, you get free wifi with any of your purchases.  They say you only get two hours, but I’ve heard it actually can last up to a day or two.  And, you get free syrup, soy, and refills, even if there is no money left on the card, but you have it in your possession.”

Huh, that’s cool. So I put $20 on the card to pay for future lattes.  Seconds later he saw my iPhone and said, “Oh, you have AT&T, then your wifi is free anyway.  I’ll refund the card if you want.”

Let’s review, Starbucks and AT&T, two of the most annoying brands of the decade, are taking initiative to satisfy their customers BEFORE we complain.  I’m impressed.

I’ll still choose the coffee house over SB and Verizon when they finally get the iPhone.  Unfortunately their strategy isn’t strong enough to outweigh the burned beans and dropped calls, but I think it’s notable they’re coming around.  And, I’m excited to save a dollar when I order my short double soy latte.

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  • Patrick

    Cool idea. The wifi should be free to all considering their prices. It’s nice that they are trying out new programs to make the consumers happy.

    What’s your desktop background of?

  • Jessica

    I worked at Starbucks for 5 yrs and have some counter points:
    -I believe Sbux has some sort of contract with AT&T, which is why the wifi isn’t free for evryone. I think they see the errors in limiting themselves like this and I would be very surprised if they don’t open it up to everyone when their contract runs out.
    -Their mission statement places an emphasis on customer service above all else. If there’s anything you want them to do (make a drink again, cut up a sample of a pastry for you to try, etc.) they are required to “just say yes”- it’s their policy. Your story is a wonderful example of an employee who was doing his job well.
    -Starbucks intent is not necessarily to compete with small “mom and pop” coffee houses, but rather to provide a sense of consistancy for people. For example: someone, like yourself, who travels a lot might feel homesick and exhausted and sick of trying to track down bits of home to make their travels a little nicer. Whichever Starbucks location you walk into, worldwide, will have baristas trained in exactly the same manner on how to make your double short soy latte. It should always taste exactly the same.
    -Kind of unrelated (and I can’t speak for AT&T), but I truely believe Starbucks is a great company. Among other things, they treat their employees very well (full-coverage health insurance and 401(k) with matching even for part-timers), and ALL of their coffee is certified fair-trade. You may think it tastes burnt, but there are plenty of people out there who love it, and the small-time farmers who benefit from Starbucks business probably love it, too.

    Just adding my two cents. ;)

    • Thanks for your insight Jessica.

      I definitely see the value in Starbucks and admire their growth and appreciation for their employees.

  • jj

    This is pathetic–your SECOND Starbucks ad post in one week. So you have struck a deal with them too or are you trying to? Is this just turning into another ads-y site? Very transparent, Mary. If this site is all about “you,” you’re insulting your reader’s intelligence by putting up these empty posts that are all your hookups, while pretending they’re not. Did you get your free apple fritter yet?! SIGH.

    • I wish! But no, the ole SB just happens to be in my life these days.

      As are you. Still here making negative comments. Go forth in the world and do something you enjoy!

  • Janie

    Mary, tell me you aren’t conducting business in public places. There is nothing more annoying than taking a break (from a real job) and trying to read or collect your thoughts in a place like Starbucks, only to have someone yelling into their phone (or trying to web chat?!?!) right next to you. I mean, it’s just awful. And kind of unprofessional.

    • First of all, everyone uses Starbucks as an office. Secondly, as you can see in my post, Starbucks was not my first choice. The Empire Cafe has an empty dining room during off hours that I planned on taking my call in.

  • Janie

    If “everyone” jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?

    Your response makes it sound like you have permission to use the empty dining room at Empire so as not to disturb the patrons. Yet you didn’t know they didn’t have wifi? Are you a regular patron or not? Come on.

  • jj

    Mary, you got to face it. The vast majority of your comments are negative. Check it out, it’s all on full display. The haters hang out. It doesn’t take much time out of my day–trust me–your content is that empty, that it takes me about a few seconds of scanning. And then, yes, I go out and do what I enjoy. Which, trust me, is more exciting than hanging out in Houston Starbucks, writing this kind of crud.

  • Anne

    As a former SB employee myself, I second Jessica’s comments. Their emphasis is on customer service and providing a sense of consistency. Also, having worked at Mom and Pop coffee shops, Starbucks treats their customers 500% better, at least in my experience. As I understand, this has been their policy since the business started in 1979, and through the crap economy they still provided benefits to part time employees when everyone was telling them not to. Albeit, to a loss of jobs and closing of stores, but that conversation is for another post.

    To Janie, I understand your frustrations with people yelling in their phone, conducting meetings, etc. And I think Starbucks gets it too. That is one main reason Starbucks requires customers to pay for wifi. At least when I was still working there less than a year ago. They wanted consistent turn around in the lobby area that didn’t consist of hangers on, or people making Starbucks their full time office and thus scaring away loyal and/or potential customers. I mean, in all of their employee training packets it was phrased with more tact. :) And, it is a philosophy that never made much sense, as obviously, they provide consistent customers with incentives like free wifi. In this way though, I do think SB is very well aware of its customers, its industry (hell, it built the industry in America), and I think they try to make things work for everyone.