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Learning about customer satisfaction from Starbucks.

One of my favorite noontime experiences is to visit my local Starbucks coffee shop in the Sheraton Hotel near my office in New Orleans. My city is well known for its dark, rich coffee, and many questioned whether Starbucks would find a niche in this tradition-bound town.

Not to worry. Starbucks is now bustling all over town. The coffee is unique and tasty, but it is not the only reason I like to visit each day. The place has energy and is well run. After awhile, being the marketer that I am, I began to take note of the details that make Starbucks special. There are the obvious ones, like big, comfortable chairs; soft, well-focused track lighting; well-planned merchandising; and other atmospheric accoutrements. But the real differentiators, in my mind, are those details related to the way the place is managed.

I began to notice that the baristas (not clerks or servers) began to recognize me--not by name but by my drink. Even when the lines were long, my barista would see me, acknowledge me with a smile and a mouthed, "Grande Iced Latte?" query. I would nod "yes," and somehow it would be ready before I arrived at the head of the line.

Even when the crowds were not there, the place was like a bee hive--Baristas lining up all of the brand labels in the cold display case like little soldiers; straightening up me chairs and tables; brushing up the muffin crumbs; and the like. While sitting there one day drinking my latte and watching the Starbucks hive, I heard a little buzz-buzz-buzz emanating from the creamer station. I looked closely and saw tiny little alarm clocks under the cream pitchers. My barista dashed over and exchanged all the cold cream containers with new ones. I stopped and ask what that was all about, and he explained that the creamers had to be changed out every hour to keep them fresh and that the alarms were reminders.

Wow, I thought, such attention to detail. How does Starbucks do this?

I got the answer to my question when I stumbled across a couple of other observed leads. One day I noticed a new barista reading a little green book. It looked like an old bank passbook, and I asked what it was. She told me it was the "Green Apron Book." And it was her "Bible." I asked where I could buy one, and she said, "Oh, they are not for sale. They are just for us." So, I went on e-Bay and bought one at auction. It was expensive, but illuminating in much the same way that the Ten Commandments are. Starbuck's baristas are not just employees, they are converts.

The Starbuck's quality-satisfaction loop was finally closed in my mind when I noticed on my receipt one day an invitation to go to a special Starbucks Web site and fill out a customer satisfaction survey on my experience that day. I would be given a coupon for a free muffin if I completed the survey. I did, expressing my complete satisfaction. The free muffin was great, too. I suspect my barista somehow also benefited from my expression of satisfaction.

L. Biff Motley, CFMP, is Senior Vice President Retail Banking and Marketing, Whitney Bank, New Orleans. He can be reached at (504) 586-3621.
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Title Annotation:Customer Satisfaction
Author:Motley, L. Biff
Publication:ABA Bank Marketing
Date:Dec 1, 2007
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