One customer wants Starbucks to make ice cubes out of coffee so when they melt they won’t dilute
cold drinks; 7,660 fellow customers agree. Another wants the chain to
install shelves in restrooms—where else can you put your drink when
you’ve drunk too much? Although some customers are repelled by that
suggestion, Starbucks thinks it’s a "sleeper idea" worth considering.
More than 10,000 Starbucks fans wish for something to plug the hole in
lids to prevent sloshing. Starbucks listened and just introduced
reusable "splash sticks" to do that.
Starbucks wasn’t the first to try such a thing.
[Starbucks CEO Howard] Schultz is following in the footsteps of Michael Dell, who also returned to his troubled namesake, Dell Inc., a year earlier and launched IdeaStorm.com to gather and act on
customers’ ideas. Dell has implemented a score of suggestions,
including the introduction of computers running Linux instead of
It’s an interactive process, in which Starbucks takes an active role.
Starbucks’ chief added "idea partners"—48 specially trained employees
who act as hosts of the discussion. The idea partners also act as advocates for customers’ suggestions
back at their departments, so that "customers would have a seat at the
table when product decisions are being made," [Starbucks CTO Chris] Bruzzo says.
Idea partners also view the comments posted online as a laboratory.
They push back on ideas, telling customers what has been tried and
hasn’t worked. For example, some customers want express lines for
brewed coffee orders, as opposed to the half-caf, skinny, extra-foam
pumpkin lattes that seem to take longer to order than to make or drink.
But the idea partner said that hasn’t worked because of the layout of
And therein lies the rub. Connecting with customers is good. Getting ideas from customers is good. Acting on them is even better, even if it means telling the customer that their idea is off the wall.
But just remember, customers aren’t the only people that read online suggestion forums. That information is a treasure trove of ideas and analysis that only a high-priced research group could produce. Which is why I’m betting that every corner coffee shop from my favorite down the street to Starbucks arch-rival Peet’s is also checking the Starbucks suggestion forum. If they aren’t they should be.
Is it still worth it to Starbucks? Probably. Just don’t lose site of the fact that you are truly sharing.