Starbucks Working to Bridge the Customer Gap

Let’s face it. For people involved in a brick-and-mortar business (both customers and employees), the concept of participatory social media is at first a little weird. There appear to be two reasons for this:

  1. It’s new. Any brick-and-mortar business’s community has grown accustomed to interacting in-person. The idea of conversing online with people from a physical business is new and at first a little weird.
  2. It goes against 200 years of history. For all of our talk about “transparency” and “social justice,” most of us are still grandchildren of the industrial revolution, which told businesses that customers are pawns to be manipulated and told customers that businesses cannot be trusted.

And yet social media is clearly an important part of many marketing strategies – even for brick-and-mortar businesses. So to get social media going within a customer community, it is clear that a business must make over-the-top efforts to undo that history. Starbucks is an example of one company that seems to have successfully bridged the gap between their brick-and-mortar business and online social media push with the launch of – which currently has over 55,000 customer-submitted ideas for product, service and company improvements.

Reaching Out With Abandon
In March of 2008, Starbucks kicked off the campaign to reach out to customers. I wrote about the initial media reaction earlier in the year, but thought it might be interesting to see some of the methods they used to bridge the gap between their in-store customers and a social media site. The important thing to note, in my opinion, is that Starbucks went full steam ahead to overcome 200 years of divided history in order to convince their customers that they were really interested in their feedback by placing banners, suggestion cards, and even signs on the trash barrels – one of which was photographed by a friend of mine. I’ve included the photo here (click on it to see the writing):

starbucks_idea_1Additionally, they let their employees know that they ought to promote the effort by letting customers know. Now to be clear, at the outset a lot of industry pundits were cynical about the effort, as i presume were customers who were stuck in the industrial revolution mindset. “Is Starbucks really looking for my idea – or is this just some sort of an advertising ploy?” But still the company persevered with their campaign despite the detractors.

Reporting Back the Results
Starbucks then began to answer the questions of detractors pretty directly by reporting back the ideas that had been implemented both online and in-store. A photo example of this was captured by , reporting in-store that a community-generated idea for a loyalty card had been implemented. Since then, there have been hints that a number of popular ideas are being considered or are coming soon on the site as well.

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