Every business is a service business.

We apply the tools that make service businesses stronger through better strategy, innovation, marketing and day-to-day management.

Thank you for joining the conversation.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Everyone's a critic. (and a fan)

A friend asked me what I thought of the mystarbucksidea site. Never wanting to miss an opportunity to make my opinion public on a service question, I’m posting my response.

Customer listening posts are critical in any business, but even more so in a service business. The core offering is intangible, comprised of a process performed in full view by front line employees, and requires customer input in order to be successful.

Listening post opportunities are everywhere – traditional satisfaction and customer value research, customer service organizations themselves, front line sales and service employees, are all examples, though few companies capture knowledge from each.

A listening post will have positive customer impact if it provides customers with fair treatment – a simple, visibly legitimate outlet to voice their concerns and a quick response that is adequate to their level of dissatisfaction. This is the case regardless of whether the company actually uses the data they collect. (Though we would hope they would)

Mystarbucksidea achieves this objective.

The feedback process is easy, and if you miss it, Starbucks lays it out graphically. Users sign up by opening a starbucks.com account (also opening them up to future marketing opportunities) and leave “their starbucks idea” – anything from a complaint to a new service improvement or merchandise idea. With a lot of loyal followers, Starbucks’ customers have taken the offer up by the thousands – enough that starbucks has categorized the commentary by various categories of product variety & quality, service process and physical environment.

But, you don’t have to leave your suggestion to be heard. You can opt to show up and vote on the validity of other peoples’ ideas with a simple thumbs-up / thumbs-down selection. In this way starbucks shows procedural fairness by making every suggestion public and letting the customer base vote on which ones are most valid. Disagree with the comment that starbucks baristas should be able to have their tattoos visible during working hours? Vote the suggestion down, and the customer has to eventually recognize that they aren’t in the majority. (Incidentally, another reason why service businesses are more complex than product businesses. Think Steve Jobs has visibility of employees’ tattoos filter up to him as an area of customer concern?)

Customers are also encouraged to “discuss” their and others’ ideas through a mediated open forum, creating another source of fairness, while putting some of the corporate empathy burden back onto the customer base.

Finally, Starbucks showcases the most popular ideas, and those where they’ve taken action. This closes the loop on a clear process for launching a complaint / suggestion, having it vetted against the opinions of other customers, allowing for open discussion eventually resulting in change on Starbucks part.

My guess is, not every popular idea is put into force, (Starbucks customers come up with a lot of reasons that a free drink is ‘merited’) but the process is simple and has a high level of perceived fairness.

If they’re mining the suggestions for the next service experience improvement, all the better (my guess is that they are). If not, the site still serves as an outstanding listening post.

No comments: