Starbucks customer service boot camp — McDonald’s surge redux?

Jeff Nolan — at one of my favorite blogs  Venture Chronicles — comments here on Howard Schultz closing down Starbucks for customer service re-training.  I wasn’t surprised to hear about this move, considering what Schultz had to say in the memo referenced in this WSJ article

Jeff was a bit down on the PR, but I had the exact opposite reaction w/r/t PR: that this action highlighted that they knew there was a problem and they take it seriously enough to close the business for a few hours.

As an old McDonald’s hand, I appreciated the “back to basics” approach.  When Ray Kroc, the founder of the McDonald’s we know, was asked about the menu in 25 years (roughly Y2K), he responded that “he didn’t know, but what ever it was we’d be the best at it.”  This and other moves by Schultz parallel what McDonald’s did a few years ago in its turnaround (behind Economist firewall), recovery, and surge.

It was very successful for MCD and I think it will be so for Starbucks.

8 Responses

  1. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Jason Rakowski

  2. Thanks, always nice to be someone’s favorite :)

    I actually think this is a good move on Starbucks part, but I still think that playing up the PR side of it runs the risk of making it look like a calculated marketing move and it opens the door for competitors who can simply say “we’re not saying Starbucks is struggling, they are saying it”.

    But at the end of the day the aspect that matters is what the customer experience was today. What Starbucks has done with this move is raise awareness of their customer service challenges for customers who might not have been paying attention to it. If the service was the same today as it was yesterday, well their customer sat could in fact go down.

    I applaud the move, I just wouldn’t have focused so much attention on it.

  3. Hi Jeff,
    I’m with you on the risk, especially about the post-boot camp service experience. My take is that the closing was aimed at the staff as much as the market. McDonald’s did this twice in my eight years and it was for big stuff (the big breakfast expansion and swapping out New Coke). You knew it was serious when the doors were shut.

    I’d normally be more concerned about this being a case of “The Founder Returns” or “Revenge of the Founder” — where the founder comes back with a wild hair or two he wants to pluck. Lord knows I’ve seen that in tech. But from his memo, Schultz appears to have a strong grasp of what is ailing Starbucks.

    Which is what you’d expect from an uber-founder (as we would say in Walldorf).


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