I usually start my day with a visit to my local Starbucks to enjoy a few Americanos while I confirm my plan for the day. I catch up on outstanding email, scan the local newspapers and skim the various online sources for interesting tidbits of information.
You see, Starbucks is my Third Place–it’s my office away from my office and my home away from home. I spend countless hours working, meeting, socializing and daydreaming at Starbucks.
I get the value proposition at the heart of the Starbucks brand experience–Rewarding Everyday Moments. It resonates with me.
I know that this experience is the result of the visionary leadership of Howard Schultz and an organizational culture and business practices that have nurtured this compelling promise of value for customers since the brand’s inception.
It can be found in the superior and customizable nature of the coffee and beverages, the quality of the pastries and sandwiches, the friendly and efficient service provided by the knowledgeable Baristas, and the elegant and comfortable in-store environments where you are most often surrounded by people like you. Well, not exactly like you, but close enough. We’re all kindred spirits that share a common affinity for Starbucks as our Third Place and relate to how the brand satisfies our functional, emotional and experiential needs.
I’m just not feeling it any more.
My affinity has turned to discontent. And, to be brutally honest, I would have to admit my discontent is quickly becoming anger.
The reason is the inadequate, or often non-existent, Wi-Fi in Starbucks locations in midtown and North Toronto over the last six months. This situation continues unabated even after numerous customer complaints. Why is there a lack of alacrity on the part of Starbucks Canada for fixing this problem? It makes no sense. It doesn’t fit the brand’s promise of a Third Place and Rewarding Everyday Moments? Wi-Fi and the access it provides to the Internet are integral to my ability to work effectively and to the enjoyment of my time at Starbucks. I know this to be true for other customers that share my discontent.
When Starbucks introduced Wi-Fi to its North American stores in July 2010, I, like many loyal patrons, cheered this leading initiative. It seemed such an obvious way to enhance the brand experience for customers in the face of more timid competition. Most customers soon found it to be an integral and invaluable part of their Starbucks experience.
Its been so successful that every major player in the Canadian Quick Service Restaurant industry, including McDonald’s and Tim Hortons, have now followed suit in providing Wi-Fi at their locations.
Given this competitive response it should be obvious to the leadership team at Starbucks Canada that Wi-Fi is no longer the differentiator it once was for helping to attract and keep customers. It is now simply table stakes throughout the industry. For Starbucks to deliver on its brand promise and be competitive in their industry, having Wi-Fi—a functioning, reliable Wi-Fi—is now a must. Which makes me ask again, why is the Starbuck’s management sluggish in responding to this issue?
This morning I left Starbucks after drinking only one Americano. I didn’t bother to stay for a second or third. There was no point. My goal for my visit had been utterly defeated yet again by the inadequate Wi-Fi. It was not exactly the Rewarding Everyday Moment I’d come to expect from this brand.
So what will I do tomorrow? I guess I do have other options. There is a Second Cup, a Timothy’s and a Tim Hortons all within walking distance in my neighbourhood and a McDonald’s is just a short drive away. All of them have Wi-Fi. Alternatively, I might start the day in my home office enjoying a delicious Americano, made by my Saeco Espresso machine, work, listen to morning radio, and skip the Starbucks experience altogether.
At the moment my affinity for Starbucks is damaged. It’s not enough for Starbucks to just earn my loyalty. They need to make every effort to sustain my loyalty by consistently delivering on their brand promise. And, in that, they have failed.
Starbucks and I can start dating again. But, for that to happen, it will have to resolve its WI-Fi issues, and then conceive a customer recovery strategy that includes a communications plan to inform disaffected customers about this resolution.
I’m just one customer, but I hope someone at Starbucks Canada is listening.