How Starbucks is using customer feedback to improve business results

The other day I received a great email from one of my favorite companies, Starbucks.

What are they doing that is so cool and innovative? A year or so ago, Starbucks launched an incredibly powerful service on their website called “my starbuck’s idea”. Just think of how bold of move this was. They understood just how passionate their customers are and they were willingly to hand over “control” of the company’s future to their customers.

Over the last year, they’ve been listening and making a lot of changes and improvements based on the feedback they received. They took this whole thing another step further – the Starbuck’s team posted the ideas online and allowed their customers to vote and comment on each other’s ideas. The ones that garnered a lot of feedback and responses were the ones the company took seriously and implemented. Talk about a great use of the “social web.”

But they didn’t stop there. Once they launched ideas, they talked about them (on their blog) and gave credit to the customers who gave them the idea. This is an amazing marketing tool, both for the innovations that came out of the process and the way they have made their loyal customers feel that much more involved in the Starbuck’s culture. This is another great example of a company that has figured out how to build community and manage customer relationships in an incredibly powerful and meaningful way.

At the heart of this issue is an interesting debate. I have heard and read a number of comments about why listening to customers does not work. Seth Godin talks about his all the time in his books. Allow me to paraphrase him for a second, ‘It is futile to listen to customers because they invariably won’t tell you anything new. They might offer you a critique or two about your business, but it will rarely lead to innovation. This is because consumers are inherently irrational and they do not know what they want.’ I am a big fan of Godin’s and though I understand what he is getting at when he talks about consumers this way, I think he actually misses on this one. It’s actually pretty arrogant to think that we, as marketeers, are the only ones who are innovative. Customers who are passionate about a brand will innovate. They will innovate and help you build a better business out of the love they have for your company. Just look at what Starbucks has done with their business model.

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