12th August 2008

WOM @ my local Starbucks…

posted in Uncategorized |

One of those fundamentals in WOM is creating stories that inspire people to talk.  Often times this comes down to doing the unexpected - which is generally unexpected because the “front lines” just aren’t empowered to do much beyond execute on their function. 

Today, I’m grabbing some laptop time in a local Starbucks and took a table very near where the baristas are working - only table available near an outlet of course:)

As I’m setting up I hear, and then watch, the following transaction.  A guy orders and pays for a grande iced latte.  When the latte is called out at the bar, he takes it and I hear the following:

Guy:  “Is this a grande?  I thought they were bigger than that.” 

Barista:  “Yes, that’s the grande, the venti is the even larger one.” 

Guy:  “Oh, ok.” - no frustration, just simple acknowledgement.

Barista:  “Would you like me to make that a venti?”

Guy:  “Ummm…you can do that?”  (he almost looked guilty, like he shouldn’t say yes - he got what he ordered after all)

Barista:  “Sure, not a problem.” 

She takes the drink back, then a second later, she hands it the orginal grande back to him.

Barista:  “Here, you can just give this to someone if you’d like, I’ll make a new one that is a venti.”

Guy:  “Really, ok, sorry for the trouble”

Barista:  “No trouble at all’

Guy approached me and asked if I wanted the free grande… nope, I have one already, but he took his new “WOM object” with him out of the store:)  I’m pretty certain he’ll tell this story a few times today.

Now it’s gonna be pretty tough to attach any metrics to this, but I thought it was a good moment and a simple reminder of the opportunity every company has to create the conditions for WOM by empowering their front line employees.  I think we can be pretty confident the barista never went to a WOM class.  Many companies have large populations of employees who touch many customers every day at retail, in customer service, in the support org, at their conferences, online, etc…I wonder how often those critical roles are forgotten in the grand plan for creating a WOM campaign.  It’s a shame that so many call centers in particular are seen as cost centers to operationalize instead of the WOM machines they could be.


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There are currently 13 responses to “WOM @ my local Starbucks…”

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  1. 1 On August 12th, 2008, Jeff said:

    it’s no wonder Starbucks is having financial issues. lol.

    how about doing a cost analysis on what that transaction just cost the company.

    rough napkin math.

    Grande Iced Latte. $3.50 (?)
    Vendti Iced Latte. $4.50 (?)

    If guy is buying a latte on avg 20x month x 12 months. That freebie just gave the company $240.00 in extra revenues. How many customers, how many times does this happen?

    Looks like a win for starbucks.

  2. 2 On August 12th, 2008, Sean said:

    costs would be much lower than that:) those are closer to what they charge…actual cost on a iced latte…2 shots espresso, 1 cup milk, cup, ice and labor… ? don’t know there margins at an item level, but must be decent.


  3. 3 On August 14th, 2008, Phil Nieman said:

    I actually just had a similar experience at the local Starbucks. Ordered a piece of coffee cake, and the girl forgot to give me my piece. When I told her I was still waiting, she apologized and threw in an extra piece. Of course I went back to the office and skyped everyone looking to see who wanted it. I don’t know if they are training employees to give more things away, but they should be!


  4. 4 On August 18th, 2008, Joseph Wilburn said:

    I liked this post! I agree with your last statement about call centres, having worked in many over the years before transitioning into the PR/Marketing world. There are many people who work in the industry like the barista in your example that love what they do and can help support WOM strategies. It’s too bad they are not encouraged to do so.

  5. 5 On August 20th, 2008, Jan Karel Pieterse said:

    No Idea what WOM stands for, but let me share an example of a Dutch company who does a good job at that: www.NS.nl (Dutch railway).
    I travel a lot by train since I got self-employed, since that enables me to work “on the road” and thus extends my billable time considerably. Anyway; Here’s the thing I experienced the other day.
    In comes the conductor and asks a fellow passenger for his ticket. He doesn’t have one, because he arrived late due to a problem with the ticket machine at the station. This means the fare is increased with a penalty (I think it is 30 euros), to be paid to the conductor. They discuss this for a while, but in the end, the passenger (of course) has to pay the full bill.
    10 minutes later, in comes the conductor again and he presents the passenger with a 20 Euro bill. Flabberghasted the passenger accepts and the conductor explains that all NS conductors receive an envelope with a certain amount of cash, to use for whichever they judge is right.

    Neat, eh?

  6. 6 On August 22nd, 2008, Ina said:

    Thats what good karma is all about.

  7. 7 On August 22nd, 2008, Sean said:


    More than neat…Awesome!

    WOM = Word of Mouth :) sorry for the acronym.

    thanks for your example/story - it’s one of the best I’ve heard.

  8. 8 On August 27th, 2008, JD said:

    Great example of the impact of company culture on WOM,

    I think a big part of successfully developing WOM and setting the proper foundation of front line empowerment is held by management leading by example. By providing and channeling real-world examples and by actively demonstrating an instinctive understanding of the ‘bigger picture’ in relationship building, they promote in-depth customer satisfaction in servicing their customers.

    I’m sure this employee witnessed their manager, (and their manager witnessed a previous manager, etc..) acting the same to a similar situation in the past.

  9. 9 On August 27th, 2008, Community Guy, Jake McKee - WOM Offers the Sweet Taste of Success said:

    […] Sean O’Driscoll, Social Media Conversations […]

  10. 10 On August 28th, 2008, Create your own WOM using front line staff « Multilingual GPS Tours and Tourism Marketing Blog said:

    […] run Starbucks coffee shop (like the one in my neighbourhood) and just like the local Starbucks in Sean O’Driscoll’s neighbourhood. Sean O’Driscoll recently wrote an article about an experience he had in his […]

  11. 11 On September 1st, 2008, Deb Eastman said:

    My daughter works at Starbucks and has had several training programs on how to treat customers, including the infamous program where they closed Starbucks for a few hours. This story is a prime example that word of mouth is created by experiences, not buzz campaigns, and that experiences are driving by a culture of focusing on the customers. More companies need to get that.

  12. 12 On October 8th, 2008, Kevin Beares said:

    I think this is an amazing example of how something of such low cost to a company can have such a dramatic impact on a customer’s perception of that company. Two examples that I can think of that I think are tremendously valuable to customers involve technical support engineers and techbeta (technical beta) “give aways”.

    I was a technical support / customer service manager for close to 10 years before Microsoft and for 2 years at Microsoft. One of the most powerful impacts we could have with a customer was to empower an engineer to provide free support to a customer whenever they felt it was warranted. There are just too many times where the fee based support models can go major league out of control. An great set of examples; A customer calls in with a problem that is complex to them, but takes virtually less time to answer for the engineer than it took the customer to look up the phone number and get the call paid for via their credit card. In most call center models, the support engineer is not empowered to refund the customer for their call, which IMHO is broken. In the times that we did this in my experience, the customer who got the refund without even asking were the happiest customers we ever talked to in the future. It gave them much more patience with our support organization in the future because they valued the relationship that they had with our team. They were also more inclined to do business with us again.

    With techbeta (technical beta) “give aways”. Lot’s of software companies run techbetas with their customers. These feedback programs are tremendously valuable to the software company if run properly. They can validate their feature sets and also get more eyes on their product and catch a lot of bugs that normally would not be caught with the internal testing process, ultimately contributing to a higher quality bar being met when the product releases to the public. In my experience, giving the people who are running the techbeta program the authority to give customers prizes for their participation is a tremdendous way to create a WOM effect. Most customers do not participate in the feedback programs with the expectation that they will be given anything in return for their time. So, when they are awarded for their contributions it has a tremendous impact on thier feelings towards your company. Now, at Microsoft, it is a little challenging to run contests and provide “give aways” for participation because of international gaming laws and also Anti trust policies, but as long as you involve your legal team, you can play by the rules and still have a huge impact on your customers.

    Hope this was helpful.


  13. 13 On November 5th, 2008, Octavio Telis said:

    The secret here is to give added value to the customer, it makes sense when a customer get what he want’s and its spectatives are raised. I like to play with this, give to customers more about they belive are paying.


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