Untitled-1 - Ambiguous Charging Conversation2When the Cool Lime Refresher was brand new, I discovered that one fun modification was to have a “no water, substitute Orange Mango” Cool Lime Refresher.  My own experiences surrounding ordering that beverage were what starting me thinking about moments at the Starbucks registers that are ambiguous and uncomfortable.  I fundamentally still believe that as much as possible, the customer should be enjoying both a great beverage and a great experience.

When I ordered my Cool Lime Refresher with Orange Mango, I had a variety of experiences.  About 90% of the time, baristas just rang it through and I was charged for a Cool Lime Refresher only.  But, a small percentage of the time, the barista is perplexed what to charge for and is sure there must be an extra charge for this drink.  There is no way to do that with the Orange Mango button.  Trust me, I didn’t know that when I started ordering it.  I don’t know why there is no charge.  It could be that Orange Mango has such a high profit margin that Starbucks doesn’t worry about this circumstance.  There could be other reasons.  I don’t know the answer.

Nonetheless, the experience at the registers of baristas turning into the Starbucks-Pricing-Sheriffs is actually not great for the customer experience.  And, I am going to say something that is a bit counter-intuitive.  I know, and agree, that is important to treat every customer the same.  However, with Starbucks, the 80/20 Rule of Business seems to fit.  About 20% of customers drive way more than 20% of the sales.  So it is a situation where there isn’t totally a one to one relationship from one customer to the next.  If Starbucks loses their customers with the highest level of purchases, it takes more than acquiring one new customer to replace him or her.  The average customer only visits Starbucks about six times a month, according to this Business Week article.  Of course, the partner standing at the register usually has no idea what the customer’s larger purchasing habits are from that one snapshot moment in time.  This is actually true of many, many retail business.  Fundamentally, you still want to deliver the same experience to everyone, but it explains why a moment of losing a customer over a trivial thing sometimes just is not worthwhile.

Back to the ambiguity at the registers:  If there were some way to improve this, that would be great.

My question to is this: if you could correct or change one way that Starbucks charges things, what would it be?

I asked my readers (on Facebook) to help me work through this question.  The imagine attached is my favorite snippet from that conversation.  Via Facebook, and a couple of emails, these were some of the items that stood out:

  • * What to do about charging for milk instead of water in oatmeal?
  • * Passion Tea – Apple juice beverage?
  • * The person who wants “one pump” of a syrup?  (I will weigh in on that one: since the register is totally clear that you charge for syrups, I think this is charged for.  But my understanding is that it’s one charge “per category.”  So if I wanted a Tall Chai with one pump of Vanilla, then yes, I should be charged for the syrup.  If I wanted a Tall Chai with one pump of Vanilla, one pump of Raspberry, and one pump of Caramel Syrup (not sauce) then it is still one syrup charge.  I have been charged many times for a Chai with one pump Vanilla, and that’s fine by me. That’s not so ambiguous to me.)
  • * The person who wants extra, extra, extra, extra, extra, extra caramel sauce in a Frappuccino.
  • * The “one pump” mocha.
  • * Free water?  (My own thinking is that water should remain free. It’s free in dining establishments. It’s a cost of doing business. It creates goodwill.  And again, you rarely know what a customer’s purchasing habits are from one snapshot in time.  (Though I think there are some downtown Seattle baristas who know mine!)

There were many more that came up.  Maybe someone at Starbucks will read this and change some of their register buttons! Starbucks is unlike other businesses because it thrives on customization.  If you think about other food establishments, there are some opposite extremes of Starbucks.  There are so few menu items at In-n-Out Burger that you can’t really customize much!  Very few businesses boast how much customization is offered the way that Starbucks does.  This is become part of the Starbucks experience over time.

If you want to weigh in on the one thing that you want to change at the registers, remember I will strictly enforce the comment discussion policy.  I don’t want to dissuade you from weighing in, however please do not use expletives, write in all caps, or taunt, or attack others.

Pardon typos. I typed this out quickly before work.