Starbucks is phasing out the paper Customer Service Recovery Coupons. The Customer Service Recovery Coupon is card that baristas might give to customers who, for one reason or another, feel that their Starbucks experience missed the mark. There’s never been a hard and fast rule as to when a customer might be given a Customer Service Recovery Coupon. In fact, they work best when there’s some surprise element to them!

The old certificates were often thought of “free beverage certificates” because they entitled the customer to his or her next drink free. The new Customer Service Recovery Coupon entitles the customer to $4 off their next purchase and it looks like this:

IMG_1410 front - 1IMG_1412 back 2You might also notice that they’re no longer made of paper. These new certificates are now plastic cards, similar in size and shape to the Starbucks cards that can be loaded with money. However, these cards cannot be registered.

Earlier this year, I did a short article on old Customer Service Recovery Coupons.  The old version (meaning current version up to just now) of the Customer Service Recovery Coupon (the free beverage certificate) looked like this:

IMAG0620 Current Customer Service Recovery CouponYou too can probably think of lots of pros and cons to switching to a $4 off certificate. Off the top of my head, here are a few advantages: Since the new card is plastic, not paper, it’s not likely to be reproduced with a good printer (I think the occurrence of counterfeit free beverage cards was low, but I certainly understand that it probably happened enough to concern Starbucks). Because it’s 4 dollars off the next purchase, there’s more flexibility for the customer – he or she could use it as a discount on buying merchandise or food too. The card prevents customers from getting over-the-top beverages as a free beverage. I also think the occurrence of that was rare, especially in light of the fact that what a customer can order is somewhat limited by the size of the cup. One concern is that the new $4 off coupon will be much harder to get. There might be many more customers who walk out the door feeling like there’s no incentive to come back again, following a poor experience.

On the downside, $4 off a drink could feel “chincey” to some customers. There are plenty of customers who have a usual drink that is over $4, so in effect the new Customer Service Recovery Coupon doesn’t cover a free drink for those customers. The next one isn’t really “on us” in that case. If a customer had a particularly egregious experience in a Starbucks, a $4 recovery card is again going to seem really tiny, in comparison to the egregious experience.

Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best thing Starbucks can do is to train partners about customer service: understanding that not every customer wants the exact same experience, but at the end of the day, most customers want both a great experience and a great beverage, and both are very important. The esteem of the brand is based upon what people say when they walk out the door of the store.

Starbucks is known for training baristas on the LATTE method of handling unhappy customers. This good customer service is probably far better than any $4 certificate. It doesn’t matter how much a certificate is worth, if it’s handed off with rolling eyes, customers will still leave unhappy. If a store has embraced the idea of creating enthusiastically satisfied customers and inspired moments, the times that a recovery coupon will be needed will be rare.

The LATTE method of handling unhappy customers is this:

  • Listen to your customers.
  • Acknowledge the problem and Apologize.
  • Take action to make it right.
  • Thank the customer.
  • Explain what you’ve done (And/or encourage them to come back again and escalate to someone above you.)

Overall, I think it’s a good switch to have the $4 off coupon. One more thing about it though, as the years go by, no doubt prices will go up at Starbucks. There may be a point when Starbucks has to re-evaluate whether it makes sense to increase that dollar amount to $5.

Please weigh in.