Starbucks Communications Reminiscent of Netflix Debacle

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a year since Netflix’s storytelling went astray in rationalizing the separation of the DVD business from the streaming video business.

The primary issue wasn’t the decision as much as how it was communicated.

At the time I wrote:

Just be honest and open with people.

No one rejoices over paying more money and undoubtedly some unhappy campers would defect.

But most people get the concept that if a company’s costs go up, the price of the product/services also goes up.

People can get a tad testy about movies and skinny vanilla lattes.

We’re now seeing the latter play out with Starbucks and its decision to overhaul its rewards program.

Here’s what Starbucks pushed out to customers on email last week:

starbucks pr public relations business communication

I actually like it.

The right touch of levity.

Clearly spells out what’s being added and what’s being subtracted.

We’re good.

Not so fast.

The words are irrelevant if the product or service doesn’t resonate with your customers.

What follows are the first 25 posted comments on the program.

starbucks pr public relations business communication

starbucks pr public relations business communication

starbucks pr public relations business communication

starbucks pr public relations business communication

starbucks pr public relations business communication

Ouch.

I think we can safely conclude that folks aren’t happy with the free soy and syrup going away.

Did Starbucks test the concepts with customers?

If yes, why wasn’t the anticipated backlash reflected in the communications?

Like the Netflix situation, simply saying that giving away soy and syrup wasn’t sustainable from a cost standpoint; hence the change, would still alienate some customers (maybe even acknowledge upfront that you know this will be upsetting to some).

But this way, you come across as the open and transparent company aspired by your brand.

Instead, you look blindsided by customers ready for a mutiny.

Note: I’ve been surprised that the media hasn’t paid more attention to the customer backlash to the Starbucks changes. Of the stories that have surfaced, my favorite headline is “Starbucks will no longer subsidize lactose intolerance.”

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  1. [...] than a few lactose-intolerant customers–and they are not happy with the changes! Check out the comments on the company’s Facebook page via our friends at The Hoffman Agency for examples of [...]

  2. [...] Starbucks causally announced that it was improving its customer rewards, oh and soy milk will no longer be on the house, fans and followers went [...]

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