Thursday, May 5, 2011

How Social Media helped Starbucks rebuild trust

Seth Godin’s post “Seeing the truth when it might be invisible” caught my attention this morning. Its message resonated. Every day we are asked to make a leap of faith – whether it’s to believe what we hear in the news, an ad we watch or what we read online. Most people begin from a place of trust, but trust is easily broken. Can we believe everything that we read in the news or online about a company? Absolutely not. As Seth says, “it’s a skill to figure out what’s real, even when it’s invisible”.

I think the implication is an invaluable lesson for brands. Everyone has an agenda and brands can provide great acoustics for any group or person’s agenda. And while you cannot control the media, what is real, however, is the face to face customer experience – how you can impact an individual’s experience with your brand, positively or negatively.

For brands this means that all aspects of what the customer experiences needs to line up to a consistent message. For Starbucks this meant that when business softened and criticism mounted on all fronts in 2007/2008, they had to rebuild customer relationships and show the world that they did really care about things like the quality and consistency of their coffee beverages as well as the more altruistic components of their brand such as community building and caring for the environment. People were quick to call for the demise of the brand – Starbucks had become too big, they had sold out and were no longer cool.

Starbucks responded with the now famous closing of its stores for three and a half hours while it retrained every barista. That was a public throwing down of the gauntlet to critics. However, one initiative that sea-changed the customer relationship equation for Starbucks was the launch of My Starbucks Idea in March of 2008. For the first time ever, Starbucks customers had a direct pipeline into HQ and could voice in a public forum what they loved or did not, about Starbucks and submit ideas on how to improve their Starbucks Experience.

Starbucks was listening. Now Starbucks’ ubiquity became an asset as customers from around the world had an opportunity to connect with each other, spawning like-minded communities like the "free wi-fi group", the "soy group", the "comfy chair group", "bring back the x beverage group" or "frappuccino lovers". Starbucks listened and brought over 100 ideas into action.

By building out additional social media initiatives, Starbucks had direct a pipeline into their fan base. From there they could share their perspective, share their appreciation and share their view of what was real through content and dialogue. By giving customers a platform to voice their ideas and emotions about the brand and by responding in a transparent and authentic way, Starbucks was able to reignite the magic and rebuild trust.

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