reExperience Starbucks 10: Rewards do not breed loyalty

This is post #10 of the reExperience Starbucks Project joint blogging venture with Becky Carroll and the Customers Rock! blog. See Becky’s most recent post: reExperience Starbucks, Update 9: Customer Loyalty


I’m loyal to my wife. We have a life-long commitment and partnership. I’m loyal to my alma mater: Baylor University. We have a 20-year history of laughter, tears, euphoria and disappointment. I’m also loyal to my beer, Shiner Bock. We’ve shared many a happy moment and as a result, I would never stray to a light beer.

But I’m not loyal to Starbucks, and no card will make me that way. Oh, I visit Starbucks almost every day and probably spend a hundred bucks a month, but it has nothing to do with the rewards card. In fact, the card that is supposed to encourage loyalty is somewhat of an irritation.

I have to pay Starbucks to be loyal to Starbucks, and they make me do all the work. To be part of the program, one must load money on to the card, then find an internet connection to register the card. Which cannot be done at Starbucks unless you already have a registered Starbucks card or you are already paying AT&T. I know, it’s complicated.

But that’s not the end of the Starbucks loyalty obstacle course. Most baristas seem to not have been trained on the card. Rules are not applied universally. When I order a skinny hazelnut latte with an extra shot, sometimes I get the shot for free, other times I don’t. “I think” and “I’m not sure” are common quotes from partners being quizzed on the card.

Then there’s the “free” WiFi benefit. Again, there appears to have been no partner training. I recently went to my neighborhood Starbucks to access the WiFi and do some writing. Couldn’t do it. Two partners tried to help me solve the connection puzzle and then gave up. Then (I’m not making this up) they told me to use the free WiFi connection from Keva Juice next door because “that’s what we do.”

Finally one Friday afternoon in Austin, a patient store manager sat down with me and together we figured out how to access the free WiFi.

Lest I be accused of being totally negative, there are a couple of positives to report. Yesterday when I informed the barista my card was registered to get my free shot she said that I no longer needed to make the announcement. Starbucks has finally linked the registered card data to the registers.

I was also informed by email that I can get a free Vivanno today or tomorrow with my card (you probably can too).

The Starbucks card is not really about loyalty. It’s a marketing device and sales tool. The card brings a lot of money into the company coffers. The entire rewards program was really about adding to that revenue stream. And that has nothing to do with loyalty.

Loyalty is give and take; selfless sacrifice and commitment. Loyalty is not a program. At the heart of true loyalty is an emotional relationship. I frequently purchase from Starbucks and I regularly use my registered card. That doesn’t make me loyal, it just makes me a customer.

Don’t forget to take our survey to win a $25 Starbucks Card: Starbucks Survey

See All previous reExperience Starbucks posts:
reExperience Starbucks Project Archive


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