the great lactose debacle (not really)

August 14, 2009 ·

let me be clear, the post below is not a rant (despite my best efforts) but a lesson in micro-interactions.

this morning i stopped by a starbucks to get an iced coffee. i'm in no way a regular of starbucks, nor do i like coffee terribly much. much of the time i rail against starbucks, it's charmlessness and experience while still visiting (does that make me a hypocrite?). in fact i refuse to use starbucks lingo like venti or grande. i typically only go on a friday (why, i don't know) and maybe a saturday. i usually get a vivanno, which are quite lovely (and healthy) and an apple fritter (unhealthy), which are superb and the real draw for me (baked good fiend). that and free wi-fi.

as i place my order of a 'medium' iced coffee with lactose free milk, i was asked if i had a starbucks card. i did not. the barista pressed on and asked if i wanted to buy one. i declined. pressing on further he pointed out to me that there was an extra charge for lactose free milk but that if i had a starbucks card, it would be waived.

hold on.

so first i'm being penalized for having a disability - lactose intolerance. okay, so a disability is an exaggeration. maybe a condition. and that the only solution to my defect is a starbucks card. i guess as far as afflictions go, the cost of $0.50 is paltry. but all the same, my lack of a certain bacteria in my bowels has relegated me as a customer who must pay for his shortcomings.

of course i'm exaggerating here (makes for interesting storytelling). is it silly that i pay extra for milk that costs only slightly more than regular milk - probably. it's negligible. is it silly that i pay that much extra for it - definitely. a whole carton maybe costs that much more than regular.

now we get to the lesson and insights and away from the hyperbole.

having lactose free milk is a value proposition. it's servicing your customer's needs. maybe even a differentiator. tim horton's doesn't have it. supplying lactose (and not charging for it) is an opportunity to stand out to customers, not burden them *(passing on more than the cost). it is the small things that go a long way with people.

the most important part of starbucks is what happens in-store. from the baristas, to the decor, to the products, to the cleanliness, to the other features and beyond. your entire time there is comprised of a series of micro-interactions that culminate in a total experience. failures, even minor ones, in any area can displace the satisfaction in all the others.

the point is a company like starbucks, who has had their share of difficulties as of late in their identity and corporate nature, should be assessing all levels of their business. going back to basics and ensuring that the place it matters most is in the shops themselves. that the customer service and experience is at a high level. analyze every possible micro-interaction or permutation of how the business operates and find ways to improve.

how not to be a faceless and uncaring corporation is to go the extra step. in my case, the barista was kind enough to waive the additional charge, but only with further imploring for me to 'save some money' by buying and using a starbucks card. but it's a kind gesture that shouldn't have had to be made were there not a charge in place that was potentially a point of contention.

my aim is not to be that social media story that explodes and gets massive coverage in traditional media and is held as a corporate failure. or that i suddenly get starbucks for life. just that i'm a believer in brands. and the starbucks brand hinges on point of purchase. all brands can learn from all other brands.

just to be clear, i'm not upset or peeved. i thought it was silly and for others, potentially a bigger problem (me 5 years ago). i also thought it was interesting with a lesson to be learned. of course i hope they change, i still want to go and having something with my apple fritter.

who wants to start the #lactosefail on twitter?

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