Established in France a mere ten years ago, Starbucks has already become a leading player in the catering and café market. Its reputation and success are to a large extent the result of the quality of its services and its relations with its customers, as Olivier de Mendez, Regional Director for France, explains.
How would you describe the customer experience at Starbucks?
Olivier de Mendez: Starbucks is first of all a place, a store dedicated to coffee and to relaxation – to a break in the rush. In the US, we have nicknamed it “the third place’, after home and work, where you feel most at home, in a familiar, welcoming, friendly environment and where you can meet up with friends or colleagues to spend some time together. Customers sometimes use the place to hold their business meetings and some have even celebrated their wedding anniversary there! Our customer experience is also about customisation. Our baristas offer, in addition to a drink made to order or a traditional best seller, a real taste experience – and that’s our core business. For example, to go with your French press of Guatemala coffee and its rich, intense flavour, we will suggest you also try a hazelnut muffin which, in our view, is a perfect match.
How has Starbucks managed to get this close to its customers?
O.d.M.: Simply because they at the centre of everything we do. For example, when you walk into a Starbucks store, the employees, who all wear a name badge to enable personal contact, say hello and smile. This start is in itself good enough to develop proximity. In addition, let’s not overlook the fact that the quality of our products is the mainstay of our customer relations. Starbucks carefully selects and roasts its coffees itself, whose aromas fill your nostrils as soon as you walk in through the door. This is serious sensorial marketing! All of our employees are trained up in the various varieties, their origin and their characteristics; in every Starbucks there is a coffee master, recognisable by his or her black apron, who can answer consumers’ most detailed questions about their favourite beverage.
What is the principle behind the practice of writing the customer’s first name on the cup?
O.d.M.: At first, the idea behind it was to simplify how Starbucks worked. When you hear “A cappuccino for Jane”, you know your drink is ready. Bu over time, both customers and employees turned it into a game, which makes for better connections and a better atmosphere. Customers with complicated names write them on the cup themselves, and other decide to go by pseudonyms or nicknames which draw attention. When everyone in the team calls out to a regular “See you tomorrow, Superman,” as I recently witnessed, everyone in the store is amused.
How important is digital in your customer relations?
O.d.M.: It’s very important. In France, Starbucks is one of the most followed brands on Facebook, with almost half a million fans. Two years ago, we organised a Like competition to find out in which city we were the most popular but where we didn’t yet have a store. And Lille turned out to be the winner. So around Christmastime we parked a huge van in the street branded in our colours as a pop-up store. And in the very near future we will be opening our first permanent store in the city. Digital is also going to play a leading role in our loyalty programme My Starbucks Rewards.
How does this programme work?
O.d.M.: Our customers can apply for a card which acts as both payment and loyalty. They charge it up with the amount of their choice from 5 to 200 euros, pay with it at the till for their food and drink, and also receive rewards according how often they come in. For the last two to three years we have been communicating a lot with our cardholders on social media, and we are looking into how to drive the community even more by, for example organising private parties for them.
Can you tell us a bit about the Green Apron Book?
O.d.M.: The Green Apron Book is given to every one of our employees and describes all of the basics in Starbucks customer service. In particular it defines the fives attitudes “ways of being” that an employee must adopt in front of a customer: be welcoming, be knowledgeable, be genuine, be considerate and be involved. All partners arriving in the business, even in a support role, have the opportunity of putting them straight into practice during their two weeks as a barista in a Starbucks store. Our customers can also take advantage of “green cards” supplied in stores to write short messages to say how satisfied they were with how they were dealt with. This is a sign of recognition that our teams really appreciate.
How are you going to celebrate your tenth anniversary in France?
O.d.M.: On 16 January, ten years to the day after we opened our first Starbucks in France on Avenue de l’Opéra in Paris, we brought together all of our employees who had worked in the store and we handed out gifts to the customers there. We have already planned to hold a big celebration at the end of October or the beginning of November to which we will be inviting our clients. But please allow me to keep the full details a secret. Suffice it to say that there will be a lot of surprises in store.
International: Europe follows in France’s footsteps.
It is a strange fact. Whilst 60% of all on-premises coffees consumed in France are espressos, Starbucks struggled to get their customers to adopt theirs. Following a survey, it emerged that many customers found it to be “too strong”. So why not test a milder coffee bean on the French market? The headquarters in the US gave its blessing, and the result was a two- figure increase in sales for this new-generation espresso, which already accounts for a third of all sales. Other European operations have drawn inspiration from this experiment and are now asking their customers whether they want the espresso going into their drink “mild or strong.”