Sunday, July 6, 2008

600 Closing and counting...

I have an addiction - Grande Skinny Hazelnut Latte - with 2 Splenda. In this economy, decreasing or eliminating this habit requires no explanation. People get it. Even my friends who don't support the coffee industry in this way have been asking me over the last week, "Did you hear how many stores are closing?" Well, this weekend I was prompted to reconsider my coffee addiction again - customer service has gone to an all time low.

During recent weeks there have been promotions to get more people into Starbucks, and to encourage the use and registration of the cards which symbolize our habit. I have been curious about the lack of consistency between stores for quite some time, and I now know that there are only some places worthy of spending $4 for refreshment. The problem is, I now often have a total around $14 when my children and my husband get into the picture. So, rewards associated with a registered card...I'm all over it. Until Saturday.

I went to my neighborhood Starbucks - also know as my preferred location. I asked simply, "what is your free drink policy with registered cards" - recognizing that different locations handle the benefit differently. Some provide a free beverage of your choice when you reload, some provide a free cup of coffee, and still others are only prompted when you load a new card. I'm not a collector of plastic, so I typically reload the 2 cards that I own and leave it at that. My interest in finding out the local policy was based on my 5 family members shouting out their preferences - a free drink would have been welcomed.

I encountered, however, the Barista from...well, the one who didn't graduate from service school at the Starbucks Academy. 24 hours later, and I'm still irritated with the experience- irritated enough to simply skip my habit today. Her quips about my inquiry seemed laced with the idea that I was annoying her, that she somehow had to answer this question seemed painful. I shared about the lack of consistency I had experienced - and she (without anyone in line) boiled down the issue to one of, "Well what do you want?" Well, I wanted answers, a good coffee drink and some pleasant exchange that made me feel better about my 3rd stop of the weekend. What I got was a reality check - some people work at Starbuck who have failed to note recent closings, increased competition, stock prices in fluctuation.....

The experience was made worse when I couldn't find my card, and she had already provided my drink (one of three) for free. When it was all said an done, I found the card - reloaded it for a minimal amount - and decided that I had somehow lost my way. With all the product placement, a history of memories and a love of coffee....I expected my Starbucks relationship would be permanent. Yet, as I pursue an ongoing reflection on why I make the choices I make each week - I have declared Starbucks free zone a time to really contrast my early days with the experience and my experience now. Maybe its the relocation from Michigan or $4/gallon gas - whatever the catalyst - I don't think I'm feeling it anymore. Or maybe I've stopped drinking the coffee long enough to exhale and recognize....

1. Panera has Hazelnut
2. Paradise has great WiFi
3. McDonald's has more than transfats
4. Home Brewed ain't half bad

... I was saddened upon first learning that Starbucks was having a shift in their momentum. Now I'm believing if they aren't careful...this will be the start of many more to come.

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