What business can learn from Starbucks

My wife Margaret likes Starbucks and, when I ask her what she likes about it, she can't quite put her finger on just what it is.

She tells me that the coffee is good (I don't drink coffee, so I wouldn't know) but I have friends who say that McDonald's coffee is even better.

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She said, "it's the lighting and that they have windows."

"But Tim Hortons has more windows," I counter.

It's the "ambience," she says, "how you can just sit there and be at peace, how people are friendly, or that they change it up regularly."

I argue that there are other coffee shops that have all of that and more.

Let me say that I know lots of people who don't like Starbucks coffee too. My father tells me the coffee is so strong that he has to dilute it with 50 per cent water. I have other friends who frown on the high cost of a drink or others who don't appreciate the fact that they won't find their friends sitting around there.

So what is it that Starbucks does that keeps their customers so loyal? And what could you learn from Starbucks that would make your business better?

1. Customer service: If there is one thing that every business could learn from Starbucks is customer service. Last week, I went into our local Starbucks at 6:45 a.m. because I was out for a walk and thought I would get a ride home with Margaret who regularly meets her running friends there for a coffee after their

6 a.m. run. I wasn't going to get a drink because we were heading home shortly. Alyson, one of the baristas whom my wife knew by name, but I didn't, came over to our table a couple minutes later with a drink in hand and hands it to me, telling me it's on the house.

Low and behold, the drink is "my drink," the special drink I order almost every time I go into a Starbucks (which I might add is fairly rarely compared to my wife, because I don't drink coffee). How many of our businesses would know enough about our customers to take care of their spouses? How many of our staff would go that extra mile to make visitors feel special or do something extra for someone outside of our core customers?

Alyson did exactly that at my local Starbucks and my gut feeling is that Starbucks supports their staff in going that extra mile.

2. Exclusive products: Where else can you buy a triple, venti, half-sweet, non-fat, Caramel Macchiato? And what does that even mean? Where else could I buy something like that? Not only does Starbucks have a level of quality that seems to exceed their competitors, they have names that spell exclusivity.

So often in business we try to have similar products to our competitors and we fail to differentiate ourselves as Starbucks does. When we fail to give unique reasons for our customers to buy from us, we reduce the long-term value of our business.

Don't just always do everything the same. Do something different.

3. Ambience: Whether you are going to meet a friend or read a book by yourself, Starbucks has something for you. No, it's not typically a place where you will find a group of retired seniors on a budget, but you will find a table full of mothers, a couple athletes, three business people, a mother and daughter, two friends and three students, all who want to relax while having a favourite drink. Having just the right lighting, colours and odours that allow your customers to relax when they are doing business with you goes a long way to ensuring that they keep coming back.

4. Pricing: I have never ever had anyone tell me that they thought Starbucks was cheap.

In fact, they are generally considered to be an expensive place to buy coffee. Yet every time I go to pick up my wife from Starbucks, the place is wall-to-wall people. So often in business we think we need to have the lowest prices to get more customers and, as a result, many businesses never make it. We are so focused on low prices that we forget that customers want so much more. Studies show that most customers are more interested in value than pricing, yet we often fail to understand what that value really is. It's obvious that Starbucks has figured out what that value is for their customers.

5. Systems: Whether it's opening or renovating a store, picking a location or serving their coffee, Starbucks revolves around having great systems that promote efficiency, quality and timelines. Having great systems ensures that the Starbucks coffee you order in Prince George is going to taste the same as the coffee you get in Heathrow Airport in London. Could you say the same for your business? That the product or service you deliver is going to be equally good each and every time? Having great systems in your business means that you have systems to ensure the proper hiring and training of baristas like Alyson who go over and above your customers' expectations.

After talking to Margaret, I am not sure I could pinpoint what it is that she likes about Starbucks, however I do know that Starbucks costs me money and that she tends to go back there regularly to get her fix.

Margaret seems happier if she has a Starbucks coffee in her hand, having come away talking to a barista like Alyson. Although some of the small local coffee shops can sometimes give her that feeling, as a husband, I know that a happy wife equals a happy life.

Dave Fuller, MBA, is an award-winning

business coach and strategist. He is the author of the book Profit Yourself Healthy. Email dave@profityourselfhealthy.com.

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