What can you learn from the disastrous launch of Starbucks Rewards’ program re-design?

Imagine all the time and money that Starbucks' employees spent on the re-design of their new rewards program! 

http://blogs.starbucks.com/blogs/customer/archive/2016/02/09/your-1-request-will-soon-be-a-reality.aspx

It had to be hundreds of hours, maybe more than a thousand hours in total when all was said and done.

And after 2 days, after you boldly launched your newly designed program, you had to post the following to your most loyal customers.

Thank you for your comments and questions! I realize announcing these changes without having the new program available to engage with can create some confusion and make it hard to understand how it will directly affect you. I can assure you that we carefully considered every aspect of how to evolve our loyalty program so that we could bring the most value to customers for how often they visit and what they purchase.

Did they REALLY carefully consider every aspect? After viewing a tiny percentage of the many responses on their website, I’m not sure they carefully considered one major aspect of their new program. HOW WOULD CUSTOMERS FEEL ABOUT IT?

Here’s a small sampling...

- “Maybe, just maybe, someone in Starbucks will listen to their customers.”
- “Guess I'll be spending less at Starbucks, not more.”
- “No longer a Starbucks customer when April 2016 arrives!”
- “Your new ridiculous "reward" system is not at all what was asked for.  NO ONE asked for it to take longer and cost more money to earn an award.”

That last comment was referring to the HEADLINE in their announcement that stated, in big bold letters… 

Your #1 Request Will Soon Be A Reality

In addition, almost every single newspaper and magazine and late night talk show ridiculed Starbucks.

In the Chicago Tribune, columnist Steve Johnson wrote, “Now, though, the simplicity is gone.” He continued with, “So my guess is that the implementation of the new plan will be a mess, customers will rebel and the company will go back to some modified version of the 12-stars-per-reward plan.”

Forbes contributor Roger Dooley’s article led with this headline…”Yet Another Starbucks Loyalty Miscue?” and went on to say, “In short, customers who considered themselves loyal and felt some affinity for the brand now found they were no longer valued.” Ouch.

Now some people might claim that bad press is better than no press, but if you’re not Starbucks or a large consumer organization, will there be a large public display in the media or will you just be upsetting your loyal fans and advocates? 

There are plenty of lessons learned to be learned here. The most noticeable ones seem to be…

  1. Listen to your participants. Whether or not you run a B2C or a B2B program, wouldn’t it make sense to run it by a few people and ask for their thoughts?  With the amount of negative comments burning up social media directed at Starbucks, the insight might have been glaring. 

  2. Have your rewards site buttoned up, tested and LIVE prior to getting the announcement out. I’m sure there was pressure for their Public Relations dept. to deliver on a certain date, but “causing confusion” trumps a firm Press Release date.

  3. Don’t Spin It. The overwhelming majority of participants will see right through your Spin. And if your biggest aha is a rather weak one such as ‘Your #1 Request Will Soon Be A Reality’, this could easily be used on ESPN’s C’mon Man segment next week!

Jordan Schaffel

Karrot, 400 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago IL, 60611