A Dear John letter for Starbucks

Dear Starbucks,

We’ve been through a lot, you and I.  But it’s time for me to see other brands. It’s not you, it’s me. No, that’s a lie. It’s totally you.

You swept me off my feet in my early 20’s and taught me how to love coffee – for that I will be eternally grateful. Late Saturday mornings in Chicago. Stolen afternoons in Washington D.C. Even in Indianapolis – back before they actually had a Starbucks – I made do with brief encounters with you at Barnes and Noble whenever I could.

I adored everything about you and people were sick of hearing about my brand crush. I devoured Howard Schulz’s autobiography, Pour Your Heart Into It, as a brand manifesto for how to delight customers and make a a difference. You created a cherished “Third Place” for people to gather – and when I began working for myself, you were right there by my side, hosting meetings and giving me a comfy place to work.

Others tried to make me hate you. Especially when I moved to Seattle (I was thrilled to live in your hometown!). They scorned you as a mass market sell-out, a bland factory coffee line for people who didn’t know better. They scoffed at your hipster lingo, your (in their eyes) sub-par quality. “No, but I love them!” I would scream. Starbucks delivers everything they promise and that’s why they are so great. They deliver a convenient, cozy and consistent experience.  And the Seattle Starbucks locations were flawless models of efficiency, service, and experience.

I held you up as my Prince Charming of a Brand Story.

But then, I moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area and something changed. You stopped delivering the brand benefits I’d come to know and love.

Every Starbucks in the Bay Area let me down – on the Peninsula to be exact. At first, I thought it was a fluke. Had to just be one store. So I tried another. And another. Same story: long wait times, non-engaging baristas, even inconsistent latte quality.  I witnessed your baristas being surly, brusque and downright rude sometimes. Then you started warming up pastries – and nearly scalded my tongue. Why were you being so mean? I thought maybe, since we weren’t in Seattle anymore, you just stopped trying to impress Corporate visitors who might pop in.

Still I kept defending you. I tried to communicate with you. Reaching out on Twitter several times, you gave me radio silence. Other brands like Virgin America and Nordstrom respond back, but you, you just gave me the cold shoulder.

My loyalty is worth more than this, I thought.  So I started dating around. And every time I went somewhere else, I felt like they valued me and my time more that you do. They delivered my latte hot, fresh, and fast. It tasted better. The baristas smiled at me. They seemed like they had their acts together.

And then, the kicker. Peet’s started offering almond milk. Oh, how could I resist?

I tried to get you to change. I tweeted several times to ask if you’d please carry almond milk. No response. I even asked the baristas in store and they said they just couldn’t do it.

I think that was the final straw. I’m a valuable customer and waiting inordinately long amounts of time on a brand who says its fast and convenient just to get bad service, a burnt tongue and inconsistent latte quality – on top of not being able to get the milk I want – is not something I’m willing to stand for any longer.

So I’m leaving you, Dear Starbucks. I emptied the last cent on my Starbucks card and I now frequent my neighborhood Peet’s as well as an indie coffeehouse I discovered.

Oh sure, I’ll call you for a quick hook up now and then. You do make a great gift card. And when I have no other option, I’ll see  if you’re around. But to be non-committal, I pay cash instead of  reloading my Starbucks card  – so no need to give me any more free drinks on my birthday. We don’t have that kind of relationship anymore.

I wish you the best, Starbucks. I really do. You’ve done a lot of good for a long time. But a brand has to be consistent to be brilliant. (Tweet this!)  If you feel like changing – at least in the Bay Area – and being the brand I fell in love once again, give me a call sometime.



Photo credit (edited): Siti Fatimah on Flickr

Got a brand you’d like to break up with? Jot down your brand Dear John letter in the Comments below and vent away!


6 reasons to thank your clients + how to do it

We all need to thank our customers and clients for making us successful. But if you’re not sure when it’s appropriate or how to do it with panache, take a tip from today’s guest columnist, tech geek + website wonder woman Alison Monday of Tiny Blue Orange. Alison is my right-hand web woman and she has mad digital skills and signature style. Today, she shares 6 ideas for when  you can say “thank you” to your tribe members – and a unique way she made her thank you’s stand out. At Red Slice, I like to send chocolate covered cherries because, remember:

A thank you note/gift is yet another customer touchpoint you have at your finger tips to convey your brand. (Tweet this!) Make it count.

Showing Gratitude

One of the easiest + most impactful ways that you can make your clients + contacts feel loved is by showing your gratitude. It only takes a few minutes to put together a hand-written note + mail it via snail mail. And the amount of joy it will bring to the recipient is exponentially greater than the time you invest in sending a card.

One Extra Step

Since hand-written cards are a big part of my weekly task list, I wanted to make something special for my clients + vendors that would add just a little bit more love to an already wonderful gesture.

It didn’t take me long to decide that getting my 101 pound dog + office mascot, Brutus, to “sign” the cards by painting his paw {with non-toxic paint} + stamping them was the perfect idea. He really doesn’t mind the signing process since he gets lots of treats during it + I know that most folks don’t expect a 4″ paw print on a thank you note they received in the mail.

Necessary Supplies

In order to set myself up for being able to easily write out thank you cards, I purchased an assortment of pretty + funny notecards, made a few of my own, bought a pack of stamps from the post office + some new ink for my return address stamper. That way I can spend a little bit of time expressing my gratitude each week + almost no time at all adding the address info and stamp.

Reasons to be Grateful

You can send thank you notes for a number of reasons when working with a client, but below are just a few ideas to get you started –

  • Right away after your initial call/consultation
    {“thank you for reaching out or considering working with me”}
  • Unexpectedly during a project if you haven’t officially thanked them yet
    {“I’m so grateful to be working with you”}
  • With an order they placed for a physical product
    {“thanks for your order, we hope you love…”}
  • When a project is complete/launches/etc.
    {“it was such a pleasure to help you + your biz”}
  • If they referred you to someone that reached out
    {“thank you so much for your kind words + praise”}
  • For sharing your product or service with their followers or fans
    {“you didn’t have to promote my latest program, but it means the world to me that you did”}

And, of course, expressing appreciation isn’t just for business. I made sure to purchase some non-branded cards with my business ones so that I can thank my friends + family throughout the year too.

In what ways do you show gratitude or give thanks to your clients, followers + fans? Leave a comment below with something that you already do to show your appreciation or something you’ll start to do right away. I can’t wait to read what you come up with!

Learn more about Alison Monday and her website wizadry at tiny blue orange


Why small businesses need to pay attention to engagement

Today, here’s a juicy guest post by small business writer Erica Bell about why engagement matters.

Starting a business isn’t easy, I know. Small business owners wear many hats, from CEO to Marketing and HR Manager, and are constantly under a time crunch. While managing the business from sunrise to sunset may already be a challenge, small business owners can’t forget to pay attention to customer engagement. Because smaller businesses often have smaller marketing budgets, they need to pay attention to engagement, something that doesn’t require a large financial investment. Customer engagement is how small businesses can drive loyalty, create return customers and boost starting off sales.

Build Loyalty

Small businesses need to spend some time engaging with customers and building customer loyalty. A customer who supports your business from the beginning and has a great experience will return for more! When small businesses get started, it’s the return customers who build the business. Make sure you are engaging with these early on customers to build their loyalty. How? Be personal and responsive to customers and see those same customers return and spread the word.

  • When a customer is engaged with a company, they develop deeper emotional commitment to the companies, granting them an average 33 points higher Net Promoter® score (NPS®), a common measure of customer loyalty (Bain & Company).

Increase Sales

Engagement with customers can lead to an increase in sales. Customers are likely to share their fantastic experiences and interactions with your brand with their friends, family and in some cases the general public. You can keep engaged and satisfied customers coming back while attracting new ones. Remember, it costs more for your business to acquire a new customer than it does to keep current customers. Engaged customers tend to stick with your business longer, buy more often and refer your brand to their friends. (Tweet this!)

  • Customers who engage with a brand online report spending 20 percent to 40 percent more on that brand, or on that company’s products (Bain & Company).

Provide Better Service

Customer engagement and the customer experience often go hand in hand. When you know where your business is falling short in terms of customer service and the customer experience by engaging with customers, either through social media, your business phone or review sites, you can alter your current strategies for better performances in the future. Engage with your customers to find what they do and don’t like and what they would like to see from your business in the future.

  • Poor customer experiences result in an estimated $83 Billion loss by US enterprises each year because of defections and abandoned purchases (Parature Customer Service Blog).

When engaging with customers, make sure your employees are friendly, personal and knowledgeable. Great personal experiences and great customer engagement leads to great customers who talk about your business and brand in a positive light. Help your business stand apart from the major corporations by providing better, more engaged responses to customers, no matter how they choose to contact you. Engaging with customers can make your job as a small business owner easier. You can cover your marketing, customer service and sales bases all at once!

About Erica: Erica Bell is a small business writer who focuses on topics such as small business call center software and making the most of a business phone system. She is a web content writer for Business.com, Media Inc.

NO is not a dirty word

I think we’re programmed to see “No” as a dirty word from a young age. No candy before bedtime. No, don’t touch that outlet. No, you can’t have the car tonight. No, you absolutely cannot date that guy who’s ten years older than you and plans to pick you up on his motorcycle…

Here’s the truth: Saying No is actually a gift. Why?

It’s a gift for you because sometimes we need to say no in order to focus on what matters. We need to keep our eyes on the prize. If you say no to the wrong clients or customers and focus on serving the ones you enjoy, who will pay you what you’re worth and who will gladly spread the word about how awesome your products or services are – your business is going to be a lot more successful.

I don’t care how big or small your company is. You’ve got to treat loyal customers better than the rest. You’ve got to serve their needs first and offer then special perks, privileges or rewards.

Remember your brand strategy. Who are you talking to? Who are your “people”? Who matters to your business? Your customers and clients represent your brand to others, so choose wisely. (Tweet this!)

I’m not suggesting you act rudely toward prospects or those in your audience. Not at all. I’m talking more about managing your time, attention and budget better and invest in the right people for your business. If you are too busy dealing with the wrong people, you won’t have the bandwidth to serve the right ones.

Saying no is also a gift to those to whom you say no. You enable them the freedom to find a better fit, to find what they are looking for at a price they are comfortable paying. You also avoid becoming bitter as time goes on and just making both you and the customer unhappy in the end. If something is a bad fit from the start, it’s better to cut bait right then and there.

Also, you give them a gift because you don’t agree to something you don’t have time, energy or passion to deliver. Instead of overcommitting and making everyone unhappy, focus on quality rather than quantity. It may hurt to say no to that client, customer – or even volunteer opportunity – but remember that you do them more harm if you can’t truly deliver your best for them. Let them find someone who will invest their best.

See? No is not a dirty word and, frankly, it needs to be said with love and respect way more often.

How do you turn down work or say no when asked to volunteer? Any tips for how to do this gracefully? Please share your insight and wisdom with us in the Comments!

“We’re not selling/writing for strangers anymore”

If you are a writer, marketer, content provider, or entrepreneur, please spend 26 minutes listening to this insightful interview with Seth Godin on the Zen Habits website. In it, he talks about not only the state of publishing today, but how to build an audience, what it means to fail and how to finally let go of trying to please everyone.

From the publishing front, which is of particular interest to me as I get ready to self-publish my next book in early 2012, is that we are no longer trying to convince strangers to buy our books. The old model is dead, and self-publishing has turned everything topsy-turvy. Now it’s about collecting friends and creating tribes that you specifically write for and who can’t wait to gobble up your next work. In his view, this makes opportunity more abundant, not scarcer.

Seth ntoes that his experiments with The Domino Project have proven that shorter and cheaper books spread more virally, that cover art with more visuals and less words works well, and that authors don’t need to rely on advances to succeed anymore (especially when that gives the false impression that someone else will be doing the work for you. They won’t.)

Later in the interview, Seth tackes why he does not accept comments on his blog. He states that he used to, but then he started writing with comments in mind and it paralyzed his work. “I don’t write for strangers anymore,” he said.  He decided a blog with posts was better than a blog with comments but no posts. Now he writes to spread his ideas to his tribe, not try to persuade strangers. In his view, the discussion doesn’t stop because he has no comments. There are plenty of places people can debate, get nasty and disagree with me on the Internet if people want, he says.

While a company might need to be a little more open to direct dialogue and interaction, this attitude should hold true with our brands as well. While increasing market share is always a good thing, you need to speak to your “people.” I’ve been doing a lot of work lately with solopreneurs who don’t realize the power they already yield with folks who are on their side or audiences who are primed for their message already. Great brands don’t try to please everyone, so why should your business? It’s just waste of energy and resources.

Photo Credit: Squidoo