So Much for Customer Research!

We need to listen to our customers/partners and suppliers. In the sponsorship marketing game, we must come to the reality check that what they have to say is important to our future revenue objectives. Before we pitch proposals to sponsor prospects, we need to determine their budget, goals and objectives. As a sponsor, we need to listen to selling properties, because they know their products best and how they can help sponsors to achieve their goals. After the program is done, they should both sit back and evaluate. They should determine what went right and what went wrong, exploit the things that went right, and fix the things that went wrong. Sometimes, we need to listen and make changes in mid campaign. We have to admit when we erred and fix it!

I only wish Starbucks would think that way. I am (was) a Starbucks fan. Those who know me or have met with me, probably have met me in a Starbucks-perhaps the one on Seymour across from the Delta in Vancouver, the 4th street Mission location, the Britannia or Glenmore Landing locations in Calgary, the King and Yonge location in Toronto, or next to The Matrix in Edmonton. Those who have met with me also know that I don’t drink coffee, but I still love (loved) Starbucks.

My “office” was at Starbucks for several reasons. They are plentiful and easily accessible. The service is typically really good, friendly, and helpful. They have lots of receptacles to plug in and charge your phone or laptop. They have reliable internet access. They are, for the most part, clean and comfortable. But probably one of the big reasons was, as a tea drinker, I really enjoyed their TAZO brand tea products, and specifically their Zen Green tea. I don’t drink black tea, just green tea. The other national, regional, and local coffee shops just don’t have a great green tea like Starbucks.

So what does Starbucks do when it gets it right with a product… changes it! As of January 1, Starbucks no longer serves TAZO brand. The new “lighter” (they must think because blonde coffee was a hit that tea drinkers wanted a weaker product as well) Tevana brand was introduced January 1. No prior consultation with customers. No prior online discussion. No reaching out to high-end users at their email addresses (which they have). No discussion whatsoever. Just a roll out of the new product… and a poor roll out at that!

For the large size (Venti), some stores serve with two bags and some with three. The medium (Grande) now requires two bags where it used to be just one-and that is with a price increase of about 20%. But what is worse, each tea bag is now individually packaged-no commercial packaging for behind the counter. As a result, baristas must open two tea packages individually for every medium or large drink (where medium and small used to be one), which takes twice as long, slows overall service, and decreases sales opportunities. Then on top of that, the bags swell so much in the hot water that, when removed, about 15% of the water is displaced. Your Venti is really now a Grande by volume!

Then to top it all off, they have run out of product. Not because it is a big seller, but because they failed to account for the double bag situation. In fact, in Toronto, the stores have been out of green and white tea for over two weeks with no end in sight!

So as I write this, I am in a Starbucks at King and Yonge in Toronto. I have a meeting here that I booked about a month ago. Guess what… my next meeting, which I booked yesterday, is across the street and half a block south. It is at the Vancouver-based chain Caffe Artigiano. There I will be able to have a green tea instead of an overpriced bottled water-and tea that I will like. Customers speak with their feet and I am packing up to walk.

Excellent customer service is essential, be it for a coffee shop or a sponsorship property. Listen to your partners. Learn from your fans/subscribers/sponsors. Do what works for them and gives them the best ROI (while also making sure you make money) and they will be there for the long term. If you make changes (or fail to) without consultation and understanding, expect that some, if not many, of your customers will deliver the message of their discontent by walking.

These are just one person’s thoughts. Yours are welcomed as well. Please add your thoughts below . Thank you for reading and your feedback.


  1. Well Caffe Artigiano is great alternative at least. And, if it is any consolation, there is one opening on 4th street in Mission.

  2. Thanks Erica! Looking forward to the Mission location!

  3. What’s the real message here? Is it “Customer Research”, “Brand Management”, “Customer Relations”?

    No, it is “Don’t Mess with Tea Drinkers”!!

  4. Well said Jim! I heard today that Calgary is out of most of the teas as well. More reason to switch tea / coffee shops!. Almost all of mine are now moved from Starbucks locations! All the ebst, hope to see you soon.


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