For the past few weeks, I have been running my own unscientific test of Starbucks customer service. Specifically, I experienced first hand the hardships of becoming a big company and how it can impact the perception of your customer service. I decided to see how many times I could replicate the experience before a change happened. It all revolved around one U.S. cent. Yes, one penny. But how big can one penny really be? Big.
My wife and I like to treat ourselves to Starbucks on the weekend. While ordering our two espresso bar drinks, I noticed something incredible - yet totally understandable. It came down to the total of the purchase - which for discussion sake, let's say was $5.01. When I went to pay, I did the usual fumbling around for a penny while holding a $5 bill in my hand - with the assumption I would hear "don't worry about the penny, sir". But I heard nothing and felt only the cold stare of the employee waiting for my penny. Slowly, I pulled out another dollar to cover my debts. I was given back the correct change, 99 cents to be exact. I was now set with a handful of silver and copper to rattle around in my pocket.
OK. Nothing wrong with watching every penny right? This fits very well with the book "The Millionaire Next Door." But it began to bother me slowly. First, we all know that once you break a dollar, you can pretty much write off the change. Some of it slips out of your pocket to fall between your car seats. If you are lucky (and smart), you keep a change jar and put most of the survivors in there. Sadly, many of us lose it all to the washing machine and clothes dryer. I swear those things have an eBay business selling old change and the socks I have lost.
But then I really started to think about the apparent death of "old school" customer service. I noticed they had a tip jar on the counter. How can they ask me for a tip when they can't even cough up a penny to ensure I just get a clean dollar bill back? Then I started thinking about the economics of the deal. How many stores and how many transactions at 1 penny per each would it take to create a material loss? I can understand not covering a quarter here and a dollar there - but a penny? Don't they have a rule that allows for the old "take a penny, give a penny" philosophy?
So, how do you fix this? Where would you draw the line in the sand? 1 cent? 2 cents? 5 cents? Actually, none of them. If 5,000 stores give away $1 a day over 365 days, they cough up $1.82 Million bucks in profit! Yikes! That is not very unrealistic either folks. A busy metro Starbucks sees many more than 100 customers in day. Heck, they might see that many between 6am and 9am.
This does not even take into consideration the problems of implementation if you had decided to adopt "penny goodwill." Do you change the register systems? You would have to figure out all the potential ways products could be ordered to round down any 1 cent or 2 cent "infraction." Ugh. There is no way you could do it manually via regional or local supervision. That would be a green light to Bobby and Susie to cough up more free lattes than normal.
And let's talk about the reality of addiction (mine or any other closet Starbucks fan). I appreciate the consistency of my coffee. I don't mind the McDonald's of coffee. Who am I kidding? I won't go out of my way to save that penny. Unless you put me in rehab, this junkie will continue to get his special espresso treat on the weekends at the big green dot - and I will keep losing the change. If they are smart, Starbucks should look at me for what I am - a junkie - and keep taking my pennies.