Here Comes Everybody: Starbucks Now Listens To Your Ideas

In News, Online on April 23, 2008 at 3:50 am

(Pic from lusi)

Thanks to the internets, consumers have never been more empowered to suggest new ideas and trash out crappy ones. Of course, none of this would have happened if corporate cultures don’t change–the CEOs, CFOs and whatever other COs are getting more receptive to the idea of bottom-up feedback and administration rather than the iron-fisted top-down rule that dominated much of the 20th century.

Starbucks–as expensive and crappy as their coffee is–has taken a leap of faith in opening up an online “suggestion” box of sorts using Salesforce. At MyStarbucksidea, registered coffee fans can now suggest new ideas in a forum-like way, while other people can vote on the idea (like digg) and weed out the stupid ideas like bringing in strippers on Tuesdays (that would be my idea). Starbucks, in return, would take a high-vote suggestion and find ways of implementing it.

Many of the ideas concerned making lines more efficient, such as one suggestion to form a separate line for those asking for “regular brews”. One suggestion that struck me was this:

I never understand why extra milk is the only difference between Vanti and grande drinks. It is expected that there should be an extra shot!!!!!! Most of people don’t even know this “secret”.

The idea is now “Under Review,” and it’s great that Starbucks takes criticisms well and tries to be honest and open about changing the way it does its business rather than defending their practices vehemently.

This story was picked up by Jeff Jarvis, who extolled the idea in his column for Guardian. Being the futurist that he is, he stretched the idea further into Parliamentary discussions, but that debate is for another day somewhere in some super-pro-democracy country with a tiny test-case population of 12.

Read more on Jarvis’s analysis in The Guardian:

We are seeing the first glimmers of the transparent corporation, where the customer finally has a seat at the table when decisions are being made. The internet makes this possible. Starbucks, Dell and have opened public forums for customer ideas, all using software from Salesforce. Customers submit their ideas, then fellow-customers vote on them – some gain a following, others die on the vine – and the companies implement the best of them.

Salesforce chief executive officer Marc Benioff says: “The dead-end suggestion box and the auto-reply are symbols of corporate indifference and are no longer tolerated.” This process happens in the open, for all to see. Blogger Doc Searls, a Harvard fellow, has coined a term for this turnaround: vendor relationship management (versus the old customer relationship management).


The Starbucks discussion is fascinating. Various caffeinated customers in a hurry suggested that they could encode their standing orders and credit on to cards so they could wave them like London’s tube/bus Oyster cards upon entering, putting their order in and charging them automatically, which would allow them to skip (and shorten) the line.

Others suggested separate lines for simple orders of brewed coffee. What the customers were really telling the company was that the length of its lines is a problem. But note well that they didn’t complain about this. Instead, they came up with solutions. It’s a sign of the gift economy online. Customers are willing to help. They want to be partners.

  1. Man, Stripper Tuesday would so rock.

  2. LOL. Brings new meaning to “extra shot”

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