Small Inconsistencies Lead to Big Omni-Channel Issues

An acquaintance recently had an experience at Starbucks that shows the negative impact that not providing a seamless omni-channel customer experience can produce. The fact that Starbucks generally offers a superior customer experience and is a leader in omni-channel commerce and promotions demonstrates that no retailer is immune to slipping up in this crucial aspect of the holistic customer service offering.

How many calories in that iced tea at the counter?
My acquaintance, who carefully watches the nutritional value of the food and beverages she consumes, was surprised to see that the menu board of a Starbucks store said iced tea contained 60 calories. She asked the barista why this was the case, since tea leaves have no calories. He shrugged his shoulders and said he did not know.

Concerned, she checked the Starbucks site on her Android smartphone, which listed the iced tea beverage in question as having no calories. Not sure which answer was correct, and wondering if all this time as a regular consumer of unsweetened iced tea beverages at Starbucks she had in fact been consuming unknown calories, she called Starbucks customer service. A helpful customer service representative was able to get the correct answer, which was that the beverage contained 60 calories if it contained sweetening syrup but no calories if unsweetened.

Starbucks’ loss is Dunkin’s gain
Unfortunately for Starbucks, she made the call from the parking lot and at that point was already behind on some other errands so she decided to leave and purchase an unsweetened iced tea from a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through window down the street. And while she still plans to return to Starbucks in the future, not all consumers are so forgiving of this type of inconvenience.

Sweat the small stuff
The root of this problem is a lack of consistent information across different sales channels. The store provided different product information than the mobile site, and the customer had to engage the call center channel to sort things out. As a result a sale was lost and the customer engaged in negative brand evangelization.

However, even assuming that the nutritional information provided in the store matched that provided online, there is still the problem of the store associate not having ready access to product data. It is unreasonable to ask a barista to memorize the different calorie counts of every permutation of every Starbucks beverage, but it is reasonable to provide baristas with ready digital access to a product database so they can directly assist customers with questions about the items being sold.

Furthermore, a mechanism should have been in place to allow the call center representative to offer my acquaintance some type of instant incentive, such as a texted 25% discount on iced tea good for that day, to help reclaim the sale that wound up going to Dunkin’ Donuts.

Again, the purpose of this column is not to excoriate Starbucks, a retailer that generally does an excellent job of driving customer loyalty across all channels, but to remind retailers that something as simple as an inconsistent or incorrect product detail within a broader omni-channel experience can cost a sale and maybe much more. Omni-channel retailing is inherently a “big picture” undertaking; just make sure you don’t overlook the small nuances that comprise the big picture.


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