The plan offers eligible full and part time employees full tuition coverage to earn a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University. Starbucks gets that this employee benefit will generate greater customer loyalty. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Wait, what? An employee tuition program fosters customer loyalty? She is nuts.” Hang with me here; let me explain…
My husband is a bit of a Starbucks loyalist ("Ease, convenience, consistency in product, and a great rewards program," he observes). OK, maybe more than "a bit" – he actually visits our local Starbucks[*] every morning after his run when he is not traveling. When he gets to the counter, he is greeted by smiling Baristas who welcome him by name, and have his drink & food order in the queue before he utters a word. The Baristas know if he is going to order a Grande Decaf Wet Cappuccino or a Grande Iced Americano with brown sugar based on the cup he has in hand; and they know he always orders a Spinach Feta Wrap for his post run protein pump.
This customer experience has galvanized my husband as a Starbucks loyalist, even when he is traveling. Yup, that’s right, he’ll go out of his way to patronize Starbucks when he’s on a business trip even if it means walking a few extra blocks (he claims his employer having provided the loyalty card which led to the phone app helped. Perhaps. Did I mention he is an integral part of his employer’s management team? :-) The bottom line (if you will) is his loyalty translates to consistent revenue for Starbucks.
But, let’s take a deeper look at the magic Starbucks has discovered that clearly helps…
Why are many Starbucks Baristas so happy? Well, I think I've figured it out. You see, Starbucks appreciates their employees; they pay well, offer great benefits – including their College Achievement Plan with the thrill of obtaining a college education, and reward employee loyalty with the ability to build a career with the company. So, in general, Starbucks Baristas feel (very) good about working for a company that (genuinely) cares about them. This translates into happy Baristas who greet customers with a smile and are willing to go the extra mile to ensure their customers have a great experience.
When a customer is greeted by a smiling, happy Starbucks Barista the customer experience is delightful. Delighted customers are happy customers. A happy customer will continue to patronize Starbucks because they know the experience will most likely be the same in the Starbucks down the street, or across the country.
For Starbucks, offering employees the opportunity to dream big and earn their bachelor’s degree, compliments of Starbucks, translates to happy, loyal employees. Happy, loyal employees translate to lower turnover, which translates into higher quality customer experiences born of operational continuity from staff stability. Higher quality customer experiences galvanize customer loyalty.
Sure, that's an easy connect the dots reality. But here is another thought about customer experience that reinforces the notion that customer relationship is brand management. The College Plan is conspicuously posted in Starbucks stores for customers to read about, and today Starbucks made a big deal about it in major newspapers (as shown above). In the spirit of (but in this case, not necessarily the letter of) the important concept that brand affinity is predicated on the maxim that "People don't buy what you make they buy why you make it" we should recognize what was not lost on my husband or others I've spoken with about this. That is, customers feel good about the brand they're buying from when that brand openly and notoriously demonstrates care for its employees. That connection not only builds loyal employees, it galvanizes loyal customers.
* To be sure, we live near a “neighborhood” Starbucks that has regular customers, but much of the experience holds true for most Starbucks locations (my husband relays similar customer experience at his conveniently located ‘Bucks in Washington DC’s Dupont Circle when he's there on work) – Baristas are happy to work for a company that pays well and offers great benefits – like tuition coverage.
And for those who saw the full page Ad taken in today's major newspapers (as shown above), did you notice that very tiny little gray text at the very bottom of the page near the footer? Yeah. "be good to each other"