“Latte” your customers

During his keynote speech at the Experian Marketing Services Digital Summit in Las Vegas July 27, Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Businesstalked about why it’s important to change the habits of your employees if you’re going to market your brand effectively.

(Jonah Lehrer was the convention’s July 26 keynote. But, we can choose to skip that debacle, can’t we?)

To illustrate habit formation, Duhigg used Starbucks as a case-in-point. In one example a barista wrote on a cup: “I give DECAF to people who are rude to me.”

The company also got some flack because a customer in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, claimed a barista had written the b-word (you can use your imagination here) instead of her first name, on the side of the lady’s Starbucks cup. Duhigg showed a clip of the incident’s aftermath, showing a woman, obviously hurt, and a newscaster interviewing her.

Before Duhigg showed the clip, he asked the audience to imagine that they were Starbucks’ marketers, who had poured millions of dollars into growing its brand recognition.

“If you ever wanted to know what the sound of $100 million going up in flames is, it’s: ‘My name isn’t *beep,* it’s Vicki,” he says, laughing. The audience laughed too, albeit nervous laughter.

Although it may sound cliché, customer service is an important aspect of was Starbucks sells, Duhigg says. Yes, the company purveys consistent coffee, but the service—what keeps you coming back to that specific Hell’s Kitchen location over and over again—needs to be consistent too. And welcoming. And nice. And overall, of course, respectful.

So, Starbucks instituted a habit loop, he says. The company told baristas all over the country to “latte” customers who were irate. In other words, baristas were encouraged to hear customers out, and give them what they wanted.

In case you were wondering, in this context, “latte” stands for:

Acknowledge the problem
Take problem-solving action
Thank them, and
Explain what you’ve done

The result? According to Duhigg, a bold, robust coffee business.

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