Coffee Break, Anyone?

February 29, 2008

I read, with absolute interest, of the measures which Starbucks have undertaken to attempt to win back their fair share of the market, and to ward off stiff competition poised by cafe chains McCafe (of McDonald’s) and Dunkin’ Donuts.

On Tuesday evening, US time, all 7,100 Starbucks outlets in the US were shut for 3.5 hours as the coffee giant attempted to retrain its frontline baristas the art of brewing a top-notch cup of expresso, as well as the skills of providing excellent service. (Read the story here). As a reflex action to its 50% dip in share price since 2006, it is expected that drastic measures will be taken. But how effective will these be?

Naturally, the entire scheme of things screams as a strong and loud marketing ploy. Train the workers, and yet not keep this training low-profile. Let the entire nation know that the workers really need, and are undergoing training! Let the consumers know that their interests are being placed ahead of the company’s reputation and any possible losses incurred during the 3.5-hour shutdown of the company.

What a clever PR stunt on the shifted market structure – lost customers will certainly be drawn back to the coffee chain with the promise of better service and coffee (and hopefully, prices as well), in the short term at least. I will be truly surprised if the coffee chain fails to see an increase in revenue in the US in the upcoming months.

But, it remains to be seen if the marketing ploy will work in the long run. It is unknown as to how long the effect of this “training” will last before the black sheep among the baristas get bored with their jobs once again and suffer a relapse into their old frame of mind. After all, it has been proven, via surveys, that this essentially forms the basis of the largely unchangeable mindsets of the iPod workforce generation – that who are unwilling to chip in extra effort than necessary at work but yet expect to reap the same rewards. What incentives will the employees be getting, aside from pride and satisfaction at their job, at being a part of the Starbucks revolution? I suppose, it’d all hinge on the type of carrot the company chooses to dangle in front of their employees.

While the long-term effect may not be tangible as of yet, perhaps this could be an aspect which companies based in Singapore may wish to look into. With largely dipping service standards nationwide, it is perhaps time for the black sheep in the service line to undergo some serious training from their companies, whether they choose to emulate or simulate the techniques used. After all, we’re paying 10% for service charge and 7% for GST. Don’t let local consumers start to get the notion that we’re being unfairly ripped off, ok? The inflation is bad enough.

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