Customer Innovation @ Starbucks

It has been a while…Writing 26 blog posts for the AtoZ Blogging Challenge in April left me exhausted and then it was time to go on a vacation and then the World Cup demanded all my attention. The list goes on…

Anyway, I recently came across the customer innovation story of Starbucks and immediately thought of posting something around it. Interestingly, I came across the Starbucks story in the context of Co-creation, a concept which is new to me but the principles of which seem to have deep synergies with Innovation (Open Innovation to be more specific) and Knowledge Management.

Now I am a big fan of Starbucks. I find its journey from a coffee roaster in the 70s to a global chain of coffee shops in the space of four decades inspiring. Ever since I had my first cup of coffee in 2006 in a Starbucks store, I thought they don’t just sell coffee…they sell an experience.

The MyStarbucksIdea platform was launched in 2008 with the aim to solicit customer insights and preferences. The core principle of the initiative is engagement and share the message with the customers that they are partners in the Starbucks journey. During the first five years since launch, 275 ideas shared by customers have been translated into solutions around placing orders, making payments; providing an atmosphere that you want to come back to (Wi-Fi enabled); improving the quality of drinks etc.

So why do Starbucks customers take this initiative seriously? Why do they spend time in ideating for an organisation that they are not part of? In my opinion, the answer lies in: human connection and transparency.

Human connection: Along with the roll out of the MyStarbucksIdea platform in 2008, Starbucks introduced 50 idea partners who were mandated to spend time with the customers online and then transfer the ideas shared to appropriate stakeholders thereby embedding the ideas into the business processes. A case in point is when Starbucks decided to roll back breakfast sandwiches from its menu to operate more as a coffeehouse. Interestingly, the customers ‘asked’ the company to retain sandwiches but make it more value added in terms of adding more fiber and protein, more whole grain etc. Starbucks took it seriously and launched a new range of sandwiches which were nutritious (in line with the suggestions) but with fine changes in ingredients that ensured that the aroma of the sandwich doesn’t interfere with the smell of ‘what’s brewing’ in your cup.

Transparency: When you log in to the mystarbucksidea site for the first time, it is likely that you would notice these:

1: The phrase: We Listened to You
2. The graphic (source:
Starbucks_Inspired By You

As a Knowledge professional, I could easily relate to the phrase and graphic as I sincerely believe that these are pre-requisites for success for any Knowledge Management programme. Any programme that attempts to collect insights and inputs from stakeholders (irrespective of whether they are internal or external) would need to share the message that they are being listened to. It is imperative that acknowledgement of inputs / insights are explicit to the extent possible.

Guess, I can take the liberty of getting distracted now. So, how far do you think can Costarica go in this World Cup? In the interest of us, the football romantics, let’s hope that the fairy tale continues!


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