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My Starbucks Idea: Crowdsourcing for Customer Satisfaction and Innovation

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Ever wish your local Starbucks would carry a different flavor iced coffee? No idea who to tell? Easy, log on to My Starbucks Idea and share your idea.

Howard Schultz star 3launched My Starbucks Idea in 2008 to help increase the company’s focus on the customer and what they want. The company strives to emulate the coffee shop barista experience online by engaging with customers and building relationships. On My Starbucks Idea, Starbucks gives customers insight into what the company is doing and makes them feel like an insider.

The site is simple and transparent. Once you enter the website, you can pick from three options. One, you can submit a new idea. Two, you can view ideas – what have other people asked for. And three, you can see ideas in action – the ideas that have been recommended to key decision makers.

After an idea is submitted, the company has a team of Idea Partners who read all the ideas. The team then takes a combination of the most popular (based on public votes on the website) and innovative ideas and presents them to key decision makers in the company to figure out how to put the ideas to work.

My Starbucks Idea has had tremendous success and has been the source of ideas such as Cake Pops, Hazelnut Macchiato, and free Wi-Fi to name a few. At the five-year anniversary of the site launch (2013), My Starbucks Idea had generated more than 150,000 ideas and the company had implemented 277 of those ideas.

Incentivizing participation: By actually implementing the ideas no matter how big or small, Starbucks incentivizes customers to submit ideas and engage with the website. Additionally, the transparency built into the website, with a section dedicated to ideas that have been recommended to key decision makers and an up-to-date status of those projects, adds a sense of trust that the idea isn’t simply being sent into a black box.

Value creation: Starbucks creates value for customers by allowing them to voice their ideas and help create a better coffee house experience. Consumers often feel like their individual opinions don’t matter when dealing with a large organization. With My Starbucks Idea, customers feel like their voice is being heard and that they can make an impact on the future of the organization, whether it is new products, the in-store experience, or the company’s involvement in the community.

Value capture: I see two forms of value capture with My Starbucks Idea. One, Starbucks can stay attuned to what its customers want and create engagement and loyalty. Two, the company can help spur innovation within a large organization. Established companies have been trying to incentivize intrapreneurship to create innovative products and stay relevant at a time when start-ups are disrupting established industries.

My Starbucks Idea continues to have tremendous potential to shape the way Starbucks evolves over time while maintaining its customer focus. The crowdsourcing website is helping the company stay receptive to its customers’ needs while also helping drive the innovation engine within the company.

5 thoughts on “My Starbucks Idea: Crowdsourcing for Customer Satisfaction and Innovation

  1. Great post. It seems like Starbucks is pioneering customer engagement in the digital age and other B2C companies have a lot to learn. One thing I’m doubting with this app is the targeting. I buy coffee at Starbucks about once a week on average but I’m not a loyal customer, I would buy elsewhere if I had the option. I’ve never heard of this app. It seems to me that Starbucks should target customers like me and try to convert them into more loyal customers. My guess is that the active users of the app are loyal, excited Starbucks customers and not people like me. If this is really the case then it raises the question of how much incremental value can Starbucks capture with this new app.

    1. I think you have a point about targeting. There was an article talking about the new Pebble Time smartwatch “seems to be more about serving the customers who bought more than one million Pebble Watches than it is trying to expand its customer base” (http://www.gizmag.com/pebble-time-watch-review/38163/). Someone who is engaged with Starbucks already can come up with new ideas that will make them more engaged with the product, but they may be more interested in how to squeeze more product out of a brand they already care for. I think there is quite a bit of value in there, since it helps build ideas and absorb more money from people who would be happy to give their money to a brand they love. This is more about upselling committed people than getting new peole.

      With that said, I do wonder how much the average person would engage with such an app if they were not engaged with Starbucks already, or whether they should. Someone who does not go to Starbucks that often and may prefer another place may not believe they will be heard. More importantly, there is the question for Starbucks whether that will really increase the base or if it may involve a lot of spending to please what turns out to be a niche customer. I still think you are right that this can help get new customers, but it is not that bad if it only upsells the current ones.

  2. Nice post. This had me wondering to what extent Starbucks (and other large corporations) could launch similar crowd-sourced initiatives within the company. I would imagine that given their large and diverse employee base, Starbucks could benefit from an internal crowd-led tool to harness employee feedback and ideas in a much more innovative manner than whatever is used today (e.g., employee feedback forms). With the right digital platform these companies could find that similar crowd sourced campaigns may be highly effective at driving employee engagement / empowerment (many employees would be excited to be involved in solving the company’s problems and improving processes) and as a collective group the employee base could certainly discover creative solutions that the C-suite had not yet considered. Of course, in implementing this internally, companies must make sure the initiative is clearly focused, properly incentivized and well-managed – to avoid being just a forum for complaints…

  3. I think this is a great idea. For all the reasons you mention above, this initiative should provide a never ending flow of new ideas to explore (for free) to stay relevant to what their customers want and both to maintain a highly engaged customer base. My only concern with this would be that since as a company you’re receiving thousands of new ideas, that will most likely get discarded, there will be a lot of disappointed customers whose ideas where not selected. As in any contest or lottery, “winners” should be broadly publicized to make sure your audience sees this as a feasible track to get their ideas listened.

  4. Really interesting post. Any B2C company needs to stay really close to its customers and this is a great way to stay relevant. This reminds me of the Nivea case and the biggest challenge is to understand if these vocal, loyal customers represent the average buyer. This can be particularly difficult in a franchise like Starbucks, where standardization brings down costs and brand really matters. Introducing new products which may be really popular but only with a very small subset of customers is the main risk here. If this gains traction it will be a very powerful tool as long as it is used in conjunction with their typical market research process.

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