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David FullerMy wife Margaret likes Starbucks but when I ask her what she likes about it, she can’t quite put her finger on just what it is.

She tells me that the coffee is good (I don’t drink coffee so I wouldn’t know) but I have friends who say that McDonald’s coffee is even better.

She said, “It’s the lighting and that they have windows.”

“But Tim Hortons has more windows,” I counter.

It’s the “ambience, how you can just sit there and be at peace, how people are friendly, or that they change it up regularly.”

I argue that there are other coffee shops that have all of that and more.

I know lots of people who don’t like Starbucks coffee. My father tells me the coffee is so strong that he has to dilute it with 50 percent water. I have other friends who frown on the high cost of the drinks at Starbucks and others who don’t appreciate the fact that they won’t find their friends sitting around there.

So what does Starbucks do that keeps its customers so loyal? And what could you learn from Starbucks that would make your business better?

Customer service

If there’s one thing that every business could learn from Starbucks, it’s customer service.

Last week, I went into our local Starbucks at 6:45 a.m. I was out for a walk and thought I would get a ride home with Margaret, who regularly meets her running friends there for a coffee after their 6 a.m. run.

I wasn’t going to get a drink because we were heading home shortly.

Alyson, a baristas who my wife knew by name (I didn’t), came to our table a couple minutes later and handed me a drink, telling me it was on the house. Low and behold, it was the special drink I order almost every time I go to a Starbucks (which is fairly rarely compared to my wife).

How many of our businesses would know enough about their customers to take care of their spouses? How many of our staff would go that extra mile to make visitors feel special or do something extra for someone outside of our core customers?

Alyson did exactly that at our local Starbucks and my gut feeling is that Starbucks supports its staff in going that extra mile. Do you?

Exclusive products

Where else can you buy triple venti, half-sweet, non-fat caramel macchiato? (And what does that even mean?)

Not only does Starbucks have a level of quality that seems to exceed their competitors, they have names that spell exclusivity. So often in business we try to have similar products to our competitors and we fail to differentiate ourselves the way Starbucks does.

When we fail to give unique reasons for our customers to buy from us, we reduce the long-term value of our business. Don’t just always do everything the same – do something different.


Whether you’re going to meet a friend or read a book by yourself, Starbucks has something for you.

No, it’s not typically a place where you’ll find a group of retired seniors on a budget, but you will find a table full of mothers, a couple athletes, three business people, a mother and daughter, two friends and three students, all wanting to relax while having a favourite drink.

Having just the right lighting, colours and odours that allow your customers to relax when they’re doing business with you goes a long way to ensuring that they keep coming back.


I’ve never ever had anyone tell me they thought Starbucks was cheap. In fact, it’s generally considered an expensive place to buy coffee. Yet every time I go to pick up my wife from Starbucks, the place is wall-to-wall people.

So often in business we think we need to have the lowest prices to get more customers. As a result, many businesses never make it.

We’re so focused on low prices that we forget that customers want much more. Studies show that most customers are more interested in value than pricing, yet we often fail to understand what that value really is.

Its obvious that Starbucks has figured out what that value is for their customers. Have you?


Whether it’s opening or renovating a store, picking a location or serving coffee, Starbucks revolves around having great systems that promote efficiency, quality and timelines.

Having such systems ensures that the Starbucks coffee you order in Prince George, B.C., is going to taste the same as the coffee you get in Heathrow Airport in London, England.

Could you say the same for your business? That the product or service you deliver is going to be equally good every time?

Having great systems in your business means you have systems to ensure the proper hiring and training of baristas like Alyson, who go over and above your customers’ expectations. How good are your systems?

After talking to Margaret, I’m not sure I could pinpoint what it is she likes about Starbucks.

However, I do know that Starbucks costs me money and that she tends to go back there regularly to get her fix. Margaret seems happier if she has a Starbucks coffee in her hand, having come away talking to a barista like Alyson (although some of the small local coffee shops can sometimes give her that feeling).

And as a husband, I know that a happy wife equals a happy life.

Troy Media columnist David Fuller, MBA, is a certified professional business coach and author who helps business leaders ensure that their companies are successful. David is author of the book Profit Yourself HealthyEmail [email protected]

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