8.05.2008

Soy Milk at Starbucks

While Jim Cramer may only see Starbucks as a investment opportunity and the newspapers report on the 600 closings around the US, the local Starbucks near my college has made a slight change that I think is worth pointing out.

So, here's the deal- The Starbucks on Longwood Ave. in Boston has soy milk out in a little carafe along with the other milks. This makes me happy as I would prefer to use soy milk over real milk for almost everything. No other Starbucks that I know of in or around Boston has soy milk this readily available. Every other store has it behind the counter where it is generally used for decaf soy lattes. Yes, I have the distinct impression that the conventional wisdom in cafes is that soy milk falls in to the same category of decaf (something that gets enough use to be needed but not readily available, i.e. one pot of decaf to every 3-4 pots of regular).

Let me explain why this small change in one store has made me like it above all other Starbucks in the greater Boston region: most Starbucks shops generally equates soy milk with the higher-priced espresso drinks. In all cafes, ordering a regular black coffee at Starbucks is one of the most efficient transactions there is:

Me: "medium coffee" (notice "medium" this Starbucks has dropped the pretense of only serving "Grande")
Barista at register: "Room for milk?"
Me: "Yup."
Barista at register turns around, pours coffee, turns back.
I pay and walk away with coffee.


If I add one small change to that transaction by asking for soy milk, I'm spending twice as long in the cafe with two people waiting on me- one to take my order/ pour the coffee, another to get the soy milk and hand it and the coffee to me at the other end of the counter. This workflow makes sense for a drink that needs espresso, flavor shots, whipped cream, foam, etc., but not for a regular coffee.

By doing something as simple as putting the soy milk out on the self-service counter with the other add-ins to the coffee, the Longwood Ave. Starbucks has basically modified themselves to deal with people like me. I'm sure that the number of people who ask for soy milk for their coffee (not lattes) is minuscule, but at this location (perhaps due to the proximity of several hospitals) it appears as if someone noticed that enough people were ordering soy milk to identify it as a problem ("Gee, it looks like a lot more people are ordering soy milk and slowing down our rush hour lines") and found a very simple solution to the increased requests.

So what impresses me about this?

  1. A simple and effective solution to the perceived problem.

  2. They identified a potential customer base that might appreciate the change (I certainly never asked for soy milk and always used skim milk or half and half, but now...)

  3. They kept the focus on a streamlined workflow.

  4. Customers don't feel like soy milk is some special ingredient that they keep hidden behind the counter.

  5. They did something different than other Starbucks. This makes this particular store stand out from the other Starbucks down the street.

  6. The problem of some cafes not honoring the "free soy milk with your registered card" disappears.

  7. I still get my coffee quickly.

What are potential benefits I see from this?

  1. Dedicated customers (I now wait until I'm at work to get coffee instead of stopping at one along the way).

  2. Costs- how much additional soy milk does this Starbucks go through and how does that compare to the reduction in drinks being added to the queue (this will differ at every cafe based on the customer profile).

  3. Customer satisfaction: I get soy milk and I don't have to wait.


And why am I writing about this in such detail? Because I'm a library geek who work at a library where our circulation and reference desk have a lot in common with Starbucks: we have people who need different levels of help and there may be something as simple as putting out whatever our soy milk may be to help improve the experience in the library.

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