Ask 50 people what the number 1 rule in business is and you’ll likely get 50 different responses. Regardless, I’m sure most would agree that “Don’t Promise Your Customers Something You Can’t Deliver” is high up on the list of “don’ts.”

Now, I preface my forthcoming complaint with 1 caveat:

I greatly admire Starbucks for jumping on new media, technologies, platforms and generally attempting to keep the brand evolving alongside consumers. Be it with unbranded stores, partnering with Klout, the legendary My Starbucks Idea, or being the first major brand to tout a Foursquare Promotion in which Mayors supposedly receive special promotions or discounts at specific location at which they reign (this being the subject of my imminent rant), they clearly see the value in the primacy and innovative thinking that dominate successful modern marketing.

As a Social Media Marketer, Community Manager, Creative Technologist, and Digital Trendhunter (yes, I AM all of those things, so bite me), I am quite familiar with the territory and how difficult it must be to brave the unknown and forge ahead in spite of landmines and obstacles that saturate the landscape. Understanding this, I will happily grant brands the latitude to explore new ideas and forgiveness for blunders that occur under noble (at least for marketing standards) intentions. But in the case I’m about to discuss, we’re closer to false advertising than we are to easily dismissed road bumps in a beta program.

That said, the aforementioned programs are worth shit if no one at Starbucks is actually aware of what’s going on. Case in point, this morning I happened upon a Starbucks which I routine (I’m verbing that word, as opposed to say, “frequent”).

This is the Starbucks In Question

Having only been there a handful of times, I didn’t think that “Checking In” on foursquare would have any impact on my quest for the elusive Mayorship, but lo and behold, while standing there on line, boom, I was crowned mayor and notified of my reward.

Mayorship Official

I was entitled to a $1 discount on any Frappuccino.

Starbucks Venue Page on Foursquare

And so, with a stupid ass grin plastered on my face, I walked up to the Barista and kindly asked for the frap, with discount, courtesy of the promotion and showed her my phone with the corresponding messaging displayed. She had no idea what I was talking about. Neither did the manager. The convo went as follows (not verbatim, but essentially this is what happened):

Me: Hi, I’d like a Grande Caramel Frapp with the $1 Foursquare Mayorship Discount. Do you need to see the phone? Here [Showed her the phone].

Barista: Um, I’m not sure if we do that, hold on [Gets manager].

Me: Hi, Do you do the Foursquare promotion for mayors? [Showed him my phone].

Manager: What’s foursquare? I never got that memo, sorry.

Consequently, I left, quite unhappy, and walked straight into the Dunkin Donuts around the corner (though they screwed up my order, at least the didn’t renege on any promises.

After Tweeting my incredibly frustrating and disappointing experience, I found that I was not the only one to encounter such ineptitude. This was sent to me by a twitter friend, Cassie:

Every weekday morning I go to the same Starbucks.  Not only is it convenient but, they know me there and are always friendly and consistent.  While I’m waiting for my drink, I usually check in on Foursquare.  I have about 30 checkins in the past two months and I’ve been the mayor for several months now and since where I live (Albany, NY) isn’t really the mecca of social media, I doubt that anyone will oust me any time soon.  Although I’ve been the mayor for this long, I hadn’t yet tried to use my $1 off a Frappaccino until this weekend.

I stopped by my regular Starbucks on Sunday morning and I ordered my normal hot drink and a Frappaccino and then said “Also, I’m the Foursquare mayor here.  What do I need to show you to get my $1 off?”  The look that the barista gave me when I said this was sheer confusion and dismay…like I had spoken to her in some kind of alien language.  I then proceed to show her the screen that said I was the mayor, the coupon that pops up on all Starbucks locations and generally try to explain how Foursquare works and that this is a nationwide promotion.  She was more than confused by all of this and kept mentioning that she would need a promo code in order to give the discount.  There was another barista working who also said he had never heard of the promotion or Foursquare.  I was starting to get annoyed and the barista probably picked up on this and offered to give me the $1 off anyway.  She took copious notes and I told her just to Google it and she would see the press release from Starbucks.  I paid, took my drinks and left.

I went back this morning (as usual) and asked the two ladies that I see every morning if they knew about the promotion.  Both of them said they had not heard of it.  Thankfully, I don’t really like Frappaccinos.

All the best,
Cassie Cramer

And Twitter Cohort Joe Hester Brought This “Jaffe Juice” Post to my attention, for yet another example.

Which brings me to a very big WTF Starbucks?

Starbucks FAIL

In addition to an angry ‘tip,’

Angry "Tip"

I’ve tweeted the @Starbucks account 2x since this egregious communication breakdown with no response. Which brought about this post.

I’m very torn here – I want to just not care, it’s only a dollar, and like Cassie, I’m not particularly fond of Frappuchinos. But as someone who’s job it is to devise and advise on programs like these, such problems are simply unacceptable. Right? It’s not like this is a secret promotion they’re running. Just look at how many outlets have covered it!

Where do you  guys weigh in here?

  1. karen moran says:

    Starbucks sucks. I *WAS* a long standing loyal customer – as in every day 7 days per week, drive 10 miles one way out of my way when visiting a friend in VA who didn’t have a close one for hhmmm 15 years! And then I don’t know what happened. They just stopped caring. As for whoever manages their Twitter account – they fail miserably time and time again. I’ve tweeted pix w/8 billion people standing in line – numerous times – only to get no response from @Starbucks. I tweeted on my Birthday they should have a Foursquare promotion if you check in you get a discount – only for no one to reply. Er – I’m sorry – no one at the @Starbucks twitter account replied – One of my followers told me if I had a refillable Starbucks card – I would have gotten free coffee. Why didn’t @Starbucks tell me that or better…start following me, and DM me a way to get a free coffee? THAT would have kept my business. But no one did. Why? Cause they don’t care anymore. As such, I rarely go anymore. Maybe 1 x per week at best. I bought a french press and make coffee at home. No desire for poor customer service.

    • Aerocles says:

      I hear you. I stopped going in the winter when regular home brewed coffee or the deli’s mud down the block will suffice. But in the Summer, when iced coffees and their ilk are so much better, it’s another story. I can’t seem to concoct anything on par so I’ve been torn between them and Dunkin Donuts. I don’t care that DD doesn’t reply to me on Twitter as much as I am Happy they don’t make promises they can’t keep. My mind is made up now. Oh and DD is cheaper, which is a nice plus 🙂

  2. stsimms says:

    i used to be a frequenter of the bucks but now i just get hot waters and make my own tea, or cool water becuz i ride my fixed gear bike a lot. i love it because it must cost them at least 50 to 75 cents everytime i order my free items. Im not a big fan of corporate america anymore, so stikin it to the Man is pretty fun in my life. So how can we fix this problem: a mass mailer to their corp emails or wat? lets get our foursquare discount people and not accept false promises, come find me at @stsimms @verbsent Steffon TEE simms on fb. talk you all later fellow foursquarers!!!

  3. I guess I should go to that one, as the one I go to (42nd between 3rd and Lex), I’ve checked in 30 times in the past couple months and don’t have a shot at Mayor. If I don’t get the $1 off, don’t really see the point, since I’ve already unlocked the Barista badge.

    • Aerocles says:

      Haha, feel free, I only needed about 9 check-ins to get the mayorship. It’s all yours if you want it, not that it will do you any good. I’m a Dunkin Donuts Man Now…

  4. They don’t honor much. You supposedly also get free bev customization and free brewed refills when you use a registered Starbucks card. But the employees have no idea what you’re talking avbout when you ask for the freebies you’ve been promised.

  5. Sasha says:

    Seems like a case of Starbucks communicating properly with everyone else besides their employees.

    • Aerocles says:

      Well it’s a promotion targeting heavy social media users. If their customer base is more familiar with that territory than their employees, then maybe the promotion was a bad idea to begin with.

  6. Beth Baldauf says:

    At my regular Starbucks, a barista is the mayor!! While that normally wouldn’t bother me, the fact is no *customer* will ever have the chance to take advantage of the mayoral privilege. Starbucks is not listening. Despite several tweets of frustration, a couple of e-mails & commenting on their website, I still have yet to hear from them or see it addressed. #fail

  7. Whitney says:

    I like Starbuck’s big insulated cups- they’re great at home, working at a desk, etc. but I’ve started to buy the majority of my coffee at my local coffee house- BrewHaHa in and around Wilmington, DE. The staff is great, they now know my order when I get there, and they draw pretty things in my latte, which is just that extra special touch that makes me feel special, silly or not. Even though I am mayor at more than one BrewHaHa ( and there are no discounts like the one Starbuck’s offers, instead I get better coffee, pleasant staff, and a feeling that I’m at my version of a caffeinated Cheers.

    It’s all about making customers feel valued and following through, and it sounds like these national promotions are having issues. 😦

  8. Sarah Tiambeng says:

    At first Starbuck’s use of foursquare really impressed me, but after hearing so many stories like this, it seems they really missed the mark. This could have potentially been a great opportunity to boost loyalty and get someone who never drinks fraps to try one. By not responding to complaints in addition, it just makes the whole process look unorganized and shows maybe they aren’t as forward thinking on LBS as I thought.

    Sorry for your luck!

  9. Rob says:

    At the Starbucks in my old neighborhood, a barista was the Mayor on Foursquare. At least they can’t claim to be ignorant of the promotion – too bad no customer will ever be eligible! Checking into your place of work on Foursquare is just bad etiquette , not to mention bad for business.

  10. Kyle Lacy says:

    Based on these comments Starbucks fail is Dunkin’s gain! Communication is key when running a business (duh) For a corporation like Starbucks to not possess this skill is alarming. How can they expect to be the best if they are okay with mediocrity? I dunno.

  11. Mark Drapeau says:

    This is a bigger problem than Starbucks. The reason why FourSquare and similar services will have a hard time surviving is because their business model is unstable. Making this work requires a stable relationship between FourSquare, its users, business owners and managers, and the day-to-day staffs; meanwhile, FourSquare doesn’t even have a public phone number. Guess where this is going…

    • ctreada says:

      Great observation — it’s an awareness issue that creates a bad consumer experience. Most people who run storefronts have never heard of foursquare or any of their competitors. A much larger # of people in the mainstream have heard of Facebook, Twitter, the local newspaper, etc.

      Ultimately, I think the LBS people figure this out. But it’s going to take some time.


  12. Mark is exactly right. To add — Starbucks has corporate level management and marketing teams who came up with this deal and were responsible for having it executed by store-level management. Can you imagine the impending problems facing individually owned and operated franchises? Eg While McDonalds rumored partnership with Facebook may amount to nothing, you know its corporate marketing will want to jump on the Foursquare bandwagon.

  13. ad_guy says:

    on day one of the promo, I “routined” two of my Starbucks mayorships. both had seen the email/memo, but neither had read it/circulated it with the staff.

    I didn’t want the offer. who drinks frappacinos anyway? but I was surprised at how unprepared they were. my relationship with the Batista was one that they believed me…and I’ve since heard that both locations aredown with the program.

    I applaud Starbucks for taking on a LBS SM program. and, as a dabbler in SM, I’m thankful to see Goliath stumble before any of my clients get into the same situation.

    great post. it needed to be said.

  14. Chef Perrault says:

    I’m the mayor of my Starbucks, and although they had to do some digging to find the code, they honored it for me on the very first day that it was available, and on every visit since then. Yes, I got the funny look and the “sure, you’re the mayor, I’m the govenor and that homeless guy sitting over there is the Prime Minister” look, but a little explenation on my part helped me to get my discount.
    If we immediately jump on these vendors for trying out a new type of advertising, and throwing out the “false advertising” claims, why would any of them want to be the pioneers of these types of promotions? Should Starbucks have communicated better to their store managers? Of course. Should they have responded to your tweets? Absolutely. But being the first of the big guys to run this promotion, let’s thank them and encourage them to do more.
    And anyone out in Sacramento, CA, if you want a discounted Frap, come to the Natomas Starbucks and I’ll let you use my discount. I’m the tall guy in the corner trying to look like I’m working really hard on my laptop, but really just playing Family Feud on Facebook.

  15. Aaron Zwas says:

    This highlights one of the great, but underrated, challenges of social media: defining the operations to support all of the incoming and outgoing data. Too many of us in the social media business focus on the end result: in this case a clever promo via FourSquare, without taking into consideration employee change management, training, corporate reporting responsibilities and much more. Starbucks is one of the great social media brands, and I admire much of their work. It seems like perhaps they moved just a little too fast on this one, as I have a similar problem at my local Starbucks, too.

    Helpful tip: I did notice that when I checked into a Starbucks in midtown two weeks back that the FourSquare profile stated explicitly that the venue participated in a special offer. Perhaps this whole thing is opt-in per retail outlet. If *that’s* the case, then we have a consumer education problem more than an employee education challenge…

  16. […] And so, with a stupid ass grin plastered on my face, I walked up to the Barista and kindly asked for the frap, with discount, courtesy of the promotion and showed her my phone with the corresponding messaging displayed. She had no idea what I was talking about. Neither did the manager. via […]

  17. […] was recently on the receiving end of some backlash after a failed attempt at utilizing social media. A Starbucks customer who frequented a particular […]

  18. Ironically, Starbucks won’t lose my business here to DD b/c I personally don’t like D brew. But, being new to Dallas from NY, I have been surveying many local shops to see what they know about social apps and the like. Most are unaware, most are amazed at the possibilities (like FS promotions) and folks like Starbucks are also losing sight of the adage that, like politics, all business is local. They’re screwing up execution which is sad because they had the proverbial bull by the horns.

  19. […] Starbucks Fails to Deliver on Foursquare […]

  20. […] 不錯吧? 但是一名美國民眾寫了,星巴克不執行這個優惠。果然,令不少人相當地不滿意! […]

  21. Loved this article. There are many gaps with foursquare inside the venue, as you’ve outlined, no visibility of the specials at all. ScreenScape will change that, as venues opt for digital signage, and add their foursquare information to their displays it becomes more real inside the venue. Managers and barristas would notice their specials and so would more patrons – potentially growing the foursquare membership to participate.

  22. […] Starbucks Fails to Deliver on Foursquare […]

  23. […] as evidenced by online complaints from those who tried to cash in on their status as Mayor. Some, like this one, got quite […]

  24. […] Starbucks Fails to Deliver on Foursquare […]

  25. […] dintre Foursqure și Starbucks a primit evaluări de tot felul. Mulți utilizatori s-au plâns că în magazinele Starbucks în care au încercat să își revendice reducerile personalul nu […]

  26. […] originally thought. While the program increased check-ins by 50 percent, customers reported having problems redeeming coupons because baristas were unaware of the program or said they only recognize paper […]

  27. Bob Jon says:

    but that’s 4square for you – you have to visit a place 30 dam times to get….. $1 off.

    3$ * 30 = 90$ to get 1$ off. = awesome…. . . . .. . ???
    But kudos to Starbucks for taking on initiative with our now-a-day audience & new platforms!

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