I have a theory about Starbucks. For being the world’s most successful coffee shop, they sell the worst coffee in the world. How is that possible? Have you ever tasted Starbuck’s coffee? I’m not talking about all the flavor-laced Dope-accino drinks, but the coffee. That burned and bitter sludge you have to drown with milk and sugar just to choke down. It’s awful. But through the brilliance of Starbucks’ marketing, it’s also guaranteed to be the closest caffeine fix to anywhere you happen to be in the world at any given moment.
For years I’ve stayed loyal to the neighborhood roasters with good coffee, and limited my Starbucks visits to those times when I was away from home. And it would annoy the hell out of me every time. You can’t order a "medium" coffee. It has to be "Grande". And it’s not just some pre-career Goth taking your change, it’s a Barrista. I’d stand there in line listening to all those abbreviated insider codes "double-quad-nowhip-mocha, extrahot", convinced I was on the fringes of some cult. The dependency. The special language. The willingness to donate handfuls of cash with a vacant happy stare. I finally realized the bad coffee was a way to separate the skeptics from the true believers.
When a Starbucks opened right next to my office, I found myself buying more of their crappy coffee, and then upgrading more frequently to a Latte just to avoid the torture. When I finally graduated completely from coffee to the poodle drinks, it struck me: Crappy coffee is an upselling opportunity. It’s what everyone initially comes for, it’s the cheapest thing on the menu, and it sucks. But for just a few dollars more, you get flavor. Any flavor you want. Any combination. And once you make the initial leap, a banquet of delights appears before you. Add a little chocolate, a little orange, a little cinnamon and whipped cream. It’s just money. And once you buy a Starbucks’ loyalty card, you won’t even tally up the transactions any more. Just dump some cash on the card every payday and you’re good to go.
I thought it was an amusing little theory–Starbucks makes its coffee undrinkable to migrate customers to a better tasting, more expensive beverage–a little marketing conspiracy theory to kill time in line with a client. But then I heard one of my friends talking about a recent experience with Salesforce.com, and I started to wonder.
If you haven’t heard, Salesforce had a few hiccups in its service over the past few weeks. One of my friends runs a company that relies heavily on Salesforce.com, routing its lead generation streams through the application. It turns out the outage wasn’t so much a blackout as it was a brownout. The system was continuously going up and down over the course of a week. Every time it went down, my friend’s IT team had to divert their prospecting feed away from Salesforce, and then restore the connection when it went back online. A little annoying to say the least. Finally they called the Salesforce support team and said, hey, why can’t you send us an alert when the system goes down and when it comes back up, so we can stay on top of this problem?
Are you ready for the response? Sure, Salesforce said, we can send you an alert, but that’s a service included in our Platinum Support Package. Would you like to upgrade?
When I heard the story, I had visions of a Salesforce executive standing behind a row of servers with a plug dangling from his hand watching the Platinum Support Upgrade Dashboard. Drinking a double caramel macchiato.