Warning: this blog post contains a link to explicit lyrics. Perhaps a similar warning should have been posted on the door of the Covington, WA Starbucks I visited on Friday, January 29, 2016. Even though I’m not a coffee drinker, I’m a fan of Starbucks’ food, their non-coffee drinks, and their free WiFi. At least once a week, while I’m out and about, I’ll stop in, order something (using their WiFi without ordering something is bad form), and work on a new blog post.
I waited a week before writing this post, because I wanted to see what Starbucks would do after I told them what happened on January 29th. And what exactly happened on January 29th, you ask? Here’s a copy of the email I sent to Starbucks on the afternoon of February 1st via the customer feedback form of their website:
Last Friday, I ordered some food and a drink at the Starbucks at 27177 185th Ave SE, Covington, WA, then spent about an hour there working on my laptop.
I noted that the volume of the background music was louder than I would have expected, but I didn’t let it bother me. I was also surprised at the song choice that played for that hour, as it seemed quite different than the normal Starbucks fare. This didn’t bother me either, as I was focusing on my work and not really listening to the songs… until I heard the words “ni**er” and “pu**y” come booming out of the speakers. I used my iPhone to Shazam and identify the song, which was “Beat It” by Sean Kingston, featuring Chris Brown and Wiz Khalifa. A quick Google search found the lyrics I’d heard:
“You say you want a fly nigga,
Roll something and get high, nigga,
I’m spending all the most,
And if he ain’t coming close,
It’s time that you tell him bye,
I’ll take you up in the sky, We be floating,
Get you wet like the ocean, I’ma speed up on it,
And if your pu**y was a book I’ma read up on it,
Girl, I’m just trying to get you back to my crib,
Seen all them Instagram pictures you post so I already know what it is,
Talk to me now.”
I’m no prude, and I’m a fan of hip-hop… but this is shockingly inappropriate music to be playing in a Starbucks, and I was relieved none of my children were with me. I’d be surprised if this music choice was corporate-approved. But I wouldn’t feel surprised if any of the many female employees in that store felt uncomfortable at the graphic and misogynistic lyrics.
Thankfully, I happened to be the only customer inside the store at the time. But perhaps a discussion with that store’s manager regarding appropriate music choice might be in order. I doubt that song, and likely previous songs I wasn’t paying attention to, reflect the image that Starbucks is trying to project to its customers.
I received a response via email the following day at 1:26 AM Seattle time (my guess is that Starbucks’ customer service staff resides in a non-US time zone like the Philippines, which is well known for their top-notch and low-cost customer service reps).
To be honest, the response email felt far too “canned.” Just plug in the store location, my first name, and a brief description of the complaint, and you’ve got a vanilla (or is it Manila?) email response:
Thank you for contacting Starbucks. I just finished reading your email and appreciate you taking the time to share your concerns with us.
I want to thank you for letting us know about the inappropriate music playing at the Covington location. I completely understand how important it is for you to feel comfortable at our store when you visit Steve. Hearing feedback straight from our customers is valuable. To make sure this doesn’t happen again, I will be sharing your experience with the store’s management team.
I hope you have a wonderful day Steve. If you ever have any questions or concerns in the future, please visit us at customerservice.starbucks.com.
A week has gone by since I received Julie’s email, and it seems Starbucks considers the matter closed.
I suppose Starbucks doesn’t really owe me anything more than Julie’s email, but I have to admit that I’m still a little surprised. I half-expected some sort of additional follow-up with an invitation to come back to the store, or perhaps a small gift card for a free drink, or even something as simple as a less canned response from the store manager. One time, after sitting in a Chick-Fil-A drive-thru line for a few minutes longer than normal, the cashier at the window proactively apologized and handed me a coupon for a free sandwich, even though I hadn’t said a word about the extra wait time. When I ran a web hosting company in the 90s, giving a free month of service to an unhappy customer was standard procedure for our tech support reps, and they didn’t even need manager approval.
Normally, unless things are really bad, I’m not a complainer when it comes to restaurants. But in a situation where I’d sure want to know what happened if I were the manager (and employees playing explicit lyrics in what should be a family-friendly retail store definitely qualifies), I feel it’s worth the time to send an email or fill out a web form.
Maybe I’m blowing things out of proportion, but the “punchline” of this rant is that I was underwhelmed with Starbucks’ response to my customer service issue. Just as the inappropriate music was out of character with Starbucks’ reputation as a family-friendly store, this underwhelming customer service response seems out of character with Starbucks’ reputation as a service-driven company.
What do you think? Tell me in the comments below.
UPDATE 2/11/16: After tweeting a link to this blog post (which I do with all my posts), Starbucks’s customer service Twitter account replied with the following:
@sjjenkins We appreciate your passion for @Starbucks & customer service. We took this seriously. Please DM us your cell & I’ll call you. -KC
— Starbucks Help (@starbuckshelp) February 10, 2016
I DM’d them my phone number, and KC called and left me a voicemail that same day. But I’m terrible with voicemail, so the following day, KC called again and got me on the phone. He was extremely professional and friendly, and had obviously read this blog post, as he informed me that all Starbucks’ customer service staff are US-based, and that Julie (who’d replied to me via email) was simply one of the people who was working on the “late shift.”
KC went on to explain that Starbucks has recently started using Spotify in their stores to provide background music, and that while they have procedures and filters in place to prevent such songs from getting through, there must have been a failure in those procedures on this particular occasion, and they’ve taken steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again. KC then asked me “What can I do to make this right?” I appreciate that kind of direct approach, and I got the sense that had I said something like “Well, how about a gift card or something?” that KC would have made that happen. But the fact that he chased me down via Twitter and called me was good enough for me, and so that’s what I told him. He thanked me again for bringing the issue to their attention, and (here’s the important part) said that he hoped I’d be visiting Starbucks again soon.
Sometimes, a personal invitation to “come on back” is just as good, or even better, than a gift card.