Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

When a company tells you it's doing something for you, it's always worth being suspicious.

Even if it's a company that claims it's dedicated to customer service.

Like Starbucks, for example.

Last week, the coffee chain made a little change.

Well, it's quite a big change really. Big to those who regularly waste their life-savings at Starbucks, that is. (Disclosure: guilty.)

You see, Starbucks altered the terms of its famed Rewards program. 

In order to "make the program more appealing to more people," according to Starbucks.

Here's how it's not appealing to Starbucks' most valuable customers. 

When the changes came in, Starbucks apparently thought it a fine idea to wipe away the balances of those who were working hard toward, gasp, a free Frappuccino.

The removal of one's points is one of the most painful First World issues many humans can face.

It feels like your pocket's being picked, while someone's telling you how much they love you.

Yet Starbucks explained to Nation's Restaurant News that it's all a little complicated, but good: 

Previously when you joined, you started as a green member and were unable to start earning rewards until you hit the gold level. [Previously] once you hit 300 stars, your balance reset. Today, all green members were fast-tracked to gold membership so they could get to the point where they are earning stars. Now when you walk in, any purchase you make can be used toward rewards. Their star balance may look different but now they can earn toward rewards and yesterday they couldn't.

How uplifting to become golden just like that.

There were, though, other severe complaints. 

In pure money terms, what this plaintive, coded whine means is that instead of spending $62.50 to get a free drink, customers now have to spend $75.

How, then, can Starbucks claim this new system is more appealing to a greater swathe of the populace?

Well, it also allows you to spend fewer stars on things that don't cost Starbucks much.

You want a little flavored syrup in your drink? That'll be just 25 stars. 

You want a free drip coffee? Why, that'll only cost you 50 stars. And goodness, drip coffee takes around 10 seconds to serve. That'll help keep the lines going, won't it? 

At heart, there's only one thing going on here. 

Starbucks is embracing the ethos of airlines.

Just as United, Delta, and the rest seek to find more profit in every single line item of their business, so Starbucks feels pressured to do the same.

Oddly, a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how United has changed the terms of its frequent flyer program in order to introduce surge pricing, instead of standard award charts.

There's only ever one goal with such moves. Make more money.

When it comes to airlines, customers have so little choice. 

Starbucks, however, has much more competition from above and below its station.

And please don't imagine that customers haven't noticed what's really going on.

Naturally, I asked Starbucks for its reaction to its customers' reaction. I'll update, should I hear word.

The numbers might make one or two Starbucks executives twitch. Forty percent of its business comes from the 16 million Rewards members.

When you have a large, loyal customer base it's always a gamble as to how much of a downgrade it can tolerate.

Just as little things create loyalty--and Starbucks' Rewards Program has been much admired for its relative generosity--it's the little things that can lose a customer, too.

Published on: Apr 21, 2019
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