Have You Been Starbucked? (Part 1)

In April 1995, satisfied customer Jeremy Dorosin walked into his local Starbucks and bought an espresso maker. When he got it home, much to his dismay, he discovered that it was broken. The company replaced the machine for him, but that one turned out to be defective as well.

Nevertheless, Mr. Dorosin remained brand loyal and even bought a different model of espresso machine from Starbucks as a wedding gift for a friend.

Unfortunately, upon opening the gift, his friend saw that it was used, rusted, and missing a few parts, not to mention the operating manual. Numerous attempts were made to get the company to make amends for these errors, and none were met with satisfaction.

What followed is every company’s nightmare. Mr. Dorosin took out an ad in the Wall Street Journal looking for other consumers who had been “Starbucked,” and the response was overwhelming. His story was picked up by the media, and he appeared on several local newscasts and national programs including Hard Copy, CBS’ Eye on America, and Good Morning America, not to mention giving more than 70 radio interviews about his ill-fated dealings with the coffee giant.

Today, nearly fourteen years later, Mr. Dorosin’s saga continues to live on via his consumer advocacy web site www.starbucked.com.

Lest you think this is an unfortunate, isolated occurrence, Starbucks is far from being the only company to have customer grievances aired online. In fact, ABC News has christened the term “the world wide whine” to describe the practice. (i) And, the Merriam-Webster dictionary now includes the term “Netroots,” meaning “the grassroots political activists who communicate via the Internet especially by blogs.” (ii)

Just to give you an idea of the scope of this issue, Googling “consumer complaint” and “blogs” yields 50,000 hits. Angry consumers have a number of avenues to present their stories with incredible scope and rapidity. One option is to post messages on general grievance websites like www.pissedconsumer.com or www.webgripesites.com, which cover retail, auto, health, government, and education forums, among others.

It’s also possible to visit message boards of any publicly traded company via the financial link on Yahoo! and other servers. On these message boards, there is a lot of discussion about stock values, of course, but you can also find insider information as well as juicy office gossip from disgruntled employees.

Finally, there are websites dedicated to consumer and employee issues with particular businesses. Most post general grievances, but some add their own flourish. For example, on www.homedepotsucks.com, not only do you find a message board riddled with both customer and employee complaints, you also find the guide “Before You Go: Tips on Surviving a Home Depot Visit.” Then, the site www.targetsucks.wordpress.com posts updates on civil suits against Target as well as giving the direct phone number and e-mail address of the CEO in addition to phone numbers for other company executives deemed too “high and mighty who don’t want to be bothered with hearing from Joe & Jill Sixpack.”

Of course, you can’t discuss angry consumers without mentioning the numerous sites devoted to Walmart: www.walmartsucks.org, www.walmart-really-sucks.com, www.walmartwatch.com, www.hel-mart.com, www.wakeupwalmart.com, and www.walocaust.com. The site http://community.livejournal.com/walmartsucks is specifically for Walmart employees to trade war stories, commiserate, and give advice for dealing with the organization’s bureaucracy.

Indeed, online social media tools have made it easy for those who want to be heard to in fact be heard. For communicators, this has profound implications for the way we approach our “primary directive.” The Arthur W. Page Society has said, “In many ways today, businesses–but also communities, individuals and nations–are in an acute and high-stakes battle for their identities and global reputations.” (iii)

One of the first steps in responding to the new communications paradigm is to find out what people are saying about your organization or your clients’ organizations. Simply put: Do you know if you’ve been Starbucked?

Shockingly, many communications practitioners have yet to do a comprehensive search into the conversations happening online RIGHT NOW. If you’re not confident that you have a good idea of who is saying what and where, consider making this the week you take the plunge.

In our next issue, we’ll provide recommendations to both minimize negative coverage and respond quickly when, unfortunately, it inevitably occurs. Stay tuned!


(i) http://abcnews.go.com/print?id=3888721

(ii) http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/netroots

(iii) http://www.awpagesociety.com/images/uploads/2007AuthenticEnterprise.pdf

Reprinted from The Corporate Communicator, a free e-zine dedicated to helping corporate communicators do more with less. If you’d like to have the latest industry news, research and best practices at your fingertips, you can sign up for a FREE copy at http://bonmotcomms.com/newsletter.html.