A lesson in value and expectations from Starbucks

The morning the Starbucks app broke down was a brief national crisis. Why? It has to do with perceived value.

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On the morning of February 28, 2019, breaking news of a crisis swept through the United States: the Starbucks app was on the fritz. Here are a couple of comments I found on Twitter about the can’t-order-my-morning-cuppa-with-my-phone incident.

Not surprisingly, not all of the comments were this amusing. Most people were just angry.

I think there’s a big lesson in this system breakdown. It’s a lesson about perceived value, and one I don’t want you to miss. So let’s go back in time and revisit when we were (I think she said) peasants and had to stand in line and talk to a lovely human to order our cup of coffee.

In the peasant era, we paid with that fancy stuff called cash or swiped our credit cards to get our lattes and pastries. (The super fancy among us used Starbucks loyalty cards you could fill up with money.) Then came a breakthrough in 2009: an app-based loyalty card that let us pay with our phones.

We were pretty happy. I know I was. I kept losing my Starbucks cards, and I’m a sucker for the promotion that allows for a free coffee. Having the app made the whole process easier for me.

Roll forward to September 2015. A massive upgrade to the app dropped and brought with it some serious magic. We could now order all the caffeinated beverages and cake pops we wanted directly from our phones! For the last 3.5-ish years, getting to pre-order my coffee and sous vide eggs—and have them waiting for me when I roll in the front door—has been just fabulous, especially so when I’m on the road.

Back to the morning of February 28, 2019. Full disclosure: the app-fail didn’t impact my day because I worked from home. Had I not and wanted to go to Starbucks, though, I would’ve honestly been annoyed.

But why? Ordering the “peasant way” would’ve been easy, and taken less than four minutes of my time and effort.

That’s because I’d gotten used to a certain level of service.

The expectation of what the “Starbucks experience” should be bar has moved, even since 2009 when the first app came along and enthralled everybody. Now the 2009-level experience isn’t good enough. And the bar will keep moving—for them and for all of us.

Over time and repetition, the perceived value of your “magic” skills diminish. They start as magical and eventually become expected. Harsh but true, as the Starbucks app failure has taught us.

The impact of your coffee-ordering inconvenience was thankfully short-lived. But your takeaway from this experience can last forever.

The way your customers (real customers, bosses, and peers) perceive your skills diminishes in value over time. They move from magical abilities to expected skills.

The way you perceive your skills declines in value over time.

If you’re not getting the promotion or the recognition you think you deserve, maybe the value of what you were doing in the past has diminished. Is it time to reevaluate what’s valuable about you?

If you’re not sure why you’re awesome (you are) then maybe it’s because you don’t value the thing that makes you uniquely and awesomely you.

We live in a world where base expectations of how something should work are re-set with such incredible speed and frequency that a situation as silly an outage of a Starbucks app can send us into a spiral. You don’t want to spiral, and you don’t want your boss to spiral, either. Is it time to do a little audit of your value?

I highly recommend it—because you’re way more valuable than a pre-ordered Venti Pike in a Grande cup with a cold coconut milk topper.

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