Pam is my Starbucks name. It's not my birth name. Not a nickname. Not my weekend club night name from college (I think that one was "Tina @ 555-321-0000"). It's not even a spy alias. It's just my Starbucks name. I suppose if I drank Coca-Cola five years ago, it would also qualify as my coke can name.
When I heard Starbucks was getting in the wine game a couple of years ago with its Starbucks Evenings program, I thought, "God, no, please. Can't they leave well enough alone?" My love-hate with Starbucks has been an ongoing struggle:
#1 I love their coffee.
#2 I hate their tone deaf ideas.
The adversity started with names. Names on cups. Whenever a big brand comes out with a personnalisation gimmick, I cringe inside particularly as someone who was born in a country rich with diversity like few other countries on earth. When I imagine the pitch for this bright idea, I see the concept being presented by an eager ingenue or a desperately out-of-touch former prodigy: Let's mandate what a few shops are already doing. It's a lukewarm hit that gets kicked around like a soccer ball until it becomes transformed into a full-blown strategy to boost loyalty and revenue; a trend-setting scheme to attract the newest crop of Gen-whatevers looking for validation and retain the 35+ crowd who may be getting over the hip perkiness of it all and just want a low drama coffee, fast and cheap - at least cheaper than $4 - "'cause I gotta be at work in 5 minutes." When it came to the Starbucks Evenings idea, I was admittedly already jaded from the morning mess of baristas writing names on to-go cups. Sure, names make sense with the fast-paced, coffee confusion that ensues when a pile of similar looking freshly brewed beverages start backing up on the pick up counter. But the flaw in this simple brilliance was one so glaring that had someone, anyone, spoken up in time, could have at least been a second thought before the big roll out. Perhaps someone did raise a hand and was brushed-off. Perhaps, no one did because there weren't enough others at the table for the gaffe to even hit the radar.
For about a year, I abandoned Starbucks (this was before blonde roast) following day after day of: Barista: Hi!!! Welcome to Starbucks!!! Me: Yeah, hi. I'd like a tall hot no cream no sugar with room, please. Barista: Super! And can I get your name? Me: Kyra. 5 minutes later another barista from the far end of the counter with my order in hand calls out "Kreeya?" Next day, repeat, but Barista: Can I get your name? Me: Kyra. K-Y-R-A. 5 minutes, other barista: "Kirana?" Day after day, month after month, location after location, state after state, East Coast, West Coast: "Kendra?", "Tyra?", "Keera?", "Kriya?", "Myra?", "Kirain?" You know, I want a coffee not the experience of hearing my name butchered over and over again. I've determined it takes either complete indifference or tremendous effort to concoct some of the woeful misspellings that became my new identity. I'm having a great day. The sun is shining, my outfit is cute. It's Friday. Why are you doing this to me?
And, as a double shot, I'm stuck with the sight of this butchery all morning in bold black permanent marker sitting on my desk and staring at me like the totally failed attempt at sincerity that it is. It's like a message of how much I don't really matter to Starbucks beyond my wallet. It's a clear sign that the company obliged its employees to do this without considering the number of Kyokos, Kendras, Muhammads and Saoirses there are in America. Hearing yourself being called Corko, Kenron, Mama'd and Shoestore is the exact opposite of the point!
Basically speaking, the complexity is that I'm not Bob. Bobs are great. Kick-ass great if you want. But everybody is not a Bob. And that lack of awareness screams back every time I'm forced to walk away with a white paper cup that says "Kria". I've worked my share of low paying jobs and I know baristas don't earn much. When I buy a coffee, I want a coffee. I don't require a smile, a compliment or even a "Good morning". Just a cup of coffee, tall, hot, no cream, no sugar. I've got my life and the baristas have theirs. I'd rather have no interaction than a fake one. Hand me my coffee and have a nice day - and I mean it. And so do baristas when it isn't scripted ahead of time. If someone really wanted to greet me by name, they'd ask and take care to get it right. You can't compel human kindness. Even for the five minutes it takes to make a coffee:
Order. Pay. Receive. Out the door. Good enough! Back to wine. Fortunately, Evenings was a flop and the campaign was rolled back last year and will likely be repackaged into something meant to look like a new idea. I don't anticipate seeing names on wine glasses, but I do hesitate to embrace new ideas from a company that aims to tap a market it doesn't even try to understand. My suggestion would be to get a few more seats for the table and fill them with a variety of names so that at least the breadth of the conversation changes a bit: considerations are made and voices are heard with ideas that might not have been regarded without those speakers in the room. I still like Starbucks coffee and drink it from time to time. Less than before and always as "Pam" if I must play that game. I don't hate them enough to travel across town to another shop but I do skip the 'Bucks when there is a handy alternative nearby. Before the name game, I avoided getting up 10 minutes earlier to load the Keurig but, since I began to love them less, I'm slowly choosing to take the extra ten if it means avoiding a dose of indifference. In an era where movements are created with a thumbs up or thumbs down, I suppose that's something. It's seven months early, but my Christmas wish for Starbucks is for rebirth of the old way: "Tall, hot, no cream, no sugar?" Good enough.