When Starbucks Ran Out of Coffee

Today I walked into Starbucks for an iced coffee only to discover that Starbucks was out of coffee.

The coffee brewer had broken earlier that morning.

Jeff* took my order and let me know that while iced coffee was unavailable, they had cold brew (the new craze of slightly more expensive iced coffee). He apologized, and charged me the discounted iced coffee rate (win!). Unfortunately, they ran out of cold brew before my drink could be made (lose)- so Jeff again apologized, offered a similar drink (iced Americano) and gave me a coupon for a free iced coffee drink at any Starbucks location (win!).


There's a lot to be said in the way your brand acknowledges a mistake, even when it's out of your hands. Starbucks' employees made the best of a bad situation, introducing customers to new products (teas, frozen and espresso drinks that probably don't sell as well) while providing sincere apologies while making it right.

Whether social media or in person, the playbook remains the same:

1. Acknowledge the problem (and apologize where necessary) - Whether you're a coffee shop out of coffee or an airline that can't fly *cough Southwest*, start by acknowledging and apologizing for the inconvenience.

2. Be Sincere - nothing's worse than a fake apology or going through the motions - just look at the VA issue and the Congressional response. If you're not going to try your best to fix the problem, don't say you are.

3. Offer a solution - In Starbucks' case they were able to provide a similar drink (I just wanted coffee with ice in it) at the same price. No harm, no foul, and I might try it again in the future!

4. Make it right - Just because you're able to make it almost right doesn't mean it is right. Mistakes/broken coffee machines happen. Make it right to your customers even if they're not happy about it - they'll remember it in the long term.

5. Thank customers for their loyalty! Once the crisis has passed - thank your customers and anyone affected! As any non-profit employee can tell you - you can never thank your supporters too much. You don't have to spend a lot of marketing dollars - but again, be sincere. 

(You'd be amazed what could happen if you sat your CEO or COO down in front of a camera for a sincere, 30 second apology. Or, if you're feeling gutsy, offer a live tweetchat, periscope or facebook video).