What a Leaking Starbucks Lid Taught me About Value

I like to say that I have been tired since my first son, Will, was born in 2011. With three kids, there is a secret formula to sustainability…coffee. 

Okay, it is not so secret. 

Coffee is the starting point of every day. I can’t even hit the gym at 6 a.m. without brewing a little coffee to get the day going. 

I have been an avid customer of Starbucks because of this. I have liked the consistently good coffee I have gotten from there since I started the addiction (what else do you call it?) in the early 2000s. 

Until recently, that is. 

Providing Value

Value is what customers are willing to pay for. As I just admitted above, I have always been willing to pay a little extra for my perception of better coffee (and by that, I mean better quick-serve coffee — I feel like that distinction is necessary for die-hard coffee drinkers!). 

While the product (coffee) has not changed much, other factors have led me to doubt my loyalty to Starbucks: 

First, I have had CONSTANT leakers. Since the start of 2023, I have had so many coffee stains on my pants that I have bought a Tide-to-Go pen for my office. I have also grown tired of wiping coffee stains out of my car. As a manufacturer (who could mold plastic lids, no less), this is infuriating. I do not pay to get hot coffee dumped on me repeatedly. Obviously, there is an issue with the lid and cup fit. 

Second, the location I frequent is not convenient. There is only one way in and one way out. I have dodged several rear-end attempts by other drivers (who are probably too focused on their leaking coffee cups!) 

Third, there is an alternative option (Dunkin Donuts) that is more conveniently located to the office. So, I gave it a try in early June. While I do not think the coffee is as good, I have gone 10+ times and have yet to have a single drop of coffee drip on my pants. I have moved from the “loyal” Starbucks camp to the “free agency” camp — I now frequent both.

Guarding Against Slippage

The point of this post is simple to grasp but hard to live out. The businesses we lead differentiate themselves on various small, subtle value differences. Just as I did not fully realize how much I valued (and was willing to pay for) a coffee cup that does not leak, I suspect some of our customers probably do not even realize what they value from us. 

Our job as leaders is to find out what those things are and ensure no “leakage” on any aspect of our value. Unfortunately, there will always be some. I am sure if I go to Dunkin long enough, they will mess up an order, or I will have a leaking lid. The point is that leaders need to look for and guard against this slippage. When it comes, we have to address it immediately and fix the problem. 

Then, we will hold on to the value and keep the customer. 

P.S.: I now split my time more evenly. Starbucks won me back in the summer with some really good Nitro Cold Brew. Can you say, addict?!?