Gini Dietrich

A Fantastic Starbucks Customer Experience Story

By: Gini Dietrich | October 30, 2012 | 

I have a great story to tell you.

It’s one of fantastic customer service from a brand we all know and love: Starbucks.

Most of you know I had a craaaaazy summer. I was on the road for 25 weeks straight. To say I was exhausted is putting it mildly.

When I’m home, Mr. D comes into my office and announces, “I’m going to go hunt for coffee,” as if we’re living in the wilderness and he’s hunting for the family’s daily meal.

I always get a tall, nonfat latte. But one particular morning in June, after a few weeks of crazy travel, I asked him to upsize me to a grande.

When he returned, there was a note on my cup:

The fact that the barista at Starbucks knew I was in for a long day because I ordered a larger drink was pretty incredible. I took a picture of it and uploaded to Facebook, but thought that was the end of that.

About a month later, Mr. D came home with another personalized cup:

He explained they didn’t think I was real – that he was making me up – because they’d never seen me.

So, of course, I checked “maybe,” wrote “depends on your definition of real,” and sent the cup back the next day.

In order to determine whether or not our definition of real was the same, he sent me another cup:

And so began our four month relationship, communicating only through cups that Mr. D delivered back and forth a couple of times a week.

It became a great source of entertainment on Facebook, while my friends all voted on how I should answer each question.

Then, after three U.S. trips and one trip to Canada, I made my return – via the cups and Mr. D – to Starbucks.

He continued to keep me on my toes, even as I answered his questions and sent back some of my own, with a new “feature” of our cup relationship.

And then sadness. About a month ago, I learned his last day at Starbucks was coming soon.

I had Mr. D find out when his last day was (this past Sunday) and I went in to meet him.

And now, without any further ado, I’d like to introduce Dan the Starbucks barista who totally rocks, gave me a ton of great fodder for Facebook updates for months, and made me feel like he truly cared about both Mr. D and me as regular customers.

He moved to Chicago to go to The French Pastry School and now has a full-time job as a pastry chef at Sixteen at the Trump Hotel. And you can bet on your life that we will be visiting him there, which never would have happened without the personalized cups.

He took regular Starbucks customers and had such an effect on us, we’ll become dessert patrons at a fancy schmancy restaurant.

The Experts Say

We’ve been talking a lot here about treating customers like people, no matter what your job, and while it’s interesting conversation, I’m not a customer experience expert.

So I asked Jeannie Walters and Adam Toporek to give us their take on why these little things matter so much in today’s 24/7, real-time, digital world.

Jeannie said:

This is a perfect example of how a small thing, a microinteraction, can have a much bigger affect. Customers are people. As people, we each like to be treated as an individual. This small act of interaction recognized you as a unique person, plus it created a relationship when there was no requirement to go beyond the transaction. By interacting in this incredibly human, not to mention charming, way, he gave you a reason to be loyal beyond the coffee. It’s a wonderful reward for loyalty, too. We all want to be recognized.

And, as a side note, this is the topic of Jeannie’s TedX talk on November 9, if you want to learn more.

And Adam said:

We live in a low touch economy. We bounce from transaction to transaction sometimes without any human contact at all. Most of the personalization we do experience falls under the rubric of mass customization — it’s faux-personalization such as reading the name off a credit card or off a Starbucks cup. These gestures are important because they help us feel recognized, but they are not enough to make us feel truly valued.

The reality is everyone wants to feel appreciated. What is so cool about your barista is that he went beyond his job to make you feel special, to take extra time to show that he valued you enough as a customer and person to notice and to care.

So there you have it. A very personal, fantastic story of customer experience and a series of microinteractions that worked phenomenally well.

What experiences have you had or seen that lend to really great customer experience?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.


I loved this story, as a former Starbucks Barista, and as a life long customer. The interaction I get with the baristas totally makes a difference if I frequent that location. This experience you had made me cry, because it was just so sweet. I wish there were more baristas like him.


I love stories like this!  Wow, the Spin Sucks blog is awesome.  Heard about it from a Bean Cast podast.  Lot of good stuff here.  Nice work.




And this is why I too love Starbucks. It was my first job in high school and I worked there through college as well. I enjoyed it more than working at a restaurant because you truly have an opportunity to get to know your frequent customers. Many of them gave me money for graduation and I will never forget one customer (knowing I was from Hawaii) has grown a plumeria tree in their backyard and made me a lei out of it!


Amazing story ! It's nice to know that there are great people out there still and some sort of personal interaction in this globalized world of ours.


Your Starbucks story is amazing! As they say, you can't make this stuff up. I've shared it out on my blog as well and people love it. Thanks for your comment too.

My husband and I love Starbucks probably as much as you and your husband and the people that work there are typically over the top friendly but that is a big part of what their brand is built on. Fun, friendly, customer service that makes you want to keep going back.


This is why it's so important to enable all employees to work "off-script". Everyone is in marketing and customer service, even if they aren't. Every person in your company can plus or minus your brand, and companies like Starbuck's, Southwest, Dell, ThinkGeek that let their employees be HUMAN are kicking the stuffing out of companies that require robotic and slavish adherence to the approved playbook. Love this story. 

Aunt Bs Kitchen
Aunt Bs Kitchen

Great post.  I've been working in customer service related jobs for more than 30 years and I can tell you from experience that every personal touch counts.  I've been fortunate enough to have several customers become friends and my life is so much richer for it.


What a great story.. loved this!  This is what loving life is all about! 


Curious, did @Starbucks ever see this? 


I am Dan's dad and we love the story. He gets his wit from his papa. We are very proud of him,


It’s all about customer engagement.  Mr. D. gets it, knows it and lives it.  He’s a natural at it.  I bet he has great parents. 


Truly heartwarming! Thanks so much for sharing.


Great story Gini! I am not sure it will make me switch from Caribou to Starbucks, but I am strongly considering it! What a win-win for you & Dan! If everyone could see that doing good or producing good was a cyclical thing, our world would be so much brighter! I love this!! Pay it forward!

Todd Nevins
Todd Nevins

I needed this story today.  Thanks!!

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

I have a pattern of being a day late, but I saw this yesterday, and it was nice to read a happy story this week!!!


Exactly to @jeanniecw , @Adam | Customer Experience and your points, this just happened over the weekend at Perfection Tire: I've been going there for years but I don't know if these guys know me by name or not so I called to make an appt not expecting them to know who I am. I said, "This is Lisa Gerber and I need to make an appt to..." and he goes, "LISA GERBER?!?!?! never heard of the lady!!!" very jokingly.


As ridiculous as that sounds, he immediately boosted my mood. I was thinking to myself - look what this guy did, I'm all sitting up straight and laughing with him! Tiny things like that make the customer feel special and don't cost a dime. and it wins loyalty. 


Such a beautiful story. And a customer experience story that I wish could be replicated by more places.


Do you think anything in his training had driven him to do this? Or was he a diamond in the rough. An anomaly. A fluke. A CS genetic mutation.


Finding a barrista who remembers name's is a find. Finding one who create's his own customer engagement and loyalty program is whole new level!


Starbucks should have been throwing money at this guy to tour nationally and run seminars on customer engagement. They're crazy to lose him!


 @liamgooding This guy is clearly a customer service diamond, but the magic is that Starbucks gives him permission to deliver it. They trust him, and the culture inspires him. There is no way a service trainer could tell employees about this tactic—it comes from the heart and charm of a person who understands a service relationship. HR lesson: Hire awesome people and get out of their way.


Okay. I give mom credit.


  1. [...] you’re an avid reader of Gini Dietrich’s Spin Sucks you will have read her fantastic story of the ultimate Starbucks customer experience. Those of us [...]

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  6. [...] going, but it might not be good for my blood pressure. So, I’ll leave you with this lovely story of outstanding customer experience. It makes me feel SO much better. Special thanks to [...]

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  12. [...] social network got in on the game, voting on ways to respond to questions and comments.  It’s as sweet story if you want to read the whole thing – but the social outcome was sweeter.  In a world where most [...]

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  14. [...] few months ago, Gini Dietrich told the story of Dan, the Starbucks barista who engaged in a long-distance conversation with her through coffee [...]

  15. […] 「お客さん」というくくりではなく、「このお客さん」というように、自分だけに向けられた心遣いがとても嬉しいものです。シカゴに行ったら、Danさんが働いているTrump International HotelのSixteenというレストランに行ってみたいですね。   【出典:SPIN SUCKS】 […]

  16. […] But baristas love to talk to their customers. Their customers love to talk about Starbucks, in person, on social media, on blogs……with each other not with Starbucks. Yes lots of people post photos involving Starbucks. And 53,000 take an action on the Page each day. But they have 10,000,000 (big number eh?) customer person to person touch points each day. And that trumps Facebook’s cold impersonal relationships brands have with their fans…I mean you talk to a logo! hello! […]

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  18. […] a customer long term and them losing that special bond. When my friend Gini Dietrich‘s Starbucks Barista left how many of his peers or even the store manager knew he helped that location build a better […]

  19. […] Another great example is the interaction between a Barista at Starbucks and a customer where they communicated for 4 months via messages on the customer’s coffee cup. Now, that is customer experience gold. […]