Rise Above the Daily Grind

I WAS SURPRISED TO HEAR RECENTLY THAT STARBUCKS IS EXPERIENCING difficulties in the marketplace. I mean, there are at least two or three Starbucks near every corner of the marketplaces I've visited around the globe recently. More than that, in this world where people are so busy they need to e-mail their colleagues while they're walking down the street and take incoming phone calls while they're using the restroom, Starbucks has proved that it's worth standing in a line 10 people deep to wait for a $5 latte.  Ruthanne Terrero, Editorial Director

What's wrong at Starbucks these days? For one, McDonald's is giving it a good run with its own focus on serving premium coffee; the fast-food giant says it even plans to open separate coffee bars in its 14,000 North American restaurants.

But there's more to it. Starbucks chairman, Howard Schultz, who is stepping back in as CEO to run the company, is not blaming the economy for its underperformance; rather, he's been quoted as saying that Starbucks' shops have become cookie-cutter, sterile, watered-down and commoditized. He also says that they've lost focus on customer relations and that the plan is to focus more on what happens on the frontlines.

Ouch. One could say that perhaps Starbucks got so good at what it does and so streamlined in its operations that it became "too Starbucks" and less about how it interacts with consumers.

Who can blame them, really? When you're successful and in growth mode, it's simple to be lured into repeating what you're doing well again and again. Why mess with the formula for success once you've discovered it?

Keeping It Fresh

The problem is, we don't live in a static world. We live in a world where the purveyor of Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets has the brains not only to realize that serving premium coffee falls into its core competency of delivering good fast food, but also to come up with a recipe that Consumer Reports preferred over Starbucks'.

McDonald's has realized its consumers are not complicated; they want products and services that are good, that provide value and that deliver what was promised. More importantly, consumers also want to be "touched" by the purchasing experience, even for that of their daily cup of java.

Take a look at how you operate with your clients. Have you gotten so "good" at what you do that you don't need to interact with them anymore? If that's the case, you may want to roll up your sleeves and get back into the trenches. If you're an agency owner, have you evolved into an inside player who has lost the pulse of why your clients travel? If you're a frontline agent, has your sales pitch become so mechanical that you're offering the same Caribbean property to honeymooners and baby boomers?

If you've developed a successful agency operation, continue to do those things that have made it a success. However, I advise you to set the goal of making it fun to sell travel again. The next time you touch a client, ask how they've been and whether they're looking forward to celebrating any special milestones in their lives soon. Make it a point to enjoy your interaction with them. My guess is that you got into the business because you love fulfilling dreams. Get back to your core competency. If you don't, you may become a victim of your own success—and someone else will benefit from your loss.

Ruthanne Terrero, CTC Editorial director