How to Create Seasonally Relevant Customer Experiences

For many, the most magical time of the year is fast approaching.  One indicator that we are on the cusp of the holidays is the presence of Starbucks’ seasonal red cups.  The next several weeks are so often a whirlwind of activity with good intentions to stop and connect…but sometimes few opportunities to actually do so.  Recognizing how often we can feel drained rather than replenished this time of year, how can your business help make this a meaningful season for your customers?

Consider this.  A woman posts a Starbucks card number with a finite balance on social media, inviting friends and strangers alike to use it for a treat, on her, hoping to spread a little joy after a trying week.  Not surprisingly, people responded in gratitude by posting self-portraits of themselves and their loved ones enjoying drinks in festive red Starbucks cups.  Bearing witness to this story online, another mom did the same thing – posted a Starbucks card for anyone to use and enjoy or pass along.  She was met with the same flood of Facebook and Instagram expressions of thanks.  Soon after the card balance reached zero she posted a summary of the stories behind the smiles who enjoyed red cups that day.  It wasn’t long before someone reloaded the card and, you get the idea, #operationredcup went viral.

Principle 1 in my newest book Leading the Starbucks Way is to savor and elevate.  At its foundation, this means understanding that human experiences are at the heart of your brand.  People can copy your products and your services but seldom can they build the powerful connections with customers that emerge from the well-designed experiences that you deliver.  How does Starbucks do this?  They give customers something that keeps them coming back as the seasons change, kicking their efforts into high gear with the coming of fall and winter.  They do this so successfully and with such consistency that the excitement and anticipation for their holiday red cups and special seasonal beverages is difficult to ignore.  Their exceptionally loyal customers have made these offerings part of their own traditions, marking the passage from one season into the next.

Had Starbucks not already set the stage to welcome the best hallmarks of the season – joy, community, connection – the spontaneous generosity of #operationredcup may not have been as impactful.  Whether it is connecting the design of your physical space to your company’s mission, vision and values; streamlining efficiencies to improve the customer experience; or adding sensory elements, successful customer experience enhancements have one unifying component, the need to execute the details.  What is your business’s red cup?

This week I will be giving away $25 Starbucks gift cards to the first 10 people who write a couple sentence review of Leading the Starbucks Way on Amazon or Goodreads.  I am not asking you to comment on the book in a favorable way, just share your thoughts as others consider the book as a Christmas gift.  Be among the first 10 blog readers to offer a review, send Patti ( of my staff a note indicating that you posted your review and she will get the contact info needed to have the Starbucks card traveling off to you…. Who knows one of those 10 cards might end up as part of #operationredcup.

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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