Starbucks Marketing comes up with great ideas all the time. And Starbucks staff in the stores are always the best, aren’t they. But between the Marketing boffins and the folks running the stores there’s a gap that time and again entraps their hapless customers.

Here’s an example. At the end of each year now for a good few years the Marketing folks decided to introduce a special cup that costs a small fortune, but comes with free coffee for the entire month of the following January. For those of us who buy coffee every day, this is undoubtedly a good deal. Problem is, the stores aren’t really geared up to handle the process so come January, when you present your special cup, it’s a bit hit and miss whether you will get charged. The message about the cups, drilled into cup buyers in November and December, failed to make it to the store staff come January.

And does the cup with the free coffee qualify for free refills? Nobody knows for sure.

So the poor customer at the head of a long line has to point out the free coffee thing to the person on the cash register. But she’s already rung up the transaction. She looks at the cash register as you might a Where’s Waldo picture; the clue as to what to do must be there somewhere, but it’s certainly not immediately apparent.

“This customer says they get free coffee or something?” says that person, loud enough for colleagues to hear, eyes still fixed on the secretive cash register. “Actually It’s a promotional thing,” says the increasingly embarrassed customer, in an apologetic whisper. “There’s a code on the cup or something.”

“Code? Is there a code for free drinks? Customer says he doesn’t have to pay because of a code.” She begins poking the cash register screen fruitlessly, before turning to summon a manager.

Terrible, terrible embarrassing situation for the customer. Frustrating for the rest of the line. But a great idea from Marketing, of course, and one — like the archetypal great idea the Starbucks card — that gets cash into the registers well before coffee leaves the store.

Another great idea was to get into tea. Starbucks, established experts in coffee, considered that their expertise would somehow carry over automatically into tea. Or at least, the Marketing department did. But come to a store and ask for a simple cup of tea and it’s a different story. There’s all the dried fruit and herb concoctions to whittle through before you get to the simple black tea — of course hot — and a splash of milk.

Now Starbucks considers tea to be too simple to trouble a skilled barista with, so its generally the non-barista staff that deal with it. It’s also too simple for them to need instructions — Starbucks are experts, after all, per Marketing.

And that’s where the problem lies.

If you don’t drink tea then without any fault on your part you probably don’t realize that, for a simple cup of black tea, the water must be at boiling point. The bag must go into the cup first. A splash of milk can go in later, once the tea has brewed. Half and half will not work for tea. Yes, per Marketing tea does qualify for free refills. Yes, a tea refill requires a new teabag not just another splash of hot water.

Pretty simple really, but it’s surprising how often you can end up with a cup of lukewarm water that’s entirely failed to overcome the teabag’s natural resistance to render its tea. Just as well, you may think, because on closer inspection the bag contains not tea but some sort of dried flower. As you’re considering your best course of action, you hear a “Do you want half and half in that?”

With the special cup you feel like a whining freeloader trying to steal from Starbucks. With the tea you feel like a picky whiner demanding a nonsensical drink. In both cases it’s not the customer or the staff, but a failure of communications between corporate marketing and local stores that’s to blame, and it’s the customer and the staff that suffer the results.

You’re probably wondering why I didn’t point all this out to Starbucks instead of moaning about it here. And of course I have, by way of e-mail.

Judging from the lack of response and no discernible change at the store level, I think they must have thought me a picky nonsensical freeloader whining about stuff nobody cares about.

Maybe they’re right; they’re the experts after all. On the other hand, consider the online ordering great idea from Marketing and where that’s got us.