The Authenticity of Starbucks’ Customer Experience (the only place I can get a lactose free, skinny, extra foam, no whip, caramel latte).

“In this ever-changing society, the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. They are real and sustainable. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign. The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic.”
― Howard Schultz, Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time

When it comes to customer service, there are some companies that just get it and some that don’t. When I reflect on my own personal customer experiences, I can clearly identify that all of the companies that provide exceptional customer experiences have one thing in common –- they are authentically authentic.

This authenticity can be seen at every level of the company.

Investing in your talent is a huge part of authentic leadership. Moreover, authenticity is about living the values.

Starbucks is one great example of a company that has authenticity at all levels of the company. There is an entire book devoted to their 5 core principles, which act as their daily decision guides. Most importantly, they live by their values every day.

The Starbucks website declares :

With our partners, our coffee and our customers at our core, we live these values:
• Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.
• Acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other.
• Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect.
• Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results.
• We are performance driven, through the lens of humanity.

Here are a few ways you may find authenticity at various levels of a company.

There is authenticity from the top down (and bottom up). What I mean by this is, the leaders in the company believe in the power of their people. They recognize the importance of their front-line talent for being the face of the company. They provide them with an exceptional internal experience, because what is being felt on the inside of their company can also be felt on the outside by their customers. To summarize – they enable their people to provide an exceptional customer experience by giving them the skills and competencies to do so.

How Starbucks Does It: Their leadership invests in their talent by recognizing them as shareholders in the company, providing them benefits, supporting their higher education and rewarding them for great service with upward mobility. They offer medical insurance to all employees (even part-time) and support social and environmental projects that inspire employees.

In 2014 Starbucks was recognized as one of the most Ethical Companies in the world by Ethisphere at their Global Ethics Summit.

As the cherry on top of the authentic sundae, in employee-rated surveys Starbucks Partners honored Howard Schultz as one of the top-10 executives and he has been named one of the world’s greatest leaders.

There is authenticity in the talent they hire. You can’t train someone to be authentically friendly – they’ve either got it or they don’t. What I mean by authentically friendly is that the person interacts with others in a genuine, compassionate, and empathetic manner. This doesn’t mean they have to be an extremely extroverted person; they just have to genuinely care about interacting with the person they are interacting with. The opposite of this is either someone who puts on a big fake smile and asks you canned questions or someone that hates their life and will take you down in their tornado of grumpiness.

How Starbucks Does It: It is very rare to go into a Starbucks and have a terrible experience with your barista. They are almost always fast, friendly, hassle-free (umm hello, lactose free, skinny, extra foam, no whip, caramel latte?!) and they even personalize with your name on your cup! And let’s be honest – even though they spell your name wrong 95% of the time,  I think they do it on purpose just to give you a good laugh.

The personalization of the cup and drink is cool, however, the authenticity at Starbucks goes way beyond that. The customer centric culture and personalization baked into Starbucks’ DNA is undoubtedly one of the core reasons for its success.

There is authenticity in the service or product they offer. This basically means that the product or service they are offering doesn’t suck. This sounds simple, but if you have authentic talent and authentic leaders, but your product or service is crap, nobody is going to want to buy it.

How Starbucks Does It: At Starbucks, both their product and service is exceptional. But what I find most impressive at Starbucks is the attention the company gives to their relationship with customers.

They’re continuously innovating with new beverages, expanding their snacks and improving their merchandise. They have searched the globe and sourced the best products, acquiring brands such as Seattle’s Best, Tazo Tea, Teavana, and La Boulange.

Plus, I heard that they’re going to be introducing wine in select locations (drops mic)!!

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