Customer service at Starbucks

in On Entrepreneurship

Over a year ago I posted about an experience at one of my local Starbucks. I had my days mixed up and pulled up an hour before they opened with a serious caffeine fix. You can read all about it here, but I’ll give you the nutshell version:

As I was leaving a barista who was getting the store ready to open came out to get me, asked me if I wanted a drink, invited me in and took care of me. He didn’t have to do it, but he did, and I think it is an amazing testament to the hiring practices of Starbucks that they sort for people who “get” what a great customer experience is all about.

From the original post:

Managers at Starbucks put tremendous attention into hiring good “people people.” People who enjoy interacting with and pleasing others. Their hiring and training process is designed … systematically … to produce events like the one I described. It isn’t an accident. It isn’t left to chance. And it’s part of why they win.

Fast-forward to yesterday, and I was browsing through my local Borders and saw this book. Turns out, my story made the book.

What didn’t make the book, was the following:

The barista’s name is Wen, and he works at this Starbucks. If you are flying into Dulles, live or work around Herdon, Reston, Chantilly or Sterling … pop in and tell Wen he is famous … and appreciated. If you are from Starbucks, give the dude a raise. He and people like him make you look good.

UPDATE: Incidentally, the lesson to take from this is not to mandate that your employees do 2.3 good things per day. That’d be as silly as mandating that all the introverts in your company magically transform into extroverts. The lesson is that Starbucks (or, at the very least, the management in our region) makes it a point to hire people for whom doing things the “Starbucks” way will be easy and natural. Do that well and the company can step out of the way and let the employees be themselves.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jimbo September 24, 2011 at 12:12 pm

As somebody who works there, it’s really worthwhile when customers return the favor. When you’re snotty, rude, dismissive, or insulting you really ruin the customer experience for the next couple people. It’s a low wage, unimpressive job, but people there are genuinely nice. They sometimes just get busy or have a bad day. Awesome customer service isn’t easy to maintain all the time.

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2 coffeelover December 29, 2010 at 2:00 am

This kind of treatment is not the case at our local Starbucks here in Rocky Mount, N.C.

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3 Crdickerson December 2, 2010 at 12:24 am

On Nov 29, while going through Va. we stopped at Starbucks on the Jefferson Davis Highway in Fredricksberg. I ordred a capuccino and then while sitting a a table accidentally knocked it over. The staff, despite being busy at the counters, immediately came to my aide and cleaned up the mess. Then they brought me another capuccino and were extremly gracious. Just wanted to let you know about my experience. I always can count on consistently good coffee drinks and service at Starbucks!
Louise Dickerson
12 Condon Dr.
Ansonia, Ct. 06401

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4 Anonymous September 13, 2010 at 7:43 pm

I had a similar experience -to the main posting- one particularly early morning at DFW. Starbucks not yet open, as I was looking on the door for the hours an employee caught my attention and pointed me to a side door. I headed that direction believing that the individual as just going to inform me of the hours. Instead, she invited me in, asked what I would like (just a standard grande size coffee), asked me to please have a seat and she would have it for me in just a few minutes. Which was the case.

Sorry to read that some of you may have had less than an acceptable experience from Starbucks, although such has not been my case. The store near my work has had the same crew for years. Recently the manager informed us that she posted for a new employee – the first time that was necessary in almost three years. Customers are happy, those working there appear likewise, product is a consistent very good brew, draw your own conclusions.

I also would like to note that those on the top -regardless of the business- are always singled-out for special treatment. While those in second place are all but ignored.

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5 Anonymous August 6, 2010 at 9:16 am

Newcastle England – There are four starbucks in a small area here in Newcastle and every single one of them have served me a skimmed latte instead of a semi-skimmed latte by default on more than one occasion. Every third third coffee or so is skimmed, which I dislike with a passion. Everytime it happend I write to Starbucks via e-mai and they have yet to present me with a solution. All I want is the drink I ordered, I would even pay more for them to take there time and get it right. They just don't seem to care anymore.

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6 Alejo Pelayo June 21, 2010 at 12:34 am

Hi guys, I never thought I’d be doing this, but I’m really upset. I know that Managers at Starbucks put tremendous attention into hiring good people with great customer service. I have good coffee at home, but I still go to Starbucks because employees there make me feel important and somehow make my day go better. Today I had the opposite experience. I do surgery for a living so I am always on the run. It was approximately 3:20pm on June 20, 2010 when I walked into the Starbucks inside Albertsons located at 5881 E. Charleston Blvd. Las Vegas, NV 89142. The two female employees (I had never seen before) working there were not polite at all to start with. They gave me a different size cup than the one I had asked for. I said “this is not the size I asked for” and they just looked at me without saying a word. I went looking for my cream and sugar….there was no cream or sugar. When I finally got my cream and sugar, I took a sip and…OMG, they gave me regular coffee instead of my Americano. I never heard an apology, instead they went on to help the next customer. I didn’t make a big deal of all this in front of other customers, I simply gave them the purchased items and walked away. I am very sadden from all this because as you might understand, we build a beautiful relationship with Starbucks employees and sadly just gets ruined from incidents like this.

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7 Eddie May 14, 2010 at 3:10 am

Hello, I live in NYC. N.Y.& always buy a nightly coffee. @ 92nd st. & 3rd ave The store hours posted are mon-sat. 6am.-11pm.
I got there at 10:38 today 51310. They were already cleaning up and the doors locked.If that's the norm, please change your sign.

thanks
Eddie

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8 Club Penguin Cheats September 23, 2009 at 10:05 pm

It is often the small things that make someone’s day and all of our employees recognize this. Our receptionists, for example, know the importance of going out of their way to answer peoples’ questions and help them.

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9 Jenn July 7, 2009 at 4:20 am

I wish other coffee shops were as nice! Much of the time they just throw the coffee at you and want you to leave as soon as possible.
I myself though dont go to starbucks. I find it too expensive.. but I guess thats what I sacrifice for cheaper coffee.

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10 Anonymous February 6, 2009 at 7:16 pm

I wasn’t aware of the many ripples and depth to this story until I surfed here through Google! Great job

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11 Anonymous October 14, 2008 at 8:29 am

Hi Michael,
I too live in the D.C. metro area and have seldom received such gracious service at any Starbucks. I have, however, received wrong orders and encountered numerous rude baristas. One would think with the pamphlets Starbucks provides on how to specialize your drinks and key words to use when ordering i.e. non-fat, skim, and iced, that they would also parlay that to their baristas…but sadly they do not. As 7 out of 10 times that I have ordered drinks from Starbucks they have gotten my order wrong. It seems as though we are suffering from a skim milk deficit…as I never seem to get skim milk in my coffee though I request it and even go as far as to double check that they did indeed use skim milk and I almost always receive a yes…but once I take a sip I find otherwise…

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12 Anonymous July 24, 2008 at 3:28 am

Starbucks has good friendly people, but its not worth the prices! Give me a pimply faced teen at mcdonalds just for a cup of joe.  Of course I wouldn’t actually EAT at a mcdonalds.

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13 Anonymous May 20, 2008 at 12:53 am

Hi Michael,

I found your story to support my theory of allocating money towards developing employees prior to engaging in promotions. I’m in the business of marketing, and I do not have any of my clients engage in aggressive marketing tactics until I help implement a sense of ownership among their employees. It would be worthless for my clients to spend their funds in marketing to find that their employees are complete “turn-offs” to first-time customers. Likewise, investing in delivering an excellent customer experience sparks referrals, which are much more valuable. I’m in the business of helping my clients build profitable relationships, and creating moments such as the one you experienced can make that happen in a heart beat.

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14 Anonymous May 20, 2008 at 5:53 am

Hi Michael,
I found your story to support my theory of allocating money towards developing employees prior to engaging in promotions. I’m in the business of marketing, and I do not have any of my clients engage in aggressive marketing tactics until I help implement a sense of ownership among their employees. It would be worthless for my clients to spend their funds in marketing to find that their employees are complete “turn-offs” to first-time customers. Likewise, investing in delivering an excellent customer experience sparks referrals, which are much more valuable. I’m in the business of helping my clients build profitable relationships, and creating moments such as the one you experienced can make that happen in a heart beat.

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15 Anonymous April 23, 2008 at 9:59 am

Starbucks has quality customer service!

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16 Anonymous April 23, 2008 at 2:59 pm

Starbucks has quality customer service!

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17 Anonymous February 27, 2008 at 1:30 am

Customer service should be the top priority of all business.  Starbucks understands that and hires accordingly.  I wish other business would see the light.

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18 Anonymous February 27, 2008 at 6:30 am

Customer service should be the top priority of all business.  Starbucks understands that and hires accordingly.  I wish other business would see the light.

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19 Anonymous September 8, 2007 at 3:36 pm

I had a rather traumatic experience at a Starbucks joint at a shopping complex in Subang Jaya (an hour from Kuala Lumpur)this evening. My husband and I were to meet 2 of his university students to assist us in some video editing work. We bumped into them outside Starbucks and all four went in and sat down. I told my husband and his students to go get their coffees while I waited. A short while later, a foreigner came to me and asked where he could find a money changer. Having been in foreign countries myself and being my helpful self I told the man I wasn’t sure and pointed to the information desk nearby as I told him to check with them. He said thank you and left but I observed that he took a longer way. By then I didn’t notice where he went and the guys came back with their coffees, only to find one of the student’s new laptop (which was by the chair on the floor) missing.I headed for the info desk to ask if there was a man who had asked for a money changer and he said no. We went to the building security to report and to see if there was anything on the cctv but was alarmed to know that Starbucks did not install a cctv.Went back up to Starbucks to see if the could help but they coldly said they were busy with their work, which they were not at all and I continued to ask if the management could help since it happened at Starbucks but to my surprise they casually said it had happened before at other Starbucks and there was nothing they could do. This was a total disappointment for us, who frequented Starbucks. The sad thing was this boy’s dad just bought the laptop for him for being a good student.It wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t suggest Starbucks, my favorite place. I don’t understand why, knowing that that had happened to other Starbucks joint that a CCTV was not installed. And what’s totally disappointing was the way the staff reacted to a situation like that. I asked for the management number and the staff said, “we already told you nothing can be done” I’m sorry but that’s no way to talk to someone who ‘s going thru a horrible experience!I told them it might be the last time for me to have my coffee there.
So Mr Cage,how can you help here?Is there anything Starbucks could do to help this poor boy. Laptops are not cheap here and this boy doesn’t come from a wealthy background….

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20 Anonymous September 8, 2007 at 8:36 pm

I had a rather traumatic experience at a Starbucks joint at a shopping complex in Subang Jaya (an hour from Kuala Lumpur)this evening. My husband and I were to meet 2 of his university students to assist us in some video editing work. We bumped into them outside Starbucks and all four went in and sat down. I told my husband and his students to go get their coffees while I waited. A short while later, a foreigner came to me and asked where he could find a money changer. Having been in foreign countries myself and being my helpful self I told the man I wasn’t sure and pointed to the information desk nearby as I told him to check with them. He said thank you and left but I observed that he took a longer way. By then I didn’t notice where he went and the guys came back with their coffees, only to find one of the student’s new laptop (which was by the chair on the floor) missing.I headed for the info desk to ask if there was a man who had asked for a money changer and he said no. We went to the building security to report and to see if there was anything on the cctv but was alarmed to know that Starbucks did not install a cctv.Went back up to Starbucks to see if the could help but they coldly said they were busy with their work, which they were not at all and I continued to ask if the management could help since it happened at Starbucks but to my surprise they casually said it had happened before at other Starbucks and there was nothing they could do. This was a total disappointment for us, who frequented Starbucks. The sad thing was this boy’s dad just bought the laptop for him for being a good student.It wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t suggest Starbucks, my favorite place. I don’t understand why, knowing that that had happened to other Starbucks joint that a CCTV was not installed. And what’s totally disappointing was the way the staff reacted to a situation like that. I asked for the management number and the staff said, “we already told you nothing can be done” I’m sorry but that’s no way to talk to someone who ‘s going thru a horrible experience!I told them it might be the last time for me to have my coffee there.
So Mr Cage,how can you help here?Is there anything Starbucks could do to help this poor boy. Laptops are not cheap here and this boy doesn’t come from a wealthy background….

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21 Anonymous August 26, 2007 at 2:38 pm

1.) The service can be terrible. Many times, there are 4 people behind the counter but, no one is getting served. Orders are forgotten, gotten wrong, given out of order. I’ve been just plain ignored on a few occasions.

2.) The milk stations are often unkempt, dirty or out of supplies.

3.) Rats. This location has rats. I’ve seen them. I’ve seen them come right up to the seating area.

4.) I’ve seen people harassed. Just the other day, an obviously ill man was told to move to the perimeter with his dog and into the blazing heat. He told me they’ve done this to him twice in one week. Now, I and others have seen dogs and other pets all over the seats and tables at many Starbucks. Why was this man an exception?!

If Starbucks is going to change policy regarding pets and outdoor areas, it should posted IN FULL VIEW OF THE PUBLIC AND BOTH INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE STORE. What is policy for one should be policy for all!! Fair is fair, and this is the GREAT AND POWERFUL STARBUCKS.

Starbucks has NO SMOKING signs posted and very few people adhere to this. They just sit there and smoke without regard for other customers. I’ve never see anyone, at this location, correct a smoker or group of smokers or come out and clean up the cigarette butts.

I WAS A LOYAL STARBUCKS CUSTOMER! I WENT EVERYDAY—SOMETIMES, TWICE A DAY! BOUGHT THEIR PRODUCT—AT THE COFFEE HOUSES AND THE STORE! NOT ANYMORE!! WHEN I SAW THIS MAN HARASSED, IT MADE ME SICK!! MY FAMILY, FRIENDS, AND CO-WORKERS WILL TAKE OUR COFFEE BUSINESS ELSEWHERE!! YOU CAN COUNT ON THAT!!

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22 Anonymous August 26, 2007 at 7:38 pm

1.) The service can be terrible. Many times, there are 4 people behind the counter but, no one is getting served. Orders are forgotten, gotten wrong, given out of order. I’ve been just plain ignored on a few occasions.
2.) The milk stations are often unkempt, dirty or out of supplies.
3.) Rats. This location has rats. I’ve seen them. I’ve seen them come right up to the seating area.
4.) I’ve seen people harassed. Just the other day, an obviously ill man was told to move to the perimeter with his dog and into the blazing heat. He told me they’ve done this to him twice in one week. Now, I and others have seen dogs and other pets all over the seats and tables at many Starbucks. Why was this man an exception?!
If Starbucks is going to change policy regarding pets and outdoor areas, it should posted IN FULL VIEW OF THE PUBLIC AND BOTH INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE STORE. What is policy for one should be policy for all!! Fair is fair, and this is the GREAT AND POWERFUL STARBUCKS.
Starbucks has NO SMOKING signs posted and very few people adhere to this. They just sit there and smoke without regard for other customers. I’ve never see anyone, at this location, correct a smoker or group of smokers or come out and clean up the cigarette butts.
I WAS A LOYAL STARBUCKS CUSTOMER! I WENT EVERYDAY—SOMETIMES, TWICE A DAY! BOUGHT THEIR PRODUCT—AT THE COFFEE HOUSES AND THE STORE! NOT ANYMORE!! WHEN I SAW THIS MAN HARASSED, IT MADE ME SICK!! MY FAMILY, FRIENDS, AND CO-WORKERS WILL TAKE OUR COFFEE BUSINESS ELSEWHERE!! YOU CAN COUNT ON THAT!!

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23 Anonymous January 8, 2007 at 5:18 pm

The foundation for every sucessful business is excellent customer service throughout the experience. In my practices, we strive to hire responsible, reliable, movivated people which ensures my patients the care they deserve. Many patients reflect to me daily their happiness with care. Best tip for hiring:
1: observe the person interactions when they come in the door to when they walk out(for the interview) look for- eye contact, interaction with strangers, respectful behavior and a smile…

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24 Anonymous January 8, 2007 at 10:18 pm

The foundation for every sucessful business is excellent customer service throughout the experience. In my practices, we strive to hire responsible, reliable, movivated people which ensures my patients the care they deserve. Many patients reflect to me daily their happiness with care. Best tip for hiring:
1: observe the person interactions when they come in the door to when they walk out(for the interview) look for- eye contact, interaction with strangers, respectful behavior and a smile…

Reply

25 Anonymous January 2, 2007 at 12:42 pm

Wonderful to read you’ve had good experiences at Starbucks concerning custumer service. I however live in New York and find that aside from hiring young people with with whom you’re just plain lucky if they get your order right and aside from their mandatory “yes ‘SIR’ answer to any question – you’re just plain lucky if 1. they get your order right, and 2. If you don’t get an eye role or major attitude first thing in the morning when ordering your drink or snack. To be honest this could be passed off as a “New York” problem. But, then again at my local deli I can be said hello to, treated like a person and given my coffee without an attitude of “just tell me what you want and get out of my face” like I experience most of the times I go to any starbucks first thing in the morning in my local neighborhood. As the sad thing is if you call customer service to complain they just call the store and speak with the teen that gave you the attitude or their manager who covers for them   after giving you the old “we’ll look into it ‘Sir.’  So I’d like to give you a reality check about the big business of “Starbucks” and let you know, from my experience, they do NOT respect or hold the individual in any regard with servicing them (the individual being lost in a sea of inattentive mishaps and attitude by their employees over simple coffee orders esp here in New York). In fact only in a pinch to I go there, and when I do, I expect to be treated as badly as any person going to McDonalds here in the city by inexperienced teenagers working for minimum wage standing there ready to take your money with little customer considertion or respect. Nice to know somewhere in this country they are trying because it’s definitely not happening here in the Big Apple.

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26 Anonymous January 2, 2007 at 5:42 pm

Wonderful to read you’ve had good experiences at Starbucks concerning custumer service. I however live in New York and find that aside from hiring young people with with whom you’re just plain lucky if they get your order right and aside from their mandatory “yes ‘SIR’ answer to any question – you’re just plain lucky if 1. they get your order right, and 2. If you don’t get an eye role or major attitude first thing in the morning when ordering your drink or snack. To be honest this could be passed off as a “New York” problem. But, then again at my local deli I can be said hello to, treated like a person and given my coffee without an attitude of “just tell me what you want and get out of my face” like I experience most of the times I go to any starbucks first thing in the morning in my local neighborhood. As the sad thing is if you call customer service to complain they just call the store and speak with the teen that gave you the attitude or their manager who covers for them   after giving you the old “we’ll look into it ‘Sir.’  So I’d like to give you a reality check about the big business of “Starbucks” and let you know, from my experience, they do NOT respect or hold the individual in any regard with servicing them (the individual being lost in a sea of inattentive mishaps and attitude by their employees over simple coffee orders esp here in New York). In fact only in a pinch to I go there, and when I do, I expect to be treated as badly as any person going to McDonalds here in the city by inexperienced teenagers working for minimum wage standing there ready to take your money with little customer considertion or respect. Nice to know somewhere in this country they are trying because it’s definitely not happening here in the Big Apple.

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27 Michael Cage October 16, 2006 at 7:59 am

Len,

Thanks for the comments. Sorry about the location error, a code bug which has since been fixed. grin

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28 Michael Cage October 16, 2006 at 12:59 pm

Len,
Thanks for the comments. Sorry about the location error, a code bug which has since been fixed.

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29 Anonymous October 15, 2006 at 9:11 pm

Oops!  By the way, I’m from Bolton, Ontario, not Reston, VA.

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30 Anonymous October 16, 2006 at 2:11 am

Oops!  By the way, I’m from Bolton, Ontario, not Reston, VA.

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31 Anonymous October 15, 2006 at 9:10 pm

I really liked your story, Michael.  I am the co-owner of two healthcare clinics and have found that it is worth the extra time and energy to find good “people people” to work for me. 

Our patients come to us for treatment of so many types of problems and it is very important for our physical therapists and assistants to interact with our patients as pleasantly as they can. 

It is often the small things that make someone’s day and all of our employees recognize this.  Our receptionists, for example, know the importance of going out of their way to answer peoples’ questions and help them.

The other good point is that you need to let this happen naturally.  By demonstrating good actions, then your employees will often do the same in their own, natural way.

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32 Anonymous October 16, 2006 at 2:10 am

I really liked your story, Michael.  I am the co-owner of two healthcare clinics and have found that it is worth the extra time and energy to find good “people people” to work for me. 
Our patients come to us for treatment of so many types of problems and it is very important for our physical therapists and assistants to interact with our patients as pleasantly as they can. 
It is often the small things that make someone’s day and all of our employees recognize this.  Our receptionists, for example, know the importance of going out of their way to answer peoples’ questions and help them.
The other good point is that you need to let this happen naturally.  By demonstrating good actions, then your employees will often do the same in their own, natural way.

Reply

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