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  • Susan Fletcher, Ph.D.

Book Review: The Starbucks Experience, Reviewed by Zan Jones

Susan recently spoke at a showcase for FIVE STAR Speakers & Trainers, one of the country's premier speakers bureaus, along with Joseph Michelli, Ph.D., author of The Starbucks Experience. My job is to book Susan to speak at conferences throughout the United States and I normally don't get to attend when she speaks. But since this showcase was local I was able to attend with her! After hearing Dr. Michelli speak I snatched up a copy of his book to learn more. It was such a good read that Susan asked me to share my insights from the book with you.

One thing I loved about the book right away was that its cover is designed to look and feel like Starbucks' cool cardboard cup holders that they spent 2 years researching.

Take a look at these facts about Starbucks Coffee:

  • In 1987 there were 100 Starbucks employees. In 2006 there were 100,000.

  • Since 1992 the value of Starbucks stock has grown 5,000%.

  • There are 11,000 Starbucks locations worldwide.

  • Starbucks opens 5 new stores a day, 365 days a year.

  • Health insurance benefits are provided for 20-hours/week employees.

  • Employee turnover is 120% less than the industry average.

Michelli describes and provides tons of stories about his "Five Principles (that Starbucks uses) for turning ordinary into extraordinary."

Principle 1: Make It Your Own. Starbucks encourages employees to be fully engaged using what they call the "Five Ways of Being." These are all behaviors my mother taught me growing up - so they aren't too earth shattering to me. However, if you apply these principles in your business it gets a lot more impressive.

  • Be welcoming. According to Starbuck's International President Martin Coles, "People want to be recognized." Don't be surprised if your Starbucks' barista (the Italian word for bartender and Starbucks' word for coffee preparer) calls you by name or remembers your favorite drink when you arrive.

  • Be genuine. Connect, discover and respond to what people want.

  • Be considerate. Starbucks is replacing 5% of the energy used in its U.S. stores with wind energy and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 2%. Also, as part of their acquisitions of Ethos Water, Starbucks is aiming to provide $10 million to water projects in developing countries over the next 5 years.

  • Be knowledgeable. This explains why Starbucks spends more on training employees than advertising.

  • Be involved. In the store, in the company and in the community. One example Michelli provides is of a California Starbucks where the baristas noticed a significant number of deaf customers regularly. The baristas elected to take sign language lessons on their own time to communicate with those customers more effectively. Baristas also listened to people, mainly women, describe how getting out of your car with 2 kids in car seats just to grab a cup of coffee is a chore. Starbucks responded and added drive-throughs which have made a huge impact on their business. (Just for fun, check out these Starbucks drive-through etiquette tips).

Principle 2: Everything Matters. Former CEO Howard Schultz says "retail is detail." From the store music, which is for sale because customers loved it so much, to the pleasant atmosphere, comfy furniture, cool lighting, soothing colors and tidy tables and floors Starbucks strives to be your "Third Place." The first and second places in your life being your work and home.

Principle 3: Surprise and Delight. When Cracker Jack made its debut in 1912 customers were truly delighted by the surprise in every box. But today we expect a Cracker Jack-like surprise in most things we buy. My favorite story is where a gentlemen in the drive-through bought the next person's drink. That person then decided to keep the surprise going paying for the drinks of the car behind him. This went on for 33 cars! Jim Alling, President of Starbucks U.S. Business, affectionately refers to this as "pay it forward" stories over just a "cup of coffee."

Principle 4: Embrace Resistance. Starbucks views negative feedback as an opportunity to strengthen a relationship - "by first thanking customers for their business and recognizing their grievances." The author mentions a few mistakes made by Starbucks like the discontinued Chantico™ drinking chocolate and a poor judgment call by a Ground Zero store during the September 11, 2001 tragedy. Read more at this Starbucks gossip blog.

To address resistance on a macro level Starbucks leads the industry in attempting to create a positive exchange for farmers with its Fair Trade Certified™ coffee which is a huge gesture of support to thousands of exploited coffee workers in third world nations. Even though Starbucks only buys about 4% of all coffee sold worldwide they are more likely to draw greater public scrutiny than other coffee sellers.

Principle 5: Leave Your Mark. Starbucks is proud that their company culture is described as being comprised of the litter-picker-upper type of people. Their mission states that they are "committed to a role of environmental leadership in all facets of our business." Dispelling the myth that "big" equals "bad," Starbucks takes Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to a new level. From the Starbucks Foundation to community volunteers who tutor inner-city children to the Starbucks region that retrieves Santa letters from the post office and fulfills the requests - Starbucks knows that leaving their mark develops trust and grows their brand.

Many of us have our own Starbucks stories. Here is what our Office Manager, Sharon Beck, told me. "The employees at my Starbucks are like family to me. One of them left flowers and a cake for me on Mother's Day (last Sunday). He dropped them off at the store early that morning on his way to the airport and then sent me a text message to make sure I would be by the store that day. He was flying home to Taiwan for a month to see his parents and took the time and effort to do that on his way."

Michelli begins each chapter with a thoughtful quote and ends each chapter with his "Ideas to Sip On." My favorite is by Anne Frank and says, "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world." I think Starbucks works to do this one sip at a time. And I think Starbucks is definitely in the Smart Zone!

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