Starbucks Teen Barista Rebukes a Customer By Defending a Mother’s Right to Breastfeed


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It’s Wednesday morning in Ottawa, Canada. Julia Wykes is out shopping with her 5-month old son. She decided to visit the Starbucks on Trainyards Drive. According to Monica Beyer at the website She KnowsShe’d planned on getting a drink to go, but her little boy became fussy so she sat down for a moment to tend to him. There weren’t very many seats available, so the one she chose was close to the cash register.

The next thing Julia heard was a complaint from a nearby customer. Julia recalled, “A woman very loudly complained (so she knew I could hear) to the baristas that they should get me to stop doing that in public as it was disgusting. The barista smiled at her and said he would handle it. I was gearing up for a fight.”

The barista Alex Kim approached, setting down a free refill for Julia and stating loudly, “And here’s a voucher for a free drink next time you’re in here, I am so sorry that you had to deal with such unpleasantness today.”


The week old Facebook post about the incident has gone viral, gathering nearly 30,000 likes and eliciting over 1,200 comments. It has been picked up globally by outlets such as Yahoo! the UK’s Daily Mail. Julia Wykes herself has written about it in the Huffington Post.

Lesson: Empower Employees to Connect, Discover & Respond

Starbucks trains their employees to create impactful customer experiences. Each employee carries a little Green Book in their apron. The book explains that the purpose of the company is to “provide an uplifting experience that enriches people’s daily lives.” Creating a third place for customers, a place between work and home according to CEO Howard Schultz. A place for conversation and community.

Enriching lives and creating community are not easy tasks. Life isn’t scripted and the coffee giant has over 18,000 outlets. In order to scale its culture, Starbucks empowers employees through a principle called, “Make it Your Own.” The company asks its employees to embody the following five ways of being:

  • Be welcoming
  • Be genuine
  • Be considerate
  • Be knowledgeable
  • Be involved

The five ways get brought to life through a customer experience technique called Connect, Discover, and Respond. I believe this is how a teenage barista was able to act appropriately in Ottawa. He connected with the customer making the complaint. Demonstrating knowledge that breastfeeding is legal in public, Alex responded to address the situation. Doing so in a way that was both genuine and considerate.

A thoughtful barista, Alex Kim has probably created a Starbucks customer for life simply by demonstrating warmth and competence. Meanwhile, for the price of a free coffee voucher, the brand has earned millions of impressions and furthered its mission to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.

Today’s Lagniappe (a little something extra thrown in for good measure) – Speaking of free coffee vouchers, here’s the author of “The Starbucks Experience” Dr. Joseph Michelli talking about innovation by a frontline worker at Starbucks:

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stan Phelps
Stan Phelps is the Chief Measurement Officer at 9 INCH marketing. 9 INCH helps organizations develop custom solutions around both customer and employee experience. Stan believes the 'longest and hardest nine inches' in marketing is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer. He is the author of Purple Goldfish, Green Goldfish and Golden Goldfish.


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