Wake Up and Smell the Coffee! Growing Pains at Starbucks

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As small companies built on the founders passion grow, they often have difficulties maintaining the ‘secret sauce’ that is the reason for their success. Starbucks is looking increasingly like one of these companies.

First came the internal memo from Starbucks CEO and Founder Howard Schultz bemoaning the commoditisation of the Starbucks experience as it has grown to 13,000 stores employing 150,000 staff worldwide. The gist of the memo is that internal productivity pressures to make the coffee process more efficient combined with external market pressures on Starbucks to keep making the numbers, have resulted in a worse coffee experience for customers. Not good, but probably not catastrophic in view of Starbucks’ undoubted leadership in this sector.

But there is more. Much more.

Mark Graban’s article Is a Rude Customer Still Right at his Lean Blog brought the Starbucks Gossip blog to my attention. The blog is ostensibly run by Starbucks staff independently from Starbucks itself. One of the recent posts about Starbucks barista: We’re not your friends (but your tips are appreciated) was little more than a rant about how awful customers are and how they deserve all the disservice they may get. The post which ends with the comments (apologies to the sensitive amongst you), “Have a nice f**g day, you bastards!”, attracted 227 comments, most of which poured scorn on the anonymous writer.

What can I say? No matter how much you hate your job and the customers you serve everyday, there is absolutely no excuse for such a malevolent diatribe. Staff like this have no place in a service business, either at the front-end serving customers or at the back-end serving colleagues. As one commenter remarks, if the job is so awful then either change the job from within or get the hell out.

John Moore (an ex-Starbucks Marketing Manager) over at his Brand Autopsy blog has a number of suggestions to help Starbucks get the coffee experience back on track. Let’s hope that Starbucks listens to his sage advice.

What do you think? Has Starbucks become more interested in financial bean counting than coffee bean grinding? Or is something more fundamental broken inside Starbucks?

Post a comment and get the conversation going.

Graham Hill

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