How STARBUCKS revolutionized business, our way of life, and oh yes,... coffee.

Article featured on Deepak Chopra's Wellworld site.

“Hellooo,” Kasia chippers ready to greet her next guest. An instant connection is made as the customer smiles back. To an observer it appears as a simple exchange of pleasantries. But in fact there's something of greater significance than meets the eye.

The staff at Starbucks absolutely love what they do. Any customer paying close enough attention can feel the energy and rapport within seconds.

Customer appreciation is the lifeline of any service industry, yet too often it's shrugged aside for more pressing matters. Lack of compassion for the customer eventually translates into the kiss of death for the company. In my opinion, Starbucks recognizes that focusing on people and growing your business doesn't have to be mutually exclusive targets.

Recently Starbucks celebrated its 40th birthday. CEO, Howard Schultz, who’s back on the spotlight, readily admits to their share of ongoing challenges particularly in the last few years. Yet through thick and thin, Schultz’s tenacity continues to withstand the test of time.

As a long term customer and coffee connoisseur , there are many aspects I feel contributed to the Starbucks story. Along with exceptional service, other highlights include consistent quality coffee, treating staff as partners, and upholding strong ethical values (eg. focusing less on advertising, and more on community support).

These priorities may may make a Wall St. analyst’s stomach gurgle. But Schultz is quite adamant when it comes to doing the right thing. To him, there's more to business than just bottom line and weekly updates. Schultz's infectious enthusiasm isn't one that can be read off a script, rather it comes from a deeper place within. Often this means challenging traditional tried-and-(not so)true business practices.

In Pour Your Heart Into It, Schultz epitomizes the importance of quality relationships. With a compassion towards his staff and customers, the natural inclination of wanting to share his dream to the world is what gets him pumped in the morning. His self-authored books and articles elaborate on his“romanticism” of coffee: from inhaling the richly blended aroma to that first sip of brewed roasted beans. 

When Starbucks launched, the first delivery to his staff instantly distinguished him from the herd. Instead of a long winded corporate rah-rah message, he humanized and simplified it by scribbling the following to himself before presenting:

1. Speak from the heart.
2. Put yourself in their shoes.
3. Share the big dream.

Similarly, in Schultz's new book, Onward, he reinforced his message of going back to the basics; He reminded his team that instead of getting distracted, go back to the simplicity of One. One cup. One customer. One partner. One experience at a time.

Schultz's approach has been consistent throughout the four decades. His humility and unique leadership style began with what he initially referred to as the “imprinting years" similar to parents struggling to raise a child and having to learn on the fly. From there, the rest as they say is history.

To be fair, many businesses start with good intentions. It’s when challenges arise that create the defining moment; that pivotal point where it becomes all too convenient to sacrifice integrity for immediate profit. Many leaders talk about taking the road less travelled, but at the first sign of trouble, it's back to the Genghis Khan slice-n-dice techniques.

By keeping it real, there’s less inclination for leaders to rely on rigid policies; rather, more focus is placed on sharing ideas. For that, it is important to first feel that connection within ourselves before we can appreciate what it truly means to be of service. As a preoccupied society it's easy to forget. But if leaders, coaches and managers don’t take the time to find out what they're really made of, how is it then possible to effectively guide others?

There are a number of areas that fuel this inner need. Meditation, yoga, spirituality and exercise are just a few examples; they're holistic ways of opening up our hearts and asking ourselves, "How may I serve?"

We all have our unique ways of connecting. A creative barrista exudes her artistry, creating a specialized blend unique to the customer's palate. For Mr. Schultz, it's the tradition of rolling roasted beans in his hand. Feeling "grounded" comes in many forms.
Until recently, all this right-brain stuff would have sounded too airy-fairy. No room for all this soft talk they would have said. In colleges, social science programs was considered more for laissez-faire students interested in their guitars, pottery and drama classes; this fallacy of what it meant to be an academic filtered its way through campuses and scared away all the fun. 

Now the rules have changed.

Businesses ready to transcend rigid competitive forces of the past are paving way for a more humane approach. Carrots & sticks are old school. Compassion is far more efficient. When about two-thousand companies made it to the Fortune 500 list but years later only seventy remain, Perhaps its a sign to add more "soul" to the mix.

Ernie Zelinski and Daniel Pink, two bestselling authors, offer us a taste of the new reality where creativity and compassion are considered strengths. We’re now in an era when even companies like FedEx, and WestJet are redefining work at work. Google nourishes their staff by encouraging space and creativity; they even bring Stress Reduction leaders like Jon Kabat-Zinn to educate their staff on areas like meditation. What used to be counterintuitive and zany is now being endorsed. And thank goodness! Its quite liberating for us to finally embrace fun and flexibility; not only that, creative juices translate into profitability for the company: win-win.

Exceptional service is based on intangibles. This means going beyond following a script, or asking customers if they need anything else. It’s where gratitude, compassion, and integrity align.

Genuine customer service can be taught, BUT  it can only go so far. The Contrarian Effect by Michael Port and Elizabeth Marshall  mention that if you ask average customers whom they like to do business with, it's those whom they "know, like, and trust." In other words, nobody can give you a booklet of rules. It's truly an inside job.

With the right amount of talent and conviction, amazing things happen and exponentially spread. As one member of the Starbucks management team so eloquently put it: “We’re not in the coffee business serving people, we’re in the people business serving coffee.”

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