Customer service has taken a hit lately. It’s like as if it currently trendy to not care about your work and/or how it affects the customer. I wanted to explore this a little more: I hope I’ve got it wrong and the customer service at Starbucks is alive and well.

The prompting for this article started with this Cosmopolitan article: There’s a Starbucks partner who will gladly  decaf you when you ask for regular coffee.

I’ve seen plenty of internet memes which essentially say, “the customer is just a**hole.” I’ve seen discussions of intentionally messing with names on cups. I’ve had discussions with partners who witnessed their co-workers steam milk extra hot to get back at rude customers, and/ or give the wrong milk or syrup.

Again, I hope I’ve got it wrong and that these are the rare occurrences within Starbucks. The best kind of comment might be that these are just a tiny fraction of the experiences happening inside Starbucks.

But if we need to open up an intelligent dialogue about it, let’s do that.

I asked those who follow my Facebook page for some feedback, and I asked if it was even worthwhile to talk about this kind of thing?

Does Starbucks need to re-calibrate their customer service?

I heard lots of wisdom:

  1. I was a barista for over three years and I saw stuff like this frequently. It is sad that we can’t treat other human beings with basic kindness. I also think that this a two way street. There is no excuse for being blatantly rude to someone, and I will not excuse the barista behaviors you listed above. So, I think it is a worthwhile topic and yes Starbucks should fix this internally.
  2. Back when I was a partner in 2012 there was 1 time I saw a partner decaf someone because he was being extremely rude to his girlfriend/wife… But ever since then I have seen so many examples of a lack of professionalism inside Starbucks it was hard to go anymore. I’ve watched baristas let drinks pile up and be on their phone, I’ve had them make drinks wrong and when I explain the error they very visibly don’t want to fix it and have been just plain rude in general.
  3. This is not a wide spread issue. As a Store manager I would never tolerate this type of behaviors in my store. And for partners that do these dreadful thing I must ask 1. Where did the mission statement get lost in your stores? 2. When did we stop treating the fellow man with respect?
  4. As an SM I have never seen it to the extent being talked about here. We all have rough days or days when a customer gets under our skin, unfortunately. But it is our job and our HONOR as partners of this wonderful company to always keep the mission statement alive in our stores
  5. I think a big piece of this comes from changes in training. There is no pride anymore. None. There is no mention of the third place in training.  Half the store managers don’t understand the training process. It’s a hot mess.
  6. I think the poor treatment of customers is pretty rare. That being said, if you want a saint to make your latte pay them a living wage
  7. From an old retail manager, #1 thing it takes to be a good manager…………THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT, PERIOD!
  8. Starbucks should have this conversation. But it needs to happen at the store/individual level to have any effect.

    I just wish there was more of discussion about how customers should behave. Some of them have been simply awful. While a barista should never stoop to such tricks, I know that the human capacity for patience and forgiveness can easily be tested.
  9. The baristas in my town are always kind, prompt and smiling. Rarely ever make mistakes and bend over backwards if they do. Rah Cedar Rapids, Iowa Starbucks employees!
  10. Yes I think it I something that needs to be addressed. But as mentioned above it has to happen at a store level. As a manager I look to hire baristas with high integrity, character and leadership.
  11. think the fact of the matter is that just like how there are different types of customers, all with their different expectations of what perfect service is, we too, as partners, have different expectations of what we would like our customers to do, or how we would like them to treat us.  People have to remember that we aren’t in starbucks for 3 or 4 minutes. We’re there 40 hours a week, and we see it all. Sometimes cabin fever gets the better of us, and because we are that third place, we have so much at our disposal to either make or break the experience of the customer that is beyond what we expect or hope from them (either way). Is it something that Seattle can change? Nope. Is it a worthwhile conversation? Hell yeah!
  12. I don’t share what store I’m at now because I’m embarrassed. When friends ask what store, I don’t tell them. It may not be as widespread – but it’s happening more and more. This needs to get nipped now before it honestly DOES become widespread.
  13. There will always be partners that shouldn’t work for the company and provide less than bad customer service. It is really up to the amazing partners within any store to work through these types of issues and use the correct means and resources to weed these types of partners out. It’s so important for any store to have good communication and support – not only from the store manager but also from the district managers and HR. I still believe that we overwhelmingly have amazing partners in this company

I deleted my Facebook post because I don’t want to identify current partners.

My own two cents is that any of these things might help the situation:

  • Better pay for partners so they feel like they’re rewarded for delivering gold-standard customer service.
  • Improve means for feedback: Nobody seems to care about those “Share Your Thoughts” pamphlets. Even here in the core of downtown Seattle, I’ve seen stores where I’ve walked in, picked one up and looked at the DM’s name on it and thought, “That DM hasn’t been in Seattle for years…” And in so many Starbucks, those pamphlets are completely absent and/or the contact information on the backside is not filled out.
  • Have the store manager’s business card at the beverage pick up area or somewhere inside the store to welcome feedback.
  • Offer better training for partners: I know a ten-year partner who told me that his barista training meant him going off-site for a week to a barista training center. And reinforce all the green apron behaviors during training.
  • Hire great people (as Starbucks so often does).

I want to make it absolutely clear that by me posting this article I’m not for a minute saying that this is a wide-spread problem – but maybe it does need to be nipped in the bud. And I acknowledge that there are plenty of difficult customers too. But I think everything cuts both ways. There are difficult customers. There are difficult partners. People are people.

I will strictly enforce the comment policy: please do not devolve into attacks, foul language, and such.