Does Starbucks need to recalibrate their customer service?
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- From an old retail manager, #1 thing it takes to be a good manager…………THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT, PERIOD!
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
I see so so many customers chatting on their phones while a partner is trying to take their order
Since the partners can’t do a darned thing about this, I have no problem as the customer behind them loudly shaming them into getting off their phone and placing their order. I can be polite and pointed at the same time. Most people are mortified about being called out for their bad behavior and react appropriately. Perhaps that should happen more often.
We live in a world where most people have some strong urge to control the behaviors of others. Let it go. I would not take to publicly shaming or confronting someone on a phone (and that person may really react badly and you have no idea what’s going on with that person).
Yes, for that 30 seconds at the register with the barista, the customer should give the barista his or her full attention. Outside of that, I don’t care if he or she has a book, knitting, or cellphone in his or her hands. But no matter what happens, you just can’t control others.
Man, if I could control customers, I’d make them line up along the pastry case. It drives me nuts that 99% of customers don’t know that most stores are designed to have the line run along the RTD case so people can grab from it. But I can’t fix that either.
Longtime customer here that has noticed a huge drop in customer service at Starbucks in the past few years. This includes stand-alone stores, the franchises in grocery stores, and the corporate office. After a barista where I was a regular was quite rude to me, I swore off her location. After being blown off by corporate on the phone AND by snail mail, I swore off my daily Starbucks.
I met with the District Manager to discuss these issues and others. While she graciously listened, she did not really do anything to resolve the problems (and didn’t even buy my drink … which was made wrong). Nothing has changed. The rude barista and her manager see me frequently in the grocery store and have not reached out to me. Actually, when they see me, they whisper together like school children on the playground. I’m pretty much done with Starbucks.
The upside? I’ll save over two grand a year. Apparently Starbucks does not feel like they need every customer.
As a barista at Starbucks, I honestly think it depends on the person. The issue lies in the hiring process –– there are people that should not be in the customer service business PERIOD. They simply don’t care about the people they serve, and that’s not so much a matter of the training, but their general attitude towards life. I personally have messed up drinks; when you have 20 drinks in line and you’re trying to finish them all, it’s inevitable. But even though I have heard of decaffing people, and have personally wanted to do it many a time, I would honestly feel terrible doing so. I have dumped so many cups of coffee after I realized I poured a caffeinated shot instead of a decaf, or I used the wrong milk, or I did something that a customer would not notice but I would remember doing. I would feel bad about it, and the issue is that in the hiring process a lot of managers don’t hire people who have that kind of conscience. To put it bluntly, a lot of baristas are at Starbucks because they’re at a point in their life where they can’t find another job, and so they’re grumpy. And that’s okay, on a minimal scale. But you absolutely cannot take it out on customers.
Personally, I think the hiring process should be a lot more selective. There are people who just aren’t right for this job, and I feel like former job experience is a lot less important than having the actual demeanor to play nice with other people. When you’re being trained, you’re told constantly about making that connection with customers, and I’ve been to a lot of Starbucks’ where the baristas don’t even bother to smile as they’re handing off drinks. I’m probably lucky to work at a bux where the manager is pretty stellar, and my coworkers are generally really warm and inviting. But we, too, have people who struggle with customer service. I try to make up for it. But it’s definitely still an issue.
Similarly, you have to look at it from a barista’s point of view. Sometimes, you as the customer are the one who is being extremely rude. If you treat me like your servant (and I have been called “nothing more but a coffee slave”), I will absolutely be a little disgruntled, as much as I will smile and try to ignore it. If you talk to me like I am Howard Schultz himself, like it’s my fault that your 5-shot, soy, xhot no foam caramel macchiato with extra caramel drizzle inside the cup costs like 6 bucks, I will be a little disgruntled. What a lot of people don’t understand is that I ENJOY my job. I really like making people’s days a bit easier with espresso shots, and I like meeting the people that I do when I’m working. So let me tell you this. When you’re rude, I’ll try to ignore it; you probably had a bad day. But grumpier people than I will lash out. So I do believe it’s a two-way street.
That’s my two pence! 🙂
I have been a barista for almost a year now, and this article makes me very upset. It is in no partners place to intentionally mess up a customers order. I definitely have had my days where I want to cry, and pull out my hair. However, I have had days where once the customer takes a sip of a drink I made for them, and says its amazing, those make me forget all about the bad days. I try my hardest to greet everyone who walks though those doors, even I am busy doing other stuff.
I take so much pride in being a partner, I take pride in the drinks I make. I give a lot of our customers the benefit of the doubt, even though sometimes it can be too nice of me. People need to stop with this nonsense, and remember our barista promise.
Two things about the Starbucks in the DFW area bother me lately .
1) Asking how I am or how my day is going before they take my order. Reason, the short term memory holding the 3 drink orders I have in my head is automatically erased when I have to think about my day to respond to their question, that’s how human memory works. I called one of our stores and guess what – they’re being told to do this. I don’t get it, just saying “Welcome to Starbucks, what can I get for you?” or something to that effect is polite and gets things rolling along quickly.
2. The pastries have gotten tasteless since they started using La Boulange. The pumpkin muffin I love in the fall now has filling that tastes like pastry cream but not the advertised cream cheese. It’s not worth the money. I’m afraid to taste what they have done to the cranberry bliss bar.
I’m not going to comment on the second part of your post because that’s not in my jurisdiction as a barista to comment on.
But let me ask you this: were you so bothered by a barista saying hello, and asking how your day was that you had to call your store to complain? I can tell you right now that I do that all the time because that’s why I work at Starbucks, so I can interact with customers in a way that other fast food jobs wouldn’t allow me to do. I’m not a robot. That’s the only thing corporate tells us to do –– to form that connection with people. They don’t order us to ask you specific questions at specific times. Most of us actually enjoy being able to talk.
It boggles my mind that people can complain about someone being nice to them. I honestly think that’s part of the reason that some baristas feel such animosity towards certain customers.
some are really nice but there are few who are like that and some are plain mean, I told a girl today have a good day, she didn’t say anything and walked away. She should say that in the first place I would if i was the one providing the customer service, maybe they need some secret shoppers to evaluate them.
Brandon… I adore this comment. It is humbling and so very true. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our world could run by these standards. It’s not hard, really… it should be human nature. We live, though, in a lost and dying world. I just simply adore your comment… thank you.
read the forum comments about how baristas treat the “disgustomers.”
And yet if you spent any amount of time on there, you’d see the vast majority of posts are from passionate partners who are just trying to make heads-or-tails of what they’re supposed to be doing in spite of the lack of support from SMs, DMs and the company.
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These comments continue to be interesting and thank you everyone for posting them. One of my recent pet peeves as a customer on line is that I see so so many customers chatting on their phones while a partner is trying to take their order or the customer is delaying the line by not ending the conversation when it is their turn. I see frustration on both sides of the counter. Of course, you cannot ban phones, but how do you create super customer service and have both sides feel happy?