I’ve often said anyone can create a mouse. All you have to do is put a copious quantity of food and cloth scraps on your floor and, over time, a mouse will appear. The same can be said for great service cultures. Leaders are responsible for “creating the right environment” for world-class customer experiences to occur. Take Starbucks as an example.
This week in the aftermath of bombings in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea, a passerby’s cellphone captured video of a Starbucks barista, Jermaine, as he offered a complimentary bag of pastries and water to a New York City Police officer in gratitude for first responders who were working the crime scene. That video, which has now gone viral, and the actions of Jermaine certainly need to be credited to Jermaine’s family who inculcated the importance of being grateful to those who protect and serve him. However, those actions are also likely influenced by the environment created by his team at Starbucks.
Within the context of the Starbucks culture, leaders and frontline service providers (all of whom are referred to as partners) are consistently encouraged to live the company’s mission:
“To inspire and nurture the human spirit one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”
Starbucks leaders built the expectation that Jermaine should inspire and nurture the human spirit and the video speaks for itself.
Lest you think, I see Starbucks in flawless ways I should note a similar missed example, which I chronicled in my first book about the company (The Starbucks Experience) written in 2006. On September 11, 2001, Midwood Ambulance Service employees responded to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. Shortly afterward, an e-mail surfaced, which reported, “My family owns an ambulance service in Brooklyn, NY… My uncles were at ‘Ground Zero’ during the attack, to help the victims. They donated their time to help with this crisis, as many New Yorkers did. A great number of people were in shock from the devastation. As many of you know, shock victims are supposed to drink a lot of water. My uncle went to the Starbucks down the street to get bottles of water for the victims he was treating. Can you believe they actually charged him for it! He paid the $130 for 3 cases of bottled water out of his own pocket. Now, I would think that in a crisis such as this, vendors in the area would be more than happy to lend a little help by donating water…”
The email continued, “I love Frappuccinos as much as anyone, but any company that would try to make a profit off of a crisis like this doesn’t deserve the … public’s hard-earned money. Please forward this e-mail to anyone you know and encourage them to do the same.”
Unfortunately, that e-mail was accurate. A Starbucks partner chose to charge full price and not give away $130 worth of water during the September 11, 2001, tragedy. In addition, several efforts to get the matter resolved were mishandled. When the e-mail surfaced, Starbucks leadership did the right thing. Then-president and CEO, Orin Smith, not only had a $130 check delivered to the ambulance company but, called a representative of the business personally to apologize. Independently, Starbucks stores at Ground Zero were operating around the clock and providing free beverages and pastries to rescue workers and volunteers.
At a corporate level, Starbucks was making contributions in excess of a million dollars to the national relief fund. But the bad news of the water sale certainly made a big splash in the pool of public consciousness. Starbucks leadership, fortunately, understood that most people are willing to forgive human error. What they won’t tolerate is a failure to take responsibility for mistakes or an unwillingness to resolve the shortcoming.
With the grace of competent leadership, Starbucks did not seek to scapegoat or place blame on that store partner back in 2001 who made the errant decision in an unimaginably stressful situation. Instead, Orin Smith understood something most great leaders appreciate—when you are wrong, admit it, fix the problem, and stay the course in areas where you are making a positive difference.
Fast forward from the World Trade Center attacks to the bombings in the streets of Chelsea and you will see a longstanding effort on the part of Starbucks leadership to build their mouse – “a culture of customer experience excellence.” Small efforts from people like Jermaine suggest that the “mouse” has arrived.
What cultures are you trying to create in your workplace? How do you know if it is taking hold?