What Kind of Experience Do You Want Your Guests to Have?

Unlike many other places that sell coffee, Starbucks builds the equity of our brand through the Starbucks Experience. It comes to life every day in the relationship our people have with our customers. By focusing again on the Starbucks Experience, we will create a renewed level of meaningful differentiation and separation in the market between us and others who are attempting to sell coffee.  – Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, speaking about the priority of the customer Experience as a part of Starbucks Transformation Agenda

3 Aspects of Starbucks Customer Experience Excellence

Starbucks leaders:

  • Define and communicate the desired and unique Starbucks Experience
  • Select individuals with the requisite talent to deliver that experience consistently
  • Train partners on the key pillars necessary to engage customers regularly

The worthy customer experience ideals at Starbucks are expressed in the company’s mission statement and are supported by the principles of how this mission is lived out everyday – principles like the following:

Our Customers – When we are fully engaged, we connect with, laugh with, and uplift the lives of our customers – even if just for a few moments. It starts with the promise of a perfectly made beverage, but our work goes far beyond that. It’s really about human connection.

Our Stores – When our customers feel this sense of belonging, our stores become a haven, a break from the worries outside, a place where you can meet with friends. It’s about enjoyment at the speed of life – sometimes slow and savored, sometimes faster. Always full of humanity.

SB customers

Organizational consultant Joseph Michelli, in his new book Leading the Starbucks Way, writes that these principles are “brief and clear, and put the customers, products, and experiences at the purposeful center of Starbucks.”

Many organizations orient new team members by teaching them the tasks to be performed on the job but fail to educate them on service excellence skills and/or the experience that they want those team members to deliver. At Starbucks, initial skills training quickly moves into content like “Customer Service Basics” and the “Starbucks Experience.”

A great example is a process tool called the “Store Walk Through”, where the new team members move through the café environment observing and recording important aspects that a customer is likely to encounter on their journey from arrival through departure. These customer perspective walks occur once per shift at each store.

Another helpful tool provided by Starbucks leaders is a defined service vision that describes what needs to be achieved during service experiences. Additionally, it provides four customer service behaviors that help partners understand how the customer service vision is to be accomplished.

The Starbucks customer vision statement reads “We create inspired moments in each customer’s day.” To accomplish this objective, partners are encouraged to focus on the following customer service behaviors:

  • Anticipate
  • Connect
  • Personalize
  • Own

According to Michelli, by providing the desired destination and ways to arrive there, you help your teams develop exceptionally strong bonds with customers that powerfully differentiate your organization from the competition.

ChurchWorld Application

  1. If asked, what percentage of your Guest Experience team members could articulate your Guest Experience vision or the way you want Guests to feel as a result of the experiences they have while at your campus?
  2. Develop a process tool in which your team members literally walk through the entire Guest Experience at your campus from the perspective of a Guest. Debrief the training. Make it a regular part of your team training.
  3. Do you know what your Guests are expecting when they come to your campus? Are your Guest Experience team members knowledgeable enough about Guest expectations to anticipate and deliver an extraordinary experience?

Michelli continues to develop the exceptional customer experience by outlining additional competencies that world-class service providers exhibit:

  • The ability to maximize customer engagement through environmental design
  • Integration of key sensory factors
  • A capacity to listen and adapt your Guest Experience to meet the changing wants, needs, and desires of your customers

While many leaders look for ways to improve experiences by adding elements to the environment, the best outcomes often come from the removal of negative cues that distract from a memorable experience.     – Joseph Michelli

ChurchWorld Application

  1. Assume the persona of one of your key targets – say, a young single professional. Walk key leaders of your team through your typical Guest Experience, observing through the eyes of your identified persona. What elements of clutter or confusion stand out? What can be done to clean up these experience detractors?
  2. Repeat the same exercise, this time choosing a completely different persona. Are there different areas of clutter or confusion? If so, how will you rectify them?
  3. For a real challenger, repeat this exercise with as many key target groups as you can identify. List all the areas of clutter and confusion and take action on repeated areas immediately.
  4. With your Guest Experience leadership team, conduct a sensory audit of your organization. What are the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities? What sights, sounds, smells, and tactile elements do your Guests experience throughout their journey at your campus? 

A couple of important “Connecting Points” by Michelli:

People can copy your products and your services, but seldom can they build the powerful connections with customers that emerge from the well-designed experiences that you deliver.

Whether it is connecting the design of your physical space to your company’s mission, vision, and values; strengthening efficiencies to improve the customer experience, or adding sensory elements, successful customer experience enhancements have one unifying component: the need to execute the details.

How will you move your Guest Experiences from “replicable and consistent” to “magical and unique”?

Part 3 of a series in the 2013 GsD Fall Term

Leading the Starbucks Way: Information, Insights, and Analysis Needed to Create a High-Performance Guest-Oriented Organization

inspired by and adapted from Leading The Starbucks Way, by Joseph Michelli



The Leadership Lessons of Starbucks

A man sits alone at lunch in his favorite Starbucks store and tells a green apron-clad Starbucks barista that the store is his midday refuge, noting, “At Starbucks, you are nice to me, you remember me, and you seem genuinely grateful that I am here.” – from Leading the Starbucks Way

Stories like this exemplify a company whose leaders establish a compelling vision and manifest behaviors that culminate not only in product sales but also in powerful, loyalty-rich human connections.

Here’s my personal Starbucks “Aha” story:

On a cold January day over six years ago, I was at “my” Starbucks for an hour’s worth of quiet study, accompanied by a White Chocolate Mocha and a warm Apple Fritter. I settled into a comfortable seat, observing the friendly, welcoming interactions between the baristas behind the counter and their customers as they walked in. I didn’t know I was in for Guest Experience 101.

While I was observing the barista’s interactions with customers, a young mother and her 3 year-old daughter came into the store. As they were walking in the door, the barista came out from behind the counter, said hello to the mom, then knelt down in front of the daughter, calling her by name and engaging in a conversation for several minutes – all while other customers continued to come into the store. The store was well staffed, so no one was held up by the barista’s actions. A seemingly small gesture? Maybe so, but it sparked a single question in me, one that I am still seeking the answer to today:

What would it take for churches to have the same kind of passion and enthusiasm in greeting their Guests?

That fleeting interaction between a barista and a Guest launched a journey that continues to expand into new territory. It’s only appropriate, though, to come back to Starbucks for new insights and applications for Guest Experiences in ChurchWorld.

One of the best-recognized and admired brands in the world, Starbucks singlehandedly transformed the ordinary delivery of coffee into a cultural phenomenon – a result of the company’s exemplary leadership practices.

Joseph Michelli, author of the bestseller The Starbucks Experience, explains that the international success of Starbucks begins with a promise: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.

Michelli offers a perspective on the leadership principles that drove the iconic coffee company’s resurgence from serious setbacks during the economic downturn – one of the few turnaround stories of this time. The foundation of the turnaround was a Transformation Agenda (For more about this turnaround, see Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s book Onward; you can read some excerpts from it in a series of posts beginning here).

Here’s a list of Starbucks’ Transformation Agenda in seven bold moves:

  1. Be the undisputed coffee authority
  2. Engage and inspire our partner
  3. Ignite the emotional attachment with our customers
  4. Expand our global presence – while making each store the heart of the local neighborhood
  5. Be the leader in ethical sourcing and environmental impact
  6. Create innovative growth platforms worthy of our coffee
  7. Deliver a sustainable economic model

Those seven moves resulted in 13 consecutive quarters of global comparable store sales growth greater than 5%. Today, there are over 200,000 people serving more than 60 million weekly customers who frequent more than 18,000 stores in more than 60 countries worldwide.

Starbucks had positioned itself for enduring profitability and brand respect.

For his latest book Leading the Starbucks Way, author Michelli conducted over two years of research, with uninhibited access to leaders and partners at all levels of the company. More than 500 hours of interviews and research produced the following five leadership principles:

  1. Savor and elevate
  2. Love to be loved
  3. Reach for common ground
  4. Mobilize the connection
  5. Cherish and challenge your legacy

In this series of posts focusing on these five principles, I want to encourage you to accompany Michelli as he asks questions like these – but translated for ChurchWorld application:

  • How do leaders at Starbucks strategically and tactically steward the company’s products and people to build customer engagement, loyalty, advocacy, and even brand love?
  • How to these leaders model and inspire excellence in product delivery, the creation of moments of authentic service, and enterprise-wide appreciation for the importance of shareholder value, and a contagious demonstration of social conscience?
  • How do Starbucks partners expand relationships beyond the café environment?
  • How does Starbucks leverage technology to enhance customer experiences?
  • What does Starbucks do to customize offerings to address local desires around the globe?

As a ChurchWorld leader, I hope you realize that by changing just a few words in the questions above, you will have an excellent guide for your own journey of discovery.

Part 1 of a series in the 2013 GsD Fall Term

Leading the Starbucks Way: Information, Insights, and Analysis Needed to Create a High-Performance Guest-Oriented Organization

inspired by and adapted from Leading The Starbucks Way, by Joseph Michelli


Transformation Hurts

If you are comfortable where you are, or if things are okay as they are, you wouldn’t go through transformation.

Only when the pain of changing things overcomes the pain of status quo would you ever consider transformation.

That’s where Starbucks found itself in early 2008. Chronicled in CEO Howard Schultz’s 2011 book Onward, Starbucks – at the apparent height of its success – was declining inwardly, and on the edge of declining outwardly. Onward details the transformation Starbucks went through in 2008-2010, utilizing a Transformation Agenda developed by the senior leadership team at Starbucks as the primary guide.

The Transformation Agenda featured 7 “Big Moves” – innovations and advancements designed to return Starbucks to its core practices. The Big Moves also contained one final, painful set of actions designed to reverse sales trends and bolster stock value.

600 stores closed.

12,000 partner positions eliminated in these stores.

1,000 non-store positions eliminated.

Schultz called it the most painful decision he has ever made. Only the certainty that closing the stores would keep Starbucks operational in the long run allowed him to make the decision. He understood the reasoning, but it was impossible to take the emotion out of the equation:

For all the flak about Starbucks’ ubiquity, almost every store maintained a devoted following inside and out. A soul. With each closing, we would be erasing a fingerprint, and that was a reality I could not possibly ignore.

Fast forward to the fall of 2010: Starbucks regained a healthy balance with a culture that celebrates creativity and discipline, entrepreneurship and process, as well as rigorous innovation. Their fiscal 2010 operating margin was the highest consolidated one in their 40-year history. The transformation worked.

But according to Schultz,

…perhaps the most valuable thing that came out of the two-year transformation was the confidence we gained knowing that we could preserve our values despite the hardships we faced. Holding fast to those values steadied us throughout the tumultuous journey, and the ways in which we conduct our business will continue to bring our partners pride and fuel their engagement as we continue to grow.

Success is not sustainable if it’s defined by how big you become. Large numbers are not what matter. The only number that matters is “one.”

brewed coffee in cup

One cup.

SB customer

One customer.

barista handing drink over counter

One partner.

SB interior

One experience at a time.


Question for ChurchWorld leaders:

What’s your “one”?

an updated post from a series reviewing Onward, by Howard Shultz


preparation for a new series coming soon on Leading the Starbucks Way, by Joseph Michelli


Transformation Initiatives at Starbucks

A previous post was a brief look at the bold Transformation Agenda that Starbucks put into place early in 2008 to overcome their decline. The Agenda contained a mission statement and 7 Big Moves designed to return Starbucks to success.

Within a few months, at their April 2008 shareholders meeting, Starbucks rolled out the following six transformation initiatives:

  • The Mastrena – a finely crafted, Swiss made espresso machine that would provide baristas with the ability to give customers a high-quality consistent shot of espresso second to none, transforming the espresso experience in their stores. By the end of 2008 the machine was in 30% of stores, and by 2010 a majority of Starbucks had the Mastrena.
  • Conservation International – a partnership with CI, begun in 1998, was expanded so that Starbucks could buy fair-trade coffee, produced in shade-grown conditions with fair compensation and safe working conditions for coffee farm workers. By 2009, all Starbucks espresso beans and espresso-based products would qualify for a new marking designed to articulate their practices: Responsibly Grown. Ethically Traded. Proudly Served.
  • The Rewards Card – designed to recognize their most loyal customers with freebies, the Card addressed an emerging need for value. Existing Starbucks Card holders could register their cards online, instantly turning it into a Rewards Card.
  • MyStarbucksIdea.com – an interactive website designed to listen to customers suggestions, rants, and comments. Moderated by 50 veteran Starbucks employees, the website was launched live by uploading ideas submitted by shareholders that morning. Within minutes, more ideas came streaming in from people listening to the meeting’s broadcast or following rolling blog posts. In the next 24 hours, over 7,000 ideas were posted.
  • Pike Place Roast – announcing that Starbucks would once again grind whole beans in their stores, two master baristas introduced Pike Place Roast, a smooth, well-balanced, lighter blend of coffee, designed to give full flavor while not being as bold as traditional blends.
  • Clover – a commercially viable way to replicate the benefits of the French Press method of brewed coffee, Clover was a local invention acquired by Starbucks early in 2008. It created a fantastic cup of coffee at a pace designed to keep up with the demand of most Starbucks stores.

SB turnaround menu fastcompany.com

Seven Big Moves.

Six Transformation Initiatives.

All of these engaging tools that helped Starbucks navigate through a very unpredictable journey, one milestone at a time.

The initiatives introduced at that meeting each heralded a return to the core values of Starbucks – coffee, customers, innovation, and values – but they weren’t enough by themselves to bring the company back from the brink.

Painfully personal decisions were the final step in the transformation.

Lessons for ChurchWorld

  • Take a look at the initiatives above, and translate them into your world. What actions can you dream up – and then put into action – that would help you accomplish your transformation agenda?
  • Are you secure enough in your core values to put anything – and everything – on the table?
  • Transformation is not just about nuts and bolts, about systems and processes. Is your vision lived out in the lives of your people?

an updated post from a series reviewing Onward, by Howard Shultz


preparation for a new series coming soon on Leading the Starbucks Way, by Joseph Michelli



Transformation Agenda

Continuing the transformation journey at Starbucks – and what it can teach your organization…

Once Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz decided to return as CEO, he pulled together a team to began working on the process of turning the company’s performance around.

As noted in this post, one of the team’s key realizations was the need to focus on the ones: one cup of coffee, served to one customer, at one store. That thought drove the team to draft a transformation agenda that would be used company-wide to implement decisions.

The Transformation Agenda started with a compelling strategic vision, and was followed by a backbone of seven big moves, each with specific tactics. Here’s a synopsis:

Our Aspiration – To become and enduring, great company with one of the most recognized and respected brands in the world, known for inspiring and nurturing the human spirit.

courtesy touchworldwide.com

courtesy touchworldwide.com

Seven Big Moves

  • Be the undisputed coffee authority – Starbucks could not possibly transform the company if they did not excel and lead in their core business. Focusing on their quality and passion they exhibit in sourcing, roasting, and brewing coffee, actions included improving the quality and delivery of espresso drinks, reinventing brewed coffee, delivering innovative beverages, and increase the share of the at-home market. Undergirding all these actions was the push to continue telling their story.
  • Engage and inspire their partners – Every Starbucks partner (employee) should be passionate about coffee – from soil to cup – and possess the skills, enthusiasm, and permission to share that expertise with customers. Actions included significantly improving training and career development for partners at all levels as well as developing meaningful and groundbreaking compensation, benefit, and incentive packages for partners.
  • Ignite the emotional attachment with their customers – People come to Starbucks for coffee and human connection. Their goal was to put customers back in the center of the experience by addressing their needs, providing the “value” in a manner congruent with the brand, and developing programs that recognize and reward the most loyal customers. In the stores, that meant achieving operational excellence, finding new ways to deliver world-class customer service and perfect beverages while keeping costs in line and retail partners engaged.
  • Expand their global presence-while making each store the heart of the local neighborhood – The challenge was to grow their retail presence while striving to connect with and support the neighborhoods and cultures that each store serves. Enhancing local relevancy would mean redesigning existing and new stores, offering new products that reflected the tastes of particular cultures, and reaching out by volunteering or fund-raising to support local programs and causes.
  • Be a leader in ethical sourcing and environmental impact – Starbucks has led the way in treating farmers with respect and dignity. These efforts would expand, strengthening existing partnerships and forging new ones. They also have a goal of reducing each store’s environmental footprint and sharing their initiatives with others.
  • Create innovative growth platforms worthy of their coffee – Starbucks would grow not just by adding stores and selling coffee, buy also by extending its brand and/or expertise to new product platforms expanding or complementing coffee, such as tea, cold beverages, instant coffee, food, and the booming health and wellness market. Innovation that was relevant to their core values would be the hallmark of their transformation.
  • Deliver a sustainable economic model – Without a profitable business model, Big Moves 1-6 would not be possible. It was imperative that the refocus on customers and core also be matched by an improvement on how they operated their business. Creating a culture that drove quality and speed, managing expenses on an ongoing basis, reducing costs, and building a world-class supply chain would be the primary tactics in this area. Big Move 7 would be the most painful, least sexy, and most difficult part of transforming the company.

Launched at a global summit of 200 of Starbucks’ most senior leaders from around the world, the Transformation Agenda was in Schultz’s words “to make sure that we level set the reason we exist.”

courtesy nbcnews.com

courtesy nbcnews.com

Schultz felt ultimately that the summit helped align Starbucks’ top global leaders around two very important statements: the Transformation Agenda, which outlined what everyone at Starbucks needed to do, and the mission statement, which reminded them why.

Lessons for ChurchWorld Leaders:

  • Do you know what you are doing?
  • Do you why you are doing it?
  • Do you know how you are doing it?
  • Do you know when you are successful?
  • Do you know where God is taking you?

For a better understanding of these questions in terms of your church, take a look at the Church Unique Visual Summary here, or download it here as a free e-book.

It might just be the start of your own Transformation Agenda.

an updated post from a series reviewing Onward, by Howard Shultz


preparation for a new series coming soon on Leading the Starbucks Way, by Joseph Michelli


Ones Add Up

Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz’s 2011 book Onward details the amazing comeback story of Starbucks: after more than three decades of success, in 2008 they found themselves with sales sliding at a distressing rate, a falling stock value, and relentless competition. Compounding the problem, the world’s economy was in a tailspin.

With aggressive, sometimes painful moves and a powerful transformation agenda to guide them, they were able to reverse their decline, and by the end of 2010 were once again on top of their game.

What happened?

Here’s an excerpt from the book that gives you a big clue:

Like a doctor who measures a patient’s height and weight every year without checking blood pressure or heart rate, Starbucks was not diagnosing itself at a level of detail that would help ensure its long-term health. We predicated future success on how many stores we opened during a quarter instead of taking the time to determine whether each of those stores, would, in fact, be profitable. We though in terms of millions of customers and thousands of stores instead of one customer, one partner, and one cup of coffee at a time.

With such a mind-set, many little things dangerously slipped by unnoticed, or at least went unacknowledged. How could one imperfect cup of coffee, one unqualified manager, or one poorly located store matter when millions of cups of coffee were being served in tens of thousands of stores?

We forgot that “ones” add up.

courtesy freemarketmediagroup.com

courtesy freemarketmediagroup.com

Lessons for ChurchWorld:

  1. What “business” are you in?
  2. What are the roots of that business?
  3. It’s okay to have a 30,000 foot view, but eventually you’ve got to land the plane.
  4. You’ve got to produce results.
  5. You may see the crowds, but never forget the “ones“.

an updated post from a series reviewing Onward, by Howard Shultz


preparation for a new series coming soon on Leading the Starbucks Way, by Joseph Michelli



Change Lessons from Starbucks

Readers know of my fondness of using Starbucks as a model for excellence in Guest Experiences. Over the past several years I have probably referred to them a couple of dozen times or more. One of my most requested presentations on an introduction to Guest Experiences uses Starbucks as a model. When something works well, and can serve as a model for what churches can do, why not use it?

There’s a flip side to Starbucks as well. In late 2007, the company was not doing well, and the future looked bleak. To address the emerging problems, former CEO Howard Schultz, who had stepped aside almost eight years earlier to become chairman of the board, did something unexpected: he returned as CEO to oversee day-to-day operations.

Schultz came back to Starbucks with a passion and a plan, and over the next two years, Starbucks returned to sustainable, profitable growth.

Schultz has recounted this story in Onward, released in 2011. It is a fascinating and extraordinarily intimate look at Schultz’s leadership – one that I think church leaders would find appropriate for their own journey.

Onward also serves as a great refresher and prelude to a brand new book on Starbucks: Leading the Starbucks Way, by Joseph Michelli. It was just released and I am currently working through it, preparing a new series of leadership principles demonstrated by your friendly neighborhood baristas at Starbucks.

So, for the next few days, I want to dive back into Onward and pull out some lessons for ChurchWorld leaders. What’s the best place to start?

A closed sign.

On February 26, 2008 – the following sign appeared on all 7,100 Starbucks stores in the US as they closed for three hours:

SB barista training store closed

That’s right – Starbucks closed the doors early and spent three hours retraining the baristas to make sure they were doing their best. Touted by some as a marketing stunt, taken advantage of by the competitors, losing over $6 million dollars – what was up with Starbucks?

It was a symbolic act – three hours of education would not solve the huge problems Starbucks was facing.

But it worked.

Over the next year and a half, Starbucks followed a “Transformation Agenda” that provided some great leadership principles that leaders in ChurchWorld will find helpful. Here is a summary from Schultz listing those leadership lessons:

  • Grow with discipline.
  • Balance intuition with rigor.
  • Innovate around the core.
  • Don’t embrace the status quo.
  • Find new ways to see.
  • Never expect a silver bullet.
  • Get your hands dirty.
  • Listen with empathy and over communicate with transparency.
  • Tell your story, refuse to let others define you.
  • Use authentic experiences to inspire.
  • Stick to your values, they are your foundation.
  • Hold people accountable but give them the tools to succeed.
  • Make the tough choices; it’s how you execute that counts.
  • Be decisive in times of crisis.
  • Be nimble.
  • Find truth in trials and lessons in mistakes.
  • Be responsible for what you see, hear and do.
  • Believe.

Ready to learn from Starbucks’ painful journey of transformation?

an updated post from a series reviewing Onward, by Howard Shultz


preparation for a new series coming soon on Leading the Starbucks Way, by Joseph Michelli


Starbucks: Where the Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary

The lesson of the coffee bean…

Commoditized. No organization wants that word applied to its goods or services. Merely mentioning commoditization sends shivers down the spines of executives and entrepreneurs alike. Differentiation disappears, margins fall through the floor, and customers buy solely on the basis of price.

Consider, however, a true commodity: the coffee bean. Companies that harvest coffee or trade it on the futures market receive (at the time of this writing) a little more than 75 cents per pound, which translates into 1 or 2 cents a cup. When a manufacture roasts, grinds, packages, and sells those beans in a grocery store, turning them into a good, the price to a consumer jumps to between 5 and 25 cents a cup (depending on brand and package size). Brew the ground beans in a run-of-the-mill diner, quick-serve restaurant, and that coffee-making service now sells for 50 cents to a $1.50 per cup.

But wait: serve that same coffee in a cafe such as Starbucks – where the ordering, creation, and consumption of the cup embody a heightened ambience or sense of theatre – and consumers gladly pay $2 to $5 a cup. Businesses that ascend to this fourth level of value establish a distinctive experience that envelops the purchase of coffee, increasing its value by two orders of magnitude over the original commodity.

The preceding paragraphs come from The Experience Economy, Updated Edition, written by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore in 2011. The book (an excellent one, by the way) establishes the concept of the experience, and why it is so important to organizations of all types today – ChurchWorld included.

After reading the first release of The Experience Economy in 2002, I became fascinated at the lesson of the coffee bean and how it could be applied to ChurchWorld. In particular, how Starbucks was creating an experience.

At Starbucks, an ordinary commodity – coffee – is transformed into an EXTRAORDINARY experience.

ChurchWorld can learn a lesson or two – or three or four – from Starbucks.

You can turn an ordinary process – welcoming Guests – into an Extraordinary Experience.

Today is the fourth session of Summer Term II of the 2013 GsD program with Applied Guestology 201, a review of some of the leading organizations who deliver exemplary Guest Experiences with application to ChurchWorld.

To learn more about the secrets to EXTRAORDINARY customer experiences at Starbucks, I began investigating Starbucks (now that’s research I have really gotten into!) to see what ChurchWorld leaders can learn.

My quest for learning the Guest Services secrets of Starbucks began with a hot White Chocolate Mocha on a cold January day several years ago. I settled into a comfortable seat, observing the friendly, welcoming interactions between the baristas behind the counter and their customers as they walked in. I didn’t know I was in for Guest Experience 101.

The single episode that sticks in my mind to this day was the following: While I was observing the barista’s interactions with customers, a young mother and her 3 year-old daughter walked into the store. As they were walking in the door, the barista came out from behind the counter, said hello to the mom, then knelt down in front of the daughter, calling her by name and engaging in a conversation for several minutes – all while other customers continued to come into the store. The store was well-staffed, so no one was held up by the barista’s actions. A seemingly small gesture? Maybe so, but it spoke volumes to me.

Later I asked the barista what prompted her actions. She replied, “It’s in the basic training all partners take when they start working at Starbucks. It’s called the ‘Starbucks Experience,’ and it’s all in this.” With that, she handed me The Green Apron Book.

SB Green Apron BookContaining no less than the core philosophies and values of Starbucks, the Green Apron book is a small package with a large impact. Its simple but powerful structure contains guiding principles of the environments Starbucks baristas hope to create and legendary service they strive to provide.

But it’s really leadership at its best: simple instruction provided in an appealing way, with a spirit that encourages baristas to make each Starbucks Experience uniquely their own.

The central theme is called “The Five Ways of Being”. Here’s a sample:

Be Welcoming – Offer everyone a sense of belonging

  • Provide uplifting experiences that enrich your customers’ daily lives
  • Greet customers when they walk through the door
  • Make eye contact with your customers
  • Start a conversation
  • Get to know your customers by drink or name
  • Anticipate and respond to your customers’ needs
  • Ensure your customer is your number one priority

Be Genuine – Connect, discover, respond

  • Always be aware that customer service is communicated verbally and nonverbally
  • Remember that basic service meets customers’ expectations; legendary service exceeds customers’ expectations
  • Focus on the positive, on what you can do, and not on what you can’t do
  • Be enthusiastic about your customers’ experience, and invite them back for another visit
  • Exceed expectations. Look for ways, both big and small, to let customers know they’re valued
  • Use your good judgment and common sense when making things right

Be Knowledgeable – Love what you do. Share it with others

  • Know what is special about the ways Starbucks selects, roasts, and packages our coffee
  • Familiarize yourself with the different coffee growing regions
  • Learn how to describe coffee – your customers expect you to be a coffee expert
  • It’s okay to not always know the answer. When you don’t know, find out
  • Remember that learning about coffee is an everyday adventure
  • Share your coffee knowledge, passion and excitement with partners and customers through coffee tastings. Enthusiasm is contagious

Be Considerate – Take care of yourself, each other and our environment

  • View the store from a customer’s perspective. How does it look and feel?
  • Take the initiative; when you see something that needs to be done, do it
  • Recognize partners for the effort and quality of work
  • Always be punctual – it affects customers, partners and store business
  • Contribute to a safe, secure and accident-free environment for everyone
  • Communicate to partners with openness and sincerity

Be Involved – In the store, in the company, in the community

  • Ensure our Purpose and Values are reflected in everything you do at work
  • Apply our Guiding Principles to the way you do business
  • Consider ways to become involved in your community
  • Be aware of the tone, spirit and energy of the store
  • Be a model of positivism
  • Enjoy taking on new challenges with your store team

Along with the core purpose, values, and mission statement, the book provides partners with concrete ideas on how to personalize relationships with customers by giving to, connecting with, and elevating customer interactions.

It closes with three simple sentences:

Creating the experience that keeps people coming back relies on the magical combination of three things: our products, our places, and our people.

They come for coffee, stay for the inviting warmth, and return for the very human connection.

Now go ahead, welcome your next new regular!

Don’t you wish you could say the same things about your Guest Experience process?

I was hooked! From that day on, I have been in and out of dozens of Starbucks all across the country, I have read all the books about Starbucks, I have talked with many baristas, and I even have the basic training materials used by Starbucks for new team members.

Starbucks gets it when it comes to Guest Experiences – why shouldn’t the Church?

You don’t need to copy the Green Apron Book for your Guest Experience team, but you do need to understand the principles behind it, develop concepts that will encourage your team to be fully engaged with the people they are welcoming to your campus, and apply them to your context.

How are you serving the guests at your church?

For all the promise of digital media to bring people together, I still believe that the most sincere, lasting powers of human connection come from looking directly into someone else’s eyes, with no screen in between.
Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO

Love it or hate it (and it seems there’s not much middle ground) Starbucks began a revolution of “the third place,” creating an experience (with a price to match!) that consumers flocked to in droves. Even over the past few years with rising prices, store closings, and increased competition, Starbucks has some great lessons on Guest Experience that the church can learn.

Central to the experience at Starbucks is the barista, the smiling face that greets you when you come into the store and takes your order. I frequent Starbucks across the country (it’s a favorite meeting place for church leaders), and I am amazed at the knowledge, uniformity of service, and general attitude displayed by the baristas.

Starbucks understands the importance of the front-line interaction its baristas have with their customers. They realize that customers can go almost anywhere to get a cup of coffee, but the experience that Starbucks delivers is not commonplace. As a matter of fact, Starbucks will even cut into its efficiency (and the risks that entails) to make sure the experience being delivered is extraordinary.

Application to ChurchWorld

Recently I was speaking with a group of church leaders about the importance of guest services and creating great experiences that leave a WOW! First Impression. During the Q&A time, one leader asked me the following: “All this is well and good, but my church has limited resources – we can’t possibly do all these things at once. Where do we start?”

My quick answer: always default to people.

In the equation Creating Experiences = Product + Process + Place + People, the most important part, the starting place, the foundation which all is built on – it’s people.

Starbucks may have a good product lineup; it may have its service processes down to a science, and it may offer the most comfortable, friendly place to hang out alone or with friends. But neither product nor process nor place have any traction without the people greeting you with a smile, asking what you would like (maybe suggesting something new), and then servicing you with speed, excellence, and always a smile. You have to have a great team in place first before you can begin to deliver excellent experiences.

The same is true in ChurchWorld: the experiences that you are attempting to create, the places and spaces in which they are housed – both literally and figuratively – are important.

 But you don’t get anywhere without the people.


When an organization helps its team members bring pride, excellence, and playfulness to every aspect of their task, those team members literally have the chance to change the lives of those around them.
People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want to be a part of something that touches their hearts.

Everything matters – but everyone matters more.

Recommended Reading for this session:

The Starbucks Experience, Joseph A. Michelli

Pour Your Heart Into It, Howard Schultz

Onward, Howard Schultz

(for a complete reading list, see The Essential Guest Experience Library)

Guestology – the art and science of knowing and understanding your guests – is a term originated by Bruce Laval of the Walt Disney Company. The use of GsD is a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment that organizations that really want to understand and deliver a WOW Guest Experience need to study the best practices and principles in use today, and then adapt them to the context of their own environment.

the GsD (Doctor of Guestology) journey: 2nd Term Summer 2013

Growth Should be a Tactic, Not a Strategy

Starbucks was recently named the most innovative company in the Food & Beverage category in Fast Company’s “World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies.”

Not a bad place for a company that just a few short years ago was failing at success.

CEO Howard Schultz tends to see his company’s recent tribulations as a case study in what can happen to a business that uses growth as a strategy rather than a tactic.

For the better part of 15 years, from 1992 through 2006, practically everything the company did produced a level of success and adulation. If Frappuccino is a hot category and you introduce a new flavor, and it moves the needle a lot, the organization comes to believe, ‘That was a great thing we did.’ And it imprints a feeling of, ‘That was innovation.’ But that’s not innovation. In fact, it’s laziness.

By Schultz’s criteria, the line extension of a product involves little in the way of risk-taking or long-range vision. That was the problem with the old Starbucks.

And it’s probably a problem with your church, too.

Starbucks’ rebound is complicated: the financial rebound can be traced to domestic cost-cutting and global expansion (most notably China). More fascinating is Starbucks’ reputational rebound – the result of Schultz and his company’s efforts to renew a culture of entrepreneurialism and innovation that had fallen by the wayside during a mad rush for growth a few years back.

It’s a cultural shift from a methodical expansion of the brand to a methodical enhancement of the brand. As Fast Company’s Jon Gertner writes:

Starbucks no longer seems to perceive its future as depending on an ability to clone its essential store concept ad infinitum. To be somewhat reductive: You can try to sell the same amount of stuff at more stores. Or you can try to sell more and more stuff at the same number of stores. These days, the overarching gestalt of the company – demonstrated by its plans for redesigned stores, investments in innovative coffee machines, and expansion of its digital networks, and rewards programs – is striving for every branch to be both more versatile and more artisanal.

Don’t let all this business talk put you to sleep:

Churches often think growth is the end game, when it’s really only part of the playbook.

What sacrifices have you made – only to later regret – in the name of growth?


Favorite Post from February, 2012