Is Starbucks passing the buck to baristas on customer service?
When it comes to social issues, Starbucks has positioned itself as one of the more politically progressive chains out there, but that image doesn’t always hold when it comes to the company’s labor relations. The latest controversy surrounding the coffee giant concerns a customer service retraining initiative called North Star, which has become fodder for the company’s critics.
North Star is a two-year agenda to improve customer service at Starbucks and one of the few initiatives implemented under new CEO Kevin Johnson, according to Business Insider. The initiative has consisted of mandatory meetings at each Starbucks store. Mr. Johnson and Starbucks’ head of U.S. retail, Kevin Engksov, believe that North Star is encouraging baristas to better form an “emotional connection” with customers. But some baristas who have attended the meetings have come out infuriated.
Critics claim that the meetings are about blaming baristas for customer service hiccups, while failing to address factors that set baristas up for failure, including understaffing, difficult-to-manage mobile and drive-thru ordering and drinks that are time-consuming to prepare.
Accounts of the Starbucks experience paint a contradictory picture of the level of service. A Consumer Affairs page gives Starbucks an average 1.3-star rating out five possible stars. However, a study about foodservice customer service levels on Pizza Marketplace, based on 5,500 surveys conducted between June 2016 and May 2017, placed Starbucks’ customer satisfaction rating at 77, the average for quick-serve restaurants being 79.
Some of the most visible stories about service complaints at Starbucks lately have been political (and partisan) in nature, for instance, a viral story about a barista placing an anti-Trump slogan on the receipt of a customer wearing a Trump shirt.
Not all of the news about Starbucks’ customer service has been negative. In the wake of a point-of-sale outage last month, Starbucks won approval by allowing stores to give away free beverages.
Regardless, the question of whether North Star is the way to tackle the perceived problem remains open.
While Mr. Engksov asserted that the company is listening to employee feedback and working to better support baristas, one employee quoted in Business Insider referred to North Star as “company Kool-Aid.”
- Starbucks is quietly changing the business as furious baristas slam the ‘cult that pays $9 per hour’ – Business Insider
- Starbucks Customer Says She Was Bullied by a Barista – Cosmopolitan
- Starbucks: Consumer Complaints and Reviews – Consumer Affairs
- Fast food customer satisfaction remains unchanged, but high – Pizza Marketplace
- Did Starbucks turn its POS outage into a win? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What is Starbucks doing right and wrong with the North Star initiative? How do you expect this controversy to shake out, and what can others looking to improve customer service learn from it?