One blog I follow sometimes is one run primarily for the purposes of allowing Starbucks coffee pourers (as some might think of them), really called “baristas,” to bitch about us customers. They are coming dangerously close to biting the hand that feeds them, if these attitudes are widespread. I assume only the most disgruntled-y are taking the time to post on a site like this, but still, I’d be concerned if I were management. Is this a “lean” story? No, but I think it’s a complex story that might be interesting to explore in lean terms, if we can.
To be clear: I’m not really setting out to bash Starbucks employees. As in any organization, management has a responsibility for helping create a good work environment. There was a WSJ journal article about two years ago about Starbucks corporate sending “efficiency experts” out to the stores. This isn’t “lean.” A “lean” approach would involve Starbucks management harnessing the ideas and suggestions of their employees, employees who consider themselves to be intelligent, above-average workers, I would assume. It doesn’t sound like Starbucks management is doing a great job at that. The ideas need to be listened to, as long as those ideas don’t involve cell-phone jammers….. read on, you’ll see what I mean.
Starbucks is an interesting growth story. What began as a small upstart company that was passionate about coffee and the experience has lost focus and become commoditized as it has grown (and as us customers have “gotten used” to them). Starbucks isn’t as special as it was when I first discovered it around 1994.
The corporate “bean counters” (now there’s a horrible pun) have made a number of decisions in the name of efficiency — stores no longer grind their own beans (removing the aroma portion of the experience) and manual espresso machines that required some knowledge and experience have been replaced by automated “push a single button” machines. Starbucks has been generous with their employees (good health insurance) and has created the idea that they are “coffee artists” (not their phrase, it’s mine, to borrow a similar, and sort of silly sounding, phrase from Subway, the “sandwich artist).
Is the Starbucks employee a “barista” whose job is to craft a specialty drink and be chatty, creating a warm friendly customer experience, or are they part of a, sp coffee assembly line that values efficiency, speed, and revenue/customer? Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz recently wrote about the struggles with Starbucks growth and their loss of identity. Sounds like a problem with “constancy of purpose,” as Deming would have talked about. Is Starbucks a coffee company or a place that sells candy, mugs, CD’s, and whatever crap they can peddle? I imagine this shift and lack of constancy might be one root cause of employee stress, particularly among the long-timers?
Back to the employees. There are some “respect with people” struggles on both sides of the counter. If you read the blog, *$ employees (as they’ll abbreviate the company name) hate you, the customer for:
- Digging for change and slowing the line
- Ordering Frappucinos
- Ordering drinks the wrong way AND
- Being on your cell phone while you order
For that last point, the baristas are complaining that many customers are “disrespecting” them by being on their phones while in line and either mouthing their orders, pointing, or ordering real quickly and going back to their phone calls. I’m not sure if that’s people being rude or disrespectful as much as it is people being busy and just wanting coffee without human interaction. Maybe *$ needs self-serve kiosks?
Many employees report taking steps such as:
- Wanting signs saying you can’t order if you’re on the phone
- Refusing to take orders from customers who are on the phone
- Verbally abusing customers who are on the phone
- Installing (allegedly, in one case) an illegal cell phone jammer to kill phone calls
Has *$ lost their way? Should employees who are this insulted just quit and find another line of work? Can *$ afford to keep such crabby employees on the payroll in a customer-service business? I’d probably come down on the side of the customer, that the employees should be grateful that the cell-phone jerk is willing to pay $5 for a drink.
The employees also complain about corporate management, that they aren’t doing enough to support their quality of worklife, as ruined by the cell-phone jerks. The customer defines “value” right?
No, I’m not one of the cell-phone jerks. But I really don’t expect anyone at *$ to be my friend. I’d just like my coffee (coffee, not a latte) so I can go on with my day.
Maybe *$ needs a separate brand that’s focused on ruthless efficiency and another that’s the warm friendly place? Different customers value different things, apparently, so should it be broken out into separate “value streams?”
Some comments from their blog, in case you don’t feed like wading through the hatred. We can only guess that these are from employees:
Our poor precious customers can simply not go through there day and actually talk to the people serving them! Oh no they might get lower class all over their nice Gucci bags! Or their handsome suits![/sarcasm]
I used to work with someone who, if he noticed the person ordering was on their phone would call it from bar as for “the customer on their cell phone”. That way, every person in the store notices that this is the only person whose drink was not delivered by name, because they were too busy on their phone to give a name. Generally the person would look embarrassed/angry and everyone would glare at them while they walked away. It worked like a charm.
If they are on the phone, I usually just continue what I’m doing behind the register until they are ready to have a real conversation with me, or I help the person behind them who has an annoyed look on their face because they also agree that this inconsiderate person can’t take a minute to order, make a payment and leave the counter.
We do not have this problem at my Starbucks. I bought a cell phone jammer and it works like a wonder. If a person walks within 30 feet of my store there cell phone connection is lost. Enough said.
That’s just a small sampling.
About LeanBlog.org: Mark Graban is a consultant, author, and speaker in the “lean healthcare” methodology. Mark is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. Mark is also the VP of Customer Success for the technology company KaiNexus. He lives in San Antonio, Texas.