“… at Starbucks, I’ve always said we’re not in the coffee business serving people, we’re in the people business servicing coffee.” – Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks Corporation (2008-2017)
Going for a coffee might just be America’s favorite non sports-related pastime. And while the US consumes more liquid caffeine than anywhere else, other countries are catching up fast. Starbucks has 26,000 stores spread across 70 countries, with plans to open 12,000 more by 2021.
India, China and much of Latin America all feature prominently in Starbucks’ expansion plans. But where does Starbucks’ corporate culture fit into its growth?
Here are the pillars of the Starbucks company culture.
Before popularizing the concept of a coffeehouse chain, Starbucks was a very product-oriented affair. The first store that opened in 1971 in Seattle sold coffee-making equipment and beans.
More than 40 years later, Starbucks is a place where people go to hang out. Over time, the main selling point became the social experience of drinking coffee with friends. The Starbucks company culture has shaped this image of the company with a unique vision:
“Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time” - Starbucks Mission Statement
So, how exactly does Starbucks transmit the company vision through at every organizational level?
It’s thanks in no small part to Howard Schultz, Starbucks Chairman and former CEO. Under his leadership, the franchise adopted a strong ‘customer comes first’ approach. A great example of this ethos, often shared on social media, is the personalized coffee cup:
This policy of addressing customers on a first name basis stems directly from the company vision. At face value, it’s a nice touch that makes customers feel connected with the baristas serving them. Viewed more cynically, it’s a clever ploy to get free advertising on social media:
Either way, it’s turns what could otherwise be a PR gaffe into a viral celebration of Starbucks’ warm and welcoming culture. Which leads us to…
Whether you’re called Grant, Grent, or any other name with a humorous misspelling, Starbucks wants to create “a culture of warmth and belonging” where you feel welcome. This is one of the values that embodies Starbucks’ philosophy as a company.
On top of this one, three more core values shape the Starbucks company culture:
Acting with courage, challenging the status quo, and finding new ways to grow our company and each other
In 2008, Starbucks committed to helping farmers grow by sourcing beans from Fairtrade and CAFE (Coffee and Farm Equity) partners. Starbucks wasn’t the first company to support these standards, but it has set a great example for industry peers. In 2015, 99% of the coffee Starbucks bought was “ethically sourced”.
Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect.
Every customer service business knows the importance of treating customers well, but not all of them put equal effort into employee relations. Starbucks goes out of its way to afford staff the same dignity and respect as customers (see later). And it shows; employee turnover at Starbucks is only 65% - far below the typical 150-400% at most quick-serve restaurants.
Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results.
The 2016 edition of Starbucks’ shareholder letter makes for heady reading, especially if you’re an investor. More than 2,000 new stores and $21 billion in revenue in 2015 headline a healthy balance sheet year for the company with venti-sized ambitions.
On the flip side, Starbucks has, to its credit, been quick to bounce back from poor results. The ill-fated ‘Mazagran’ was a coffee-cola hybrid drink in the early 1990s that never quite took off. It apparently had a cinnamon orange taste that you either loved or hated, and most people fell in the latter camp. But from the embers of this idea emerged the bottled frappucino, and the rest is history.
Keeping customers happy demands smart staff management and training. The Starbucks company culture leverages data about processes and people to deliver operational efficiencies.
For one thing, staff duties are split between different workstations to meet demand during peak periods. The system helps to reduce wait times and get customers served within three minutes of entering the store.
And if Subway staff are ‘sandwich artists’, Starbucks baristas are coffee scientists. New recruits have their cappuccino-making skills tested, and are trained to be able to make any of 87,000 drinks combinations*.
*Many of these drinks aren’t advertised in store, but they do exist. Do a Google search for the ‘Starbucks Secret Menu’ and order your first flavor-changing ‘Unicorn Frappuccino’ on us.
The most standout aspect of Starbucks company culture is how the organization treats people. All staff are business partners in the sense that they receive stock options and health insurance when they join. This makes everyone feel invested in the enterprise and the values it stands for.
On the customer side of things, Starbucks takes fan feedback seriously. The company sources new product ideas from customers through their ideas.starbucks.com site subdomain. Submit your idea for a Valentine's Day special Victoria sponge (the Cakey Breaky Heart?) and who knows; you might see it being served in Starbucks one day!
“Treating employees benevolently shouldn’t be viewed as an added cost that cuts into profits, but as a powerful energizer that can grow the enterprise into something far greater than one leader could envision.” - Howard Schultz