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May 11, 2007

Why Starbucks is Losing Their Soul

Posted by Shawn Stewart | Filed under: Philosophy

StarbucksBrett, Brian and I were talking on a recent road trip about the Starbucks memo from their founder, Howard Schultz. In it he rang an alarm about how dangerously close Starbucks is to losing their soul.

We discussed possible reasons beyond what Schultz had mentioned based on our own experience of Starbucks and our Personality Profile™ process. Along the way we stopped for coffee at—you guessed it—Starbucks, and boy did our conclusions become crystal clear.

I hadn't ordered a drink, but Brian and Brett had. I was waiting for the guys when the barista behind the counter looked at me and said in a rude tone, “What are you waiting for? These drinks have been sitting here.”

I was dumbfounded and stared blankly at her with an, "umm they're not mine" response. I then felt so uncomfortable standing there "loitering" that I walked outside.

If the person taking the drinks had done what they used to do more often and taken Brett or Brian's name, the whole situation could have been more pleasant for everyone and left me, a potential customer, without a bad taste in my mouth. But it didn't go that way.

The problem isn't just that barista or the whole name thing, those are symptoms of the underlying problem. Starbucks has always been about an experience of premium coffee, tailor-made by friendly people in a cozy atmosphere that restores us a little and makes us feel good. When customers line up out the door in the morning to get their cup-o-joe, it's all the employees can do to keep up. So the friendly chit-chat, get to know you goes out the window and the employees shift into "get it done" mode. If you live in "get it done" mode for too long, it will become your only mode.

In the last decade, Starbucks has made business decisions that solve the problem of supplying coffee with greater efficiency. What they didn't realize is that those solutions were diluting their brand's promise and changing the emphasis on what is most important from creating an experience to supplying a thing. That incorrect emphasis has bleed all the way down to the frontline and my experience.

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