Categorized | customer service

One more reason Starbuck’s is in trouble

Starbucks storefront

The brand is only as good as the people who represent it.

This afternoon as I sat banging away at my increasingly unreadable keyboard while enjoying some overcaffeinated coffee confection at Starbucks, I was treated to a Starbucks job interview at the next table. Now, I’ve been charting in this blog all the MBA tricks that Starbuck’s has conjured from its Seattle conference rooms in a desperate effort to regain the growth mojo from the slowly deflating Starbucks brand and I’ve repeatedly come back to how Starbucks fails at the most fundamental of customer-facing retail competencies: it’s customer service, stupid. It’s long waits in line. It’s orders gone wrong. It’s drink orders that disappear. It’s unfriendly barristas. It’s inappropriate banter behind the counter. It’s walking away from customers standing at the register. This isn’t rocket science, but the Starbuckaroos lining the corner corporate offices haven’t had this knocked into their noodles.

So, as the job interview proceeded in full volume three feet from me (I have, believe it or not, collected job interview questions from the best customer service companies in researching my book), I took the opportunity to write down all the interview questions and the right answers (yes, the manager told the interviewee the “right” answers and “wrong” answers to several of the questions — after the interviewee had answered the questions, of course). In a half hour interview, how many customer service questions do you think were asked? This in a company increasingly famous for its lousy customer service?


And one of those customer service questions was, “How do you handle an angry customer?” To which the “right” answer, according to the manager, was “get the manager” (not “I’m sorry” or “how can I fix the problem?”). The lion’s share of the questions had to do with teamwork and work habits, questions like, “how can you contribute to the team here?” and “tell me when you’ve been assigned a task you felt you couldn’t do.”

In my upcoming customer service magnum opus, my second commandment of customer service is, “You don’t train for customer service, you hire for customer service.” Until Starbucks starts interviewing for customer service more than it interviews for “teamwork,” “work habits,” and “manager relations,” it will never solve the unfriendly service, long lines, and constant breaking of fundamental customer service rules that are, in large part, responsible for taking the allure off the Starbucks brand.

Every entrepreneur and small business owner needs to have this pasted on the inside of their glasses. Customer service is, for most customer-facing businesses, the most important and lasting marketing and advertising that the business does. For shoestring ventures, it is sometimes the only marketing and advertising that the business does. If you want employees that deliver on customer service, well, you have to ask them about it before you hire them.

Helpfully, of course, my book will have the ten customer service questions you always ask an employee. And I didn’t make them up. I researched — are you ready — 300 high-quality customer service businesses and tracked down the types of questions they ask to get at the customer service personality hiding within every potential hire.

Remember: hire for customer service. Good customer service is fundamentally tied in with a person’s character. Like a spouse, once you’ve got an employee, it’s too late to discover their real character.

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