4 Tips for Increasing Employee Engagement from Starbucks

By Sally Ann Moyer

Effective customer service starts from within an organization. Successful companies see their employees as more than just workers but also brand ambassadors. A company’s efforts to boost employee engagement should translate into effective and strong customer service.

Starbucks cares so much about boosting customer service from within that they spent $35 million to send 9,600 store managers to their Leadership Lab conference and exhibition. The 400,000-square-foot facility developed over a three-week-long process that included the installation of 21 projection screens and 5,000 live coffee plants. The goal was “to mobilize [Starbucks] employees to be brand evangelists.”

We can use Starbucks’ methods in developing their Leadership Lab to see how team building can lead to better customer service.

1. Treat each store like a small business
Starbucks views their managers as global employees who “essentially run $1 million+ small businesses.” They recognize the local niche of each store but also look for ways to make company culture cohesive, even across diverse markets. This means finding ways to connect over 18,000 stores worldwide without losing touch with each store’s individual problems. At the Leadership Lab, managers shared problems they were facing in their individual stores but they also connected with each other over stories of customer shoe types.

Universal themes, such as customers shoe choices, had different expressions in various stores. These methods help build a unified brand that retains the individual character of each store. Starbucks employees can connect on what makes the brand unique while also keeping each store unique.

2. Make employees feel like part of the larger mission
CEO Howard Schultz knows that the Starbucks brand is nothing without its baristas. He focused the Leadership Lab on giving employees “reasons to believe in their work and that they’re part of a larger mission.” An employee with a connection to the work of the company will then operate for its good just like a personal matter. Making the work of the company applicable to each employee’s work inspires a commitment that can’t be bought. For Starbucks, this included giving employees an opportunity to learn more about bean harvesting by raking real coffee beans.

Starbucks sells the concept of the brand to their employees first to equip them in selling to customers. This ensures they have a personal investment in the company’s development. Story telling helps make store experiences more personal. Valence O’Neil, Starbucks’ VP of global communications, told Fast Company making the coffee shop experience part of an inspirational journey means “partners can walk away not only understanding and informed, but feeling it.” When your employees believe in your company on a personal level, they will want to pursue its success out of self-interest.

3. Be creative with training sessions
Distinctive to the exhibition of Starbucks’ Leadership Lab is that it “feels more like a Starbucks theme park” than a conference center. Its 20 exhibits uses a two-hour theatrical experience to engage attendees. The production was “like being immersed in a Starbucks commercial.” Making training fun gives employees a reason to care. Creative experiences help the training to stick long after the production ends.

Other companies have also used immersion experiences and unique methods to boost employee engagement during training. General Mills offers a leadership course that combines meditation, yoga and dialogue. General Electric spends about $1 billion annually on programs at their corporate university.

The Leadership Lab combined leadership training with a trade show in a way that fit Starbucks’ corporate culture. Part of the power of effective storytelling is in fitting the training to the brand. Not all companies are alike so their training should also vary.

4. Develop a mission statement that matters
The final exhibit in the Leadership Lab experience gave employees a chance to reflect on the mission statement of Starbucks:  “To inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” Starbucks invoked the power of its mission statement to turn around struggling sales figures a few years ago.

Starbucks invested $30 million in a similar exhibit in 2008 that focused solely on the mission statement. After that conference, Starbucks turned shares that “had lost 42% of their value the year before” into 11 consecutive quarters of record earnings, revenue or both. The mission statement became more than just a clever-sounding phrase. It transformed into a call to action that employees could implement in their stores.

A deeper understanding of the brand helped Starbucks employees engage with their company. Running a small business within a global brand gives managers feelings of autonomy without disconnectedness. Effective employee engagement means that employees transition from workers who clock in everyday to brand ambassadors who incorporate the company’s mission into their daily work.

How does company culture drive your organization’s training and mission?

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