Book Review: The Starbucks Experience

Joseph Michelli is a talented author who has written about many companies that have developed systems and processes to deliver exceptional customer experiences in a consistent and reliable manner.

So when he featured Starbucks, I couldn’t wait to read it. Despite (for the most part) giving up coffee approximately 4 months ago, I still look for excuses to take meetings at Starbucks. I am a big fan of Starbucks’ founder and former CEO Howard Schultz (and possible 2020 Presidential candidate), who has written two books himself about Starbucks, Pour Your Heart Into It and Onward.

the starbucks experienceI love having meetings at Starbucks because after reading Schultz two books, I admire how his vision became a reality. Schultz changed both how we consume coffee, which previously viewed as a 10 cent commodity, and how the coffee shop became the “third place”, or a regular hangout besides home or work, for many people. Starbucks is now just as Schultz had imagined it, in all its reality and splendor. But, to get there, it wasn’t easy.

Putting aside Schultz’s personal struggles in creating the Starbucks we know today (you can read his books to get the inside scoop), creating the systems and processes to implement the customer experience he wanted to create was especially difficult because because of the hyper-customized nature of Starbucks’ drinks. The design of the product and the experience made scripting and rigorous memorization both useless and impossible.

Starbucks designed a system is called the “Five Ways of Being” to implement the customer experience:

  • Be welcoming
  • Be genuine
  • Be considerate
  • Be knowledgeable
  • Be involved

To support the system, Starbucks’ key processes are articulated in the “Green Apron Book”, which every Starbucks partner (the internal Starbucks jargon for employees) carries around with them.

Starbucks leadership understands that when it comes to delivering a consistent, reliable, and, at times, an exceptional experience, their main audience is the staff, not the customer buying the coffee. Starbucks actively markets to its employees in a manner that emphasizes and reinforces the “Five Ways of Being”.

Examples of this include using real-life mistakes that have happened in the past and asking partners to articulate how some of the strategies in the Green Apron Book could have prevented the error. Further, baristas receive regular updates in a newsletter called “Conversations and Connections”, which share customer stories and how the stories reflect the Five Ways of Being. Finally, Starbucks uses a board game to help train partners in how to empathize with customers based on their body language and subtle verbal cues to better anticipate and meet the customers’ needs.

These examples also reflect Schultz’s mantra, “Retail is detail”. In Starbucks, there are very few accidents from the way the stores are laid out to how the drinks are made. One of the goals of Starbucks leadership is for people who are traveling to find a familiar experience at both their regular Starbucks and the one they are visiting on the road. To bring this idea to reality, Starbucks sweat the details of hiring, training, empowering and establishing regular reminders for the team.

Next time you go to Starbucks, look for the attention to detail in the experience. In Onward Schultz articulated how the smell of Starbucks is a vital part of the experience. This is just one example of the types of details that get the attention of, and are then implemented by, great companies.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Starbucks is famous for their environment and service. Starbucks has a clear vision, system, and processes that are as consistent, reliable, and as high a quality as their product. Starbucks actively markets to their team to bring Schultz’s vision to life every day by paying attention to the details. 


The Starbucks Experience is available for purchase on Amazon for $28.00 (does not include Prime discount)

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