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BirdsEye View

operationalizing service - the starbucks way

 Our industry has professed for years to differentiate players on quality service, yet our definition of service is woefully lacking.  We continue to shop our front line employees on mechanical elements that might not truly add value to customers: Did you stand up? Did you look the customer in the eye? Did you use their name?  (Sound familiar?) To make matters worse, most banks ask these very same questions, thereby ensuring that differentiation does not occur at the single bank level, since we are all optimizing to the same variables.

I have read the Green Apron Book, the Starbucks way of clarifying to its employees what service looks like.  It made me realize how far we are as an industry from where we should be on service.  I also now know what one alternative to service definition looks like, and I'd like to share some of the elements in that definition with you.

I know so many of us struggle with defining and quantifying service behaviors.  We want to make the customer feel special, yet we don't want to give the store away, and we fear (rightfully so) that our bankers and tellers will redefine service as "the great giveaway".  We therefore, as a rule, shrink away from full employee empowerment to address customer complaints and instead resort to what is easy to measure as our service definition.  Starbucks opened my eyes to another possibility.

The Green Apron Book is steeped in culture.  While it identifies specific behaviors for the company's baristas and other employees, it also provides a deep context for decision making, a culture, if you will, such that behaviors are not isolated but rather understood as an integral part of an entire experience or feeling the company strives to give its customers.  Starbucks is very explicit about that feeling and the desired result from its definition of service, which facilitates employee understanding of what the end goal is and where these behaviors are supposed to lead.

I believe this is the very reason why Starbucks can get away with charging $5 for a cup of coffee.  The company spends millions on ensuring the quality of its coffee, but I think this is a secondary consideration for most customers.  The reason we need our Starbucks, in addition to the delicious beverage, is because it gives us a thirty-second haven from the world and its maddening crowds.  It's an oasis in our urban deserts, a place to rest and take a deep breath.  Sometimes we don't even need the place.  Just sipping that Mocha Grande is enough to transport us for a brief moment to a more peaceful place.  That's what Starbucks sells, and the coffee is but the vehicle.

The green book starts with a simple statement:  "Why we're here:  to provide an uplifting experience that enriches people's daily lives.”  This point of departure says it all:  the company's purpose, frequency of measurement [LB1] and overall reason for existence.  This is the context for everything else that ensues.  However, while clear and telling, a context is not enough, and the book continues to spell it out.

"Be welcoming" - offer everyone a sense of belonging.  THIS is what the experience is all about.  It's so simple yet so profound.  The book adds several other thoughts, and then continues to take each one to the next level, bringing them to life and translating them to employees so that they can become daily behaviors.  Here is an example:

Be welcoming.  If an employee wonders what this means, here is what is expected:

    1. Provide uplifting experiences that enrich your customers' lives
    2. Greet customers when they walk through the door (sounds mechanical, I know, but consider the timing:  greet them AS they walk through the door, not when they find a way to catch your eye)
    3. Make eye contact with your customers (it's so simple and yet I rarely see this in our own mystery shops)
    4. Anticipate and respond to your customers' needs.  This is another ideal we all strive for, but Starbucks requires and operationalizes it (know your customer's favorite beverage, for example.)
    5. Get to know your customers by drink or by name
    6. Make them feel taken care of.  Again, simple words, but it's all about getting that FEELING that makes the difference to a customer.
    7. Welcome all kinds of feedback - the concerns and the praise.
    8. Encourage teamwork on your shifts to ensure partners and customers feel welcome.
    9. Ensure your customer is your number one priority.

Any one of the items above can be translated into our own world, yet I rarely see elements that talk to feeling and crystal-clear prioritization (customer is #1) as Starbucks has done.  In addition to "be welcoming" there are four other elements that speak to how Starbucks employees should be to fulfill the company's vision of the ideal customer experience.  Each one has some "hard" guidelines (such as "make eye contact") and some soft ones ("encourage teamwork") but all mutually reinforce the desired customer experience.

It is clear that these golden rules have not been executed equally effectively throughout their extensive system, but they do represent something to strive toward.  Banks such as Frost and First of Nebraska emulated this approach by creating their own “green Apron Book” and using it as a basis to communicate what their optimal customer experience looks like.

I find the Starbucks approach to be illustrative of one way you can create a well-defined customer experience in your bank. I hope that you will as well, and, by so doing, build a strong competitive advantage anchored in a distinct feeling of well-being and care that your employees create for your customers. It's golden!