Have you ever been to Stillwell, Kansas?
It’s the type of place where you walk down the street and everyone says hi to you.
That warm receptiveness to strangers is a hallmark of the Midwest. It’s also why I was so shocked to meet an unfriendly Starbucks barista when I was in the Kansas City airport this week.
“I’m tired,” she admitted while taking my order.
“Wonder where you can find some good coffee in this place?” I said because I’m hilarious and good at jokes.
Straight-faced, the barista looks at me and says, “I hate Starbucks. I’m a Dunkin person.”
I wanted to say something mean to her.
But before I could respond, I was transported back in time.
Starbucks was one of my clients back in 2013. I spent a lot of time at their corporate HQ in Seattle working with their marketing teams.
When I start with a client, it only takes me a few minutes to get them to start talking smack about their employer. And if that doesn’t work – cocktails always do.
Not with these folks.
Starbucks employees loved working for Starbucks.
They loved their teams, the company, the coffee – They loved it so much they’d wait in line to pay for their favorite custom Starbucks orders at the cafe on the 8th floor, despite there being FREE Starbucks coffee…literally everywhere.
They believed in their products and their advertising.
Who could blame them? They’re like Zappos and JetBlue in that they indoctrinate you in their culture. The passion is contagious.
Live from T5: T.Swift performing at the JetBlue Terminal for contest winners and random passengers catching their flights. Only fun companies do stuff like this.
Even being “just” a vendor, I had to be culturally indoctrinated.
Did you know you smell coffee the same way you do wine? Yeah…me either. I learned about it in my “coffee sommelier training” (not what it was called, but same idea).
Other awesome things I learned at my tenure there: They give equity to their employees, and help pay for their kids’ college. They give full benefits to baristas and call employees “partners.” They even invented a certification that’s more rigorous than Fair Trade (well, really Starbucks partnered with a third party to do it. Together, they created a new certification called C.A.F.E. practices.).
They don’t advertise it. I only know about it because it was part of my research for the Starbucks Kirkland Costco project I worked on in January 2014 (fun fact: Kirkland brand coffee is Starbucks).
Starbucks is an incredible company. Or at least…it was.
Suddenly, I’m back in the Kansas City airport terminal.
You can imagine my face when this barista tells me she hates Starbucks and prefers Dunkin.
“You’re lucky to work here,” I tell her.
She ignores me.
I decide whether I should ream her out. Instead, I’m slightly passive aggressive. It isn’t my proudest moment.
Since I can’t go back in time and tell her why she’s so lucky to be working for a great company, I can tell you.
It’s not just greed that ruins great institutions. It’s apathy.
In the book Onward, Howard Schultz, details how he turned the company around in 2008 when he returned as CEO. His biggest challenge wasn’t the competition: it was internal apathy.
(I highly recommend that book btw. You think your company has problems….oy gevalt. You will be able to weather anything after seeing how he handled this mess.)
It’s possible this barista had a genuine reason to hate Starbucks besides taste, I don’t know. A lot might have changed in the few years since I’ve done work with them.
But for now, this apathetic barista is ruining the company.
And this is why:
Only 50% of your brand is what you tell people in ads and marketing collateral. The other 50% is their subjective experience with your company.
That means, your barista, your checkout guy, the woman who answers the phone, the millennial doing your social media…they’re all part of your marketing department.
Every customer touchpoint is communicating something about who you are to your customers.
When someone’s experience with you is incongruent with what you tell them about who you are, they stop believing you.
Our brain scans for inconsistencies. It’s why we don’t trust advertising anymore. It’s incongruent with our experience.
Apathy is a silent killer.
Find the barista in your business. Inspire her.
Or fire her.
$30 million dollars in marketing spend can’t fix what she’s doing to your brand.
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