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Startup Wisdom
Why Starbucks and Zappos kill in customer service!

Why Starbucks and Zappos kill in customer service!

I recently got the chance to read Joseph A.Michelli book “The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary”, which partially unveils why Starbucks has established itself as a global brand.

Its stock price has increased in value by 700% in the last 5 years. So, if you had bought 1 000$ worth of Starbucks shares in February 2004, it would be now worth nearly 7 000$!

Financials aside, Starbucks is founded on 5 principles which are explored through the book, with a number of examples that show how the company works.

The 5 core principles of Starbucks success are:

1. Make it your own – how the company’s employees connect to their customers in an unique way

2. Everything matters – the importance of being detailed-oriented  in every step of the customer-brand relationship ladder

3. Surprise and delight – how starbucks tries to impress its customer and their “Starbucks Experience”

4. Embrace resistance – how the company deals and builds upon the criticism it receives

5. Leave your mark – more than a company, Starbucks also works to on the local communities and encourages employees to do the same


What I found most impressive throughout the whole book was the attention the company gives to its relationship with customers. We all know that they have the habit of writing your name and order in your mug, but it goes way beyond that. This culture of being client-first oriented is built into the company DNA and it is undoubtedly one of the reasons for its success.

That is the reason that led me to write this article. I will expose some of the techniques and share some of the examples that were shown in the book.

Plus, and when it comes to treating customers like royalty, we cannot forget about Zappos, the online shoe retailer that dazzles customers with its service. From 24 hours customer service to a free 365-day return policy, Zappos does its part when it comes to enhance the experience of shopping for a pair of shoes online.

Zappos‘ CEO, Tony Hsieh, wrote a book called “Delivering Happiness”, where he tells the story of his life and how Zappos came to be.

Strabucks and Zappos are without question two companies that pull their hearts into serving the customer and getting a smile on their face when you walk out the door (in Zappos case, close internet browser).

Let’s dig into the array of extraordinary examples these companies give us on how their embrace their client focused mindset.


The Green Apron and the 8 hour call

At Starbucks, all baristas (italian name for the person that prepares and serves coffee) carry in their apron what is called “Green Apron Book” which literally fits and is carried in the barista apron. In there one can find the principles of how to handle a customer, the values of a company, insights on the coffee industry and a place to take notes.

Some of the lines of the book include:


“Be knowledgeable. Love what you do, share it with others.”

“Be involved. In the store, in the company, in the community.”

“Be Welcoming:

– Greet customers as they walk through the door.

– Start a conversation.

– Get to know customers drinks and names.

– Ensure that the customer is the number one priority.”


Zappos also has unconventional ways to help their employees get closer to their customers. Unlike most big companies, Zappos customer service employees do not read from scripts. Everything is on the spot and their employees are not pressured to keep the calls short. In fact, Zappos record for longest call took 8 hours (yes, 8 hours!). I know you are wondering this, and yes, the person that was handling the call did stop to go to the bathroom.

However, in the end, it is not only about taking care of the customers. At Starbucks they take team chemistry seriously as their understand the importance of having a mood spirit within the shop.

An example of how the team works to help new baristas get the hang of what a Starbucks employee is all about comes through a game. According to the book, Starbucks has a board game where baristas tackle real life examples of how to deal with customers. Based on examples that took place in reality, the employees have to think which decision they should have taken, based on the company’s principles. Think Monopoly meets Frappuccino, expect you won’t be buying any hotels.


Off topic but great story:

In 2000, a store manager and her employees decided all to play the lottery and gave the manager 1$ to buy a ticket. A couple of employees were missing so the manager went ahead and bought them a ticket as well. What happens is she ended up buying the winning ticket of the 87 million$ lottery! The lucky winner, Ms.Mary Champagne, then split the prize between all the 13 employees of the store(even the ones that were missing), making them instant millionaires! In her words, she was just doing what a good boss would do. That has got to create a good team atmosphere!

Delighting and surprise – Kuala Lumpur and the war in Afghanistan

Now we take a look at a couple of examples how these companies have been able to surprise their customer, with actions you would not expect from a corporate giant such as these.

One time, a man fell in front of a Kuala Lumpur Starbucks store. The Starbucks employees left the store and took it upon themselves to take the man to the hospital and stay with them during the whole time. Plus, it turned out that the person did not have any money with them and so the Starbucks folks also took care of that. I do not know if the man was a coffee fan before, but I am pretty sure Starbucks got itself a brand ambassador.

Another time, and as one of the Starbucks baristas was in Afghanistan fighting for the US troops, the company gave that military camp a coffee machine so that the soldiers could enjoy quality coffee while defending their country.

At one occasion, after a Zappos customer checked in into her hotel in Las Vegas, she realised she had forgotten a pair of her favorite shoes. She had purchased them at Zappos, so she called the help-desk service in order to look for a new pair of the beloved shoes. Zappos no longer had them, but its headquarters are just outside of Las Vegas. So, the Zappos team located the shoes at a nearby mall, went there and purchased the shoes, and then hand-delivered them to the hotel where the customer was staying, all at no charge.

Acts of  kindness such as build a lot more than a customer base. They give you a sense of how much the people that work there care for their customers and are willing to go a long way to brighten up their day.


Criticism & Wrap-up

Needless to say that this not always goes well. These companies face criticism too, and in one particular occasion there was controversy over the Afghanistan war, when it was leaked that one of the managers  at Starbucks refused to give free coffee to the troops for not supporting the war.

Still, and to sum up, excellent service, attention to detail and the ability to surprise and delight people is in the core of Starbucks and Zappos strategy.

Whether you like drinking coffee or buying shoes (or none), you certainly appreciate how these customers take care of their bread and butter. As Mark Cuban put it: “Treat your customers like they own you, because they do”

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