Keith Rosen on Fox Business News: Watch The Video Segment With The Executive Sales Coach. Starbucks Corporate Training and Re-Education Effort. A Real Problem or a Publicity Move?

Keith on Fox Business News: Commentary on Corporate Training, Starbucks and Pouring the Perfect Cup of Coffee

“Media Opportunity with Fox Business News at 6pm tonight. Call me asap to discuss.” That’s what the email read and what you can expect when working with a publicist; often having to throw best laid plans out the window in return for the exposure they generate for you.

So, I dropped everything, rescheduled some meetings and found myself quickly suited up and on my way to the television station.

The commentary they were looking for had to do with the decision made by the Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks to close up the 7,100 stores for some ‘necessary’ training for all Starbucks employees. Here’s how the story read:

“Starbucks Closing All Stores for 3 Hours Tuesday Afternoon for Barista Re-training
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
SEATTLE — Starbucks is closing the doors at its 7,100 stores across America for a brief barista re-education. CEO Howard Schultz announced the 3-hour closure starting at 5:30 p.m. local time Tuesday to energize 135,000 employees. He wants baristas to share their passion for making espresso, or as he says, “to pull the perfect shot, steam milk to order and customize their favorite beverage.” Schultz says it’s part of his refocusing on the coffee customer experience. Since the chairman returned as CEO in January he has been making changes to revive Starbucks’ growth.”

I was interviewed by Neil Cavuto Senior VP, Anchor & Managing Editor, Business News on FOX Business Network. They wanted to hear a few different commentaries on the story and whether or not this was a good decision. Here’s what I said, and a little more.

At first glance, it could be viewed as a strategically positioned publicity move, given the media attention this attracted. It’s not like this is the only platform a company uses to develop their people. They could have spread this training out over time. They could have done this before or after hours, in smaller teams and one to one with their mangers. It would have certainly been less of a disruption to their business and my coffee consumption.

And sure, this re-education effort portrays Starbucks as a consumer conscientious company driven to maintain the highest of standards regarding their people and their product, as well as the consumer experience they strive to create for their customers, who have grown accustomed to expecting the same experience each time they purchase a cup of coffee at Starbucks. And there’s no question that Starbucks has very much pioneered many of the changes in the way we purchase and enjoy our coffee today.

Conversely, this can also be viewed as a highly reactionary move from Starbucks. This move could be perceived as a hole in their system to maintain certain high performance standards; an inability to continuously train and coach their employees properly and reinforce best practices. After all, if there was ongoing training or coaching to maintain performance and best barista practices, there wouldn’t be a need to close up shop and pull out 135,000 employees for three hours. I can’t imagine this move becoming part of any long term training and development initiative.

Besides, who they really need to bring in for some coach the coach training would be the mangers rather than their staff. At the end of the day, isn’t it manager’s responsibility in each location to ensure the customer experience and maintain the level of performance that’s expected from each employee?

The kicker is, without consistent follow through and ongoing training, coaching and development for the top down, (avalanches roll downhill, it starts with the managers) this training initiative not only hurt their sales but it will simply not be as effective as they had hoped. A three hour, one shot (no pun intended) training event is the same as, in an effort to improve the overall health of your employees, you pull them out for one day to go to the gym and exercise. Just like it takes more than one day to get in great shape, the same rules hold true for getting your employees’ careers in shape. Without continuous reinforcement, it just doesn’t become long lasting.

This is another example as to why so many companies desperately need to transform their corporate culture into a true coaching culture.

Beyond the internal question of how they will now maintain their level of quality without disrupting their customers and their business, the fact is, most customers never had a problem with the quality of the coffee at Starbucks. With the media drawing now drawing attention to the Starbucks experience, are consumers now going to re-think their perception and that this move may now be a cause for concern?

If anything, customers will now have an even higher expectation of their coffee as a result of this training. If the coffee is not measurably better than it was yesterday, will Starbucks lose customers to their competitors?

Dunkin’ Donuts already leveraged the opportunity with the Starbucks closing, countering with a brilliant move to compete and seize more market share by offering specialty coffee drinks at a fraction of their normal price; 99 cent coffee until 10pm. This is certainly an opportunity for Dunkin’ Donuts to win over a new population’s customer loyalty and the business of many of the Starbucks customers.

Sure, training is important. Sure, this move can demonstrate good will and the commitment Starbucks has to maintaining the highest quality control. However, any PR effort can also backfire and generating some publicity at the expense of disrupting the lives of your customers is not the best way to go. “Yes, we’re going to improve the experience you have with us, but first you must experience being inconvenienced by our closing.”

Back in the 80s I wanted my MTV. Now I want my coffee. Don’t get me wrong, I love Starbucks. I drink it every day of my life. However, if I can’t get it when I want it, then I’m going to go somewhere else. Bottom line; if there’s a problem that needs fixing or an issue that needs to be addressed, do so, but not at the expense of your customers.

While how much this move has negatively impacted their customers and their sales may still be uncertain, one thing’s for sure; with the collateral damage we’ve discussed, this training initiative may be the most expensive training ever known.

Here’s the link to the video news segment. Please note, for some reason, you might have to click on ‘low’ on the player for this segment to play after the commercial is done. So, when you click on the link below and the commercial starts playing, under the screen where it says ‘high’ – ‘low’ click on ‘low.’ The commercial will start again but it should then continue into the segment.

Watch news segment here.

Note: When the video player loads, under the screen where it says ‘high’ – ‘low’ click on ‘low’ to avoid loading problems.

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