Curt Fowler Column: Training for Emotional Intelligence at Starbucks

| October 28, 2017

Curt Fowler | Fowler & Company

“At best, IQ contributes about 20% to the factors that determine success, which leaves 80% to other forces; these forces are Emotional Intelligence”

– Daniel Goleman

Starbucks doesn’t sell coffee (no reasonable person would pay that much for just coffee). Ask any Starbucks executive what they sell and they will tell you it is customer service.

So, what do you do if you are a Starbucks executive in charge of a $250 million dollar advertising budget when one of your employees scribes the word “b**tch” (female dog) on a customer’s cup rather than her name?

Continue to imagine that after this experience this customer goes home, calls the local TV station, changes into a lovely blue blouse and meets the news reporter in front of your Starbucks store to tell the world the story.

I assure this story will get replayed far more often than anything you paid for with your $250M budget.

What do you do?

Starbucks decided to train its employees in Emotional Intelligence. (See my previous post on the Starbucks onboarding process for more about
their training.)

Remember Starbucks hires thousands of people every week and most have never had any substantial work experience. How does Starbucks avoid scandals like the one described above? It teaches its employees willpower by having them script out their response to a negative situation and practicing their response before the situation ever happens.

Starbucks calls it their LATTE method.
Listen – Starbucks baristas first listen to the customers’ problem,
Acknowledge the complaint,
Take Action to solve the problem,
Thank the customer for their patience, then
Explain why the problem occurred.

Starbucks uses several other frameworks to train their employees how to react before a situation occurs. Similar to training provided by corporations like Deloitte Consulting and the Container Store who know their reputations are built on every interaction with their customers.

Regardless of the training framework, the lesson is the same. Know ahead of time that the negative situation will occur, plan for it and know your response. Then when an employee is tired, at the end of a shift and encounters a belligerent customer, they can turn to their predetermined script rather than their natural impulse.

We all know it would feel a lot better in the moment to tell the customer off, but great corporations train their employees to think beyond the moment to deliver excellent customer service.

What are you doing to set your employees up for success when they encounter a negative customer situation? For more tools on building a great organization, head over to our Resource Page and check out our free tools to help you get started or give us a call at 229-375- 5613.

Curt Fowler is an organizational growth expert and President of Fowler & Company, a business advisory firm dedicated to helping leaders create and achieve a compelling vision for their organization. He has an MBA in Strategy and Entrepreneurship from the Kellogg School, is a CPA, and a pretty good guy as defined by his wife and four children.

Have a business growth topic you’d like me to cover? Send suggestions to
cfowler [at] or use our contact form by clicking here.

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