NPS Blog

A finely balanced brew: Consistency with personality

Net Promoter System podcastEver wonder how Starbucks dreamed up the Frappuccino—that frothy, creamy coffee beverage that’s now its own billion-dollar business? It has its own website, Twitter feed and a roster of more than two dozen flavors.

The line is so popular that it has moved beyond Starbucks’ coffee shops to supermarkets and convenience stores. Just the word “Frappuccino” has become so deeply embedded in pop culture—a symbol of the high-end coffee craze of the 1990s—that it earned a zinger in the Ben Stiller comedy Zoolander.

This beverage phenomenon started with a daring experiment by a persistent Starbucks store manager in San Diego. She was simply trying to please her customers and meet local demand. At first, Starbucks executives were skeptical of the idea. But her experiment succeeded because the Starbucks culture fosters creative thinking and personal service. It discourages the robotic behaviors, scripts and sales tricks that can make the fast-food industry such a soulless place to work (e.g., “Want fries with that?”).

Howard BeharHoward Behar, who recently joined me on the Net Promoter System podcast, helped shape that culture during almost two decades at Starbucks. When he joined the chain in 1989, it had just a few dozen stores. By the time he left in 2008, there were thousands of locations. Behar spearheaded Starbucks’ international expansion, blending the quality control of a large chain with the personal touch of a local coffee shop.

Starbucks employees consistently develop the sort of individual, human connection with customers that keeps them coming back day after day. Very few multinational chains have maintained that sort of culture through years and years of rapid growth and all that comes with it. Achieving that level of social chemistry requires a deep commitment to careful hiring, followed by rigorous coaching. At Starbucks, they encourage employees to use their emotional “antennas,” as Howard calls them, to build genuine relationships with customers during these very brief daily interactions.

It sounds complicated, but it’s a way of recreating what used to be the norm. When I was in high school, I used to fetch coffee for all the butchers at my grandfather’s meat company as part of my summer job. After just a few days, the local coffee shop owner had learned my name, my usual order and my thoughts on the losing streak of our hometown baseball team. He was a regular local entrepreneur, forming connections with his regular customers. Now, my daughter has a similar experience at her local coffeehouse, except now she visits a Starbucks.

Howard believes that loyalty is earned when companies encourage employees to be themselves and treat customers like members of their community. It doesn’t come from robotic transactions punctuated by rote recitations of canned niceties. Howard even wrote a book about it a few years ago. Now, he travels the world and helps other executives to create more customer-centric cultures.

You can listen to my discussion with Howard on iTunes or through the player below. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System podcasts.

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