Starbucks Turns Coffee Beans Into Coffee And Lemons Into Lemonade

Earlier this week Starbucks experienced a technology glitch that shut down its payment system in various stores throughout the U.S. and Canada. A failure like this could have cost the coffee shops millions of dollars. Think about it. If you owned a store and couldn’t accept payment for whatever you sold, what would you do?

Starbucks knew exactly what to do. While it wasn’t quite business as usual, it was close. An official statement from Starbucks gave an explanation as well as what they planned to do about it: “As part of our normal course of business, overnight we worked to install a technology update to our store registers in the U.S. and Canada. A limited number of locations remain offline, and we are working swiftly to resume full operations in each of these stores. The stores will remain open during this time and, as always, our partners are prepared to take care of our customers to ensure they have the best experience possible.”

The last sentence of the statement is intriguing. Starbucks stated that its stores would stay open — and most locations did — and take care of their customers. That means they still gave the customers their drinks, but didn’t take their money. Why?

Because taking care of customers is sometimes more important than the money.

Starbucks is living its mission statement, which is, “To inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.” If you go to the Starbucks website, scroll down toward the bottom and click on the “Our Company” link, you can read the first line under the heading, “Our Heritage,” which sums up what Starbucks is really all about:

Every day, we go to work hoping to do two things: share great coffee with our friends and help make the world a little better. It was true when the first Starbucks opened in 1971, and it’s just as true today.

No doubt shutting down the stores would have costs millions of dollars in sales. No doubt that continuing to staff the coffee shops and giving away free coffee (and other beverages) to customers could also cost millions, but that didn’t keep Starbucks from delivering on its mission statement and staying true to its identity.

This is right up there with the legendary Nordstrom story about the customer who wanted to return a set of used tires to a Nordstrom store. Even though Nordstrom doesn’t sell tires — never did and most likely never will — the sales associate taking care of the customer refunded the money. Right or wrong, it showed true dedication to taking care of a customer. (If you don’t know the story, click here.)

CBS reported that “long lines were seen at one Starbucks location that was giving away complimentary coffee.” And you can imagine the hundreds of tweets, Facebook posts, etc., that were being shared.

Either way, Starbucks was going to make the news. The payment system outage was newsworthy, regardless of free coffee being given away. What Starbucks did was metaphorically get into the lemonade business. The payment system outage was the lemon. The ecstatically happy customers, and a little good press, was the lemonade. Kudos to Starbucks for showing us how a truly customer-focused company operates!

Shep Hyken is a customer service and experience expert, keynote speaker and New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author.

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