Opinion

The Starbucks memo: Coffee as a cure for stock market woe

7 min read

02 September 2015

After $1tn was wiped from Asian markets on 24 August, it left a number of people on edge. This fact didn't go unnoticed by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who sent a memo to his staff saying that they needed to be extra sensitive to the pressures that customers may be feeling.

To his credit, Schultz decided that Starbucks employees needed to be aware of the situation – all 190,000 of them – by sending a compelling memo, which encouraged staff to show special consideration for consumers.

The subject line of the message read: “Leading Through Turbulent Times,” and explained how the “market volatility” was sure to lead to increased anxiety for Starbucks customers.

He said: “Our customers are likely to experience an increased level of concern. Please recognise this and – as you always have – remember that our success is not an entitlement, but something we need to earn, every day. Let’s be very sensitive to the pressures our customers may be feeling, and do everything we can to individually and collectively exceed their expectations.”

– which , was allegedly .– which , was allegedly .The email itself has been up for debate. Many have felt that Schultz’s latest campaigns show that he is, in fact, out of touch with the way consumers feel. For example, Schultz’s “Race Together” campaign, which asked baristas to start a conversation with customers about race relations by writing the phrase on to-go coffee cups, was allegedly thought to be “ill-conceived”.

However, people around the world continue to seek “the Starbucks experience” for a reason. Undoubtedly, extra attention on a day where people were miserable would have surely picked up someone’s mood. Isn’t that what customer service is all about?

Schultz knew consumers would be affected by the market crash. He quickly thought of how that could translate into better customer service and moved forward. It echoes part of a “60 Minutes” interview, in which he said: “We’re not in the business of filling bellies. We’re in the business of filling souls. We’re in the business of human connection and humanity, creating communities in a third place between home and work.”

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According to Justin Bariso, the founder of Insight, the memo highlights two important lessons. “If you see an opportunity, pounce on it,” he said. “Think it through, but don’t overanalyse. After weighing the risk against the reward, you’ll find that most often it’s best to try an idea and see what happens. If it fails, learn the lessons and move on.”

Secondly, the way Schultz addressed his staff is a testament to the company’s amazing culture. Not only does he say “please” and “thank you,” he reassures workers that may also have been slightly panicked about the situation that the company is doing perfectly fine. 

Furthermore, Schultz praises his employees in both calling them partners, and saying “the strength and equity of our brand, and the primary reason for our current and future success is because of all of YOU” and “I believe in you and have never been prouder to be your partner.”

He likely inspired a boost in confidence in employees. Here’s the message in full:

“Dear partners,

“During our 23-year history as a public company, we have experienced – and successfully navigated through – several periods of extreme stock market volatility. And although we are not immune from the global stock market selloff that has now made its way to Wall Street, my confidence in our company and in all of you has never been greater. 

“We are in the midst of another record-setting year – combining our unique ‘third place’ in-store experience with highly relevant coffee and tea innovation and differentiated customer-facing mobile and digital technologies. We are making a profound social impact in the communities we serve around the world, and will continue to do so today and into the future.

“Our company has weathered many different types of storms. But our brand has never been stronger or more relevant. Our pipeline of new products and breakthrough innovation has never been more robust. And our long term commitment to delivering an elevated partner experience is unwavering. I can assure you that we will continue to lead and manage the company through the lens of humanity, doing everything we possibly can to continue to make your families proud of our company and all we stand for. You have my word on this.

“Today’s financial market volatility, combined with great political uncertainty both at home and abroad, will undoubtedly have an effect on consumer confidence and perhaps even our customers’ attitudes and behaviour. Our customers are likely to experience an increased level of anxiety and concern. Please recognise this and – as you always have – remember that our success is not an entitlement, but something we need to earn, every day. Let’s be very sensitive to the pressures our customers may be feeling, and do everything we can to individually and collectively exceed their expectations.

“Our growth plans for the future of our company will not be impacted by the turmoil of the financial markets. We will positively manage through today’s challenging environment just as we have positively navigated through challenging moments in the past. The experience we deliver in our stores, the strength and equity of our brand, and the primary reason for our current and future success is because of all of YOU. I believe in you and have never been prouder to be your partner.”