Last weekend I watched with sadness as an incident fueled by racism at a Philadelphia Starbucks spun out of control. We would all like to think globally diverse and revered institutions like Starbucks are beyond reproach. But I know too well how flawed we are as humans, and how that makes the customer service industry at highest risk for such events.
All of us in crisis management paid close attention to Starbucks’ moves immediately following the media firestorm. Based on the viral video and customer statements, it is apparent that an employee made a terrible judgment call. Not only was it deplorable in its own right, but it also goes against the very hospitable brand experience Starbucks designs and trains its employees to create. It is evident that both the store employees and even the police overreacted to a non-violent incident.
There are a number of filters I use when evaluating an organization’s response to crisis. These include the following questions of the CEO:
- Did they accept responsibility for their organization’s role in the crisis?
- Did they make a sincere apology?
- Did they make amends to the injured parties?
- Did they articulate the ways they intend to avoid repeating the mistakes in the future?
- Did they use the experience to contribute to new behavior protocols?
Starbucks statement immediately following its discovery of the event is deeply nuanced. Let’s evaluate it against these standards.
But what is perhaps most shocking from a crisis management point of view is the first statement from the Starbucks CEO softly implies they have a corporate-level problem within their policies and training. While I will not deny that institutional racism exists, I was not entirely sure that was the case here. But in the days following, we’ve seen them act quickly and acknowledge that they do, in fact, have a problem.
In my opinion, Starbucks must take a deeply difficult and introspective journey to evaluate itself and how its training and policies might leave room for institutional racism to seep in. This not only affects its customers, but its diverse and global workforce, too.
As I conveyed to the Wall Street Journal, Starbucks’ response shows that corporate entities are capable of sensitivity and compassion, something we need more of in our world, and perhaps Starbucks needs more of in its training and store policies.
The question now is, what will the customer service industry – and global business at large – gain from Starbucks’ advances in racial bias discovery, correction, and training?
To be continued…