Starbucks Easter Morning (Customer) Service Brings Principles to Life

Finding Employee Engagement Doesn't Have to Be an Easter Egg Hunt

Espresso shot pouring out.
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From the customer side of the retail sales counter, finding employee engagement is often like looking for hidden treasures in an Easter Egg hunt.  But an Easter morning service experience at a Starbucks is an example of what happens when corporate mission statements are more than just words and employees are allowed and motivated to bring company principles to life.

Starbucks Employees Get Creative to Deliver Customer Service

Stopping into a random Starbucks (SBUX) on Easter Sunday morning, a handwritten sign said "Find an Easter Egg and Get a Free Drink." When asked about it, the barista said there were plastic Easter eggs hidden around the store and everybody who found one would get a free Easter drink of their choice.

Finding a blue plastic Easter egg hiding inside of a ceramic Starbucks logo cup, I returned to the cash register to present my egg and collect my prize.

This is the conversation that ensued between the two Starbucks "partners" (hourly employees wearing green aprons) working at the front counter...

  • Eric: So, what are we going to do with these eggs when people find them so that they can get their free drink?
  • Aaron: Good question. We shouldn't just give out free things or change prices to zero all day. Starbucks doesn't really like it when you mess with their prices.
  • Eric: Yeah... I can't believe people come in here and try to negotiate prices with me.
  • Aaron: I'm going to get the service certificates out of the safe and we'll use those to give the free drinks to people who find the eggs.

The employees improvised to deliver my free drink, and then, as I walked to a table in the dining room, their conversation continued.

  • Eric: I'm glad we're giving out these service certificates for finding eggs instead of always giving them to mad and mean people.
  • Aaron: Yeah. Some people you just can't say you're sorry to in enough ways.
  • Eric: Yeah - I'd rather give out free things to happy people.
  • Aaron: Every day is a holiday at Starbucks.

    The conversation showed much about what is sincerely true about Starbucks mission, service recovery attitude, and employee ownership at that particular Starbucks location.

    Creating the Magic - Off Stage vs. On Stage

    The employees' conversation brings to mind an aspect of working at Disney, the concept of on-stage and off-stage behavior. Working at a Disney theme park, there was a clear line between what was acceptable to do and say when in the eyeshot or earshot of a Disney guest (on stage), and what was unacceptable for Disney guests to observe. Basically, any and all shop talk and behind-the-scenes operational details were not discussed in front of guests, they are done off stage. Why? Because it would destroy the magic.

    Certainly, a typical retail customer has few expectations of magic at a typical retail store or restaurant chain. Still, there are plenty of conversations about policy, procedure, management inadequacies, and company flaws that just shouldn't be part of a retail customer experience. And yet they are. Employees often think it is perfectly appropriate to talk about anything and everything that pops into their heads as if the customer standing in front of them can't hear what they're saying.

    Employee Engagement Shows Starbucks Principles at Work

    But even though there is is an abundance of questionable employee behaviors easily found on the retail stages of America every day, the Easter morning Starbucks banter was a perfectly appropriate demonstration of an important Starbucks principle. That is, "When we are fully engaged, we connect with, laugh with, and uplift the lives of our customers - even if just for a few moments."

    Any retail company could write that principle, and every employee could read that principle. But principles don't become retail reality unless employees know that management truly supports and rewards what's written in the employee manual. Obviously, Aaron and Eric did. Finding a demonstration of that kind of alignment between retail philosophy and retail practice is a much more rare find than a plastic blue egg in a ceramic coffee cup.