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More Than Coffee: How Starbucks Uses Branch to Deliver an Experience

If you’re like most Americans, there’s a slice of your day devoted to coffee.

Americans drink more than 400 million cups of coffee per day, morning, afternoon, and night. Collectively, we drink more java than tea.

Whether it’s a cold-brewed, iced or steamed -- morning, afternoon or evening -- coffee has become part of our daily ritual. While independent coffee shops are having a big impact on the national java scene, the biggest name in the space continues to be Seattle-based Starbucks.

And, they’ve managed to do it at a time when it’s never been easier to find a cup of quality coffee in almost any neighborhood in America. These independent, boutique coffee purveyors are cropping up all over the nation to meet higher than ever demand. According to the National Coffee Association Trends report, there are more than 30,000 gourmet coffee shops across the country, a slight increase over the last year. This comes at a time when almost half of Americans are drinking coffee out of their homes -- the highest ever in the decades this research has been tracked. As Americans have become more serious about their coffee (educating about various types of coffee, the roasters, and other processes), they’ve also always been close to either a neighborhood roaster or a larger retailer.

In America, the proximity of coffee is fueled in part by our desire for convenience.

For a majority of the United States, and an increasing group of other countries, Starbucks is having a big impact in being the primary and ubiquitous source of their coffee. Their willingness to make early bets on technology and their unique approach to customer service has made them the clear coffee leader.

Building A Culture, One Cup (And Employee) At A Time

To understand the forward-thinking, employee-first culture of Starbucks, you first must understand the background of one of its preeminent leaders.

One of the best contemporary examples of an American ‘rags-to-riches’ story than that of Howard Schultz, the former CEO and current executive chairman of Seattle-based Starbucks. He was has been a two-time CEO, most recently completing his second stint with the coffee retailer in April of 2017. His leadership so valued amongst his peers and shareholders that once he exited the company to pursue watching over Starbucks’ premium retail stores, the stock took a brief twelve percent dive.

That gave Howard a very unique perspective -- and outlook, on a company that serves 100 million people per week and has more than 300,000 employees.

"It was not the calling of coffee, but the calling to try to build a company that my father never got a chance to work for." -- Howard Schultz

Forward-Thinking, Employee-First

Long before it was both cool and widely acceptable, Howard Schultz helped orientate the fast-growing coffee retailer through massive growth while also committing to employees.

In the past few decades, they’ve made a commitment to their workers through socially-conscious endeavors and employee development programs:

  • In 1988, when Starbucks had 33 stores, Schultz offered health insurance to full and part-time employees, including domestic partners.
  • In 1990, Starbucks unveils their mission statement: “To establish Starbucks as the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles as we grow.”
  • In 1991, they become the first privately owned U.S. company to offer a stock option program that includes part-time employees.
  • In 2008, when Schultz returns for his second stint at CEO, they update their mission statement: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” That same year, they begin growing their social media presence including launching online communities on Facebook and Twitter.
  • In 2011, Launched Create Jobs for USA to encourage small-business growth.
  • In 2015, they create Starbucks College Achievement Plan with Arizona State University to offer qualifying Starbucks U.S. partners the opportunity to complete a college degree through ASU’s online degree program. Announces commitment to hiring 10,000 veterans and military spouses by 2018.
  • In 2017, they reiterated a commitment to helping employ a growing population of American military employees by expanding a hiring commitment to 25,000 service members, veterans and military spouses by 2025, after reaching milestone of 10,000 hires. They also Expanded a hiring commitment to include 10,000 refugees around the world by 2022.

Exceptional Customer Service, No Matter Where

Part of Starbucks’ success has been because of the level of detail the company has focused on ensuring that their customers are happy.

Sweeping design changes are hitting many Starbucks around the country. They’re being remodeled and refreshed and the open design and comfortable spaces are luring anyone from local communities to remote workers. This is by design -- when Schultz first joined Starbucks, a time when the coffee retailer had four locations, a trip to Italy revealed that espresso bars of Milan served as important gathering spots where business was made and where locals came together. Of course, Schultz took this very European tradition and completely revamped it for an American audience. Where Europeans drink coffee daily (and sometimes, throughout the day -- morning and night), Starbucks tweaked that model by simultaneously elevating the caliber of service and offering larger-sized drinks than the sip-size espressos of our European counterparts. Initially hesitant to offer the sugary-whipped frappuccino concoctions because of wanting to maintain a close connection to the purity of the coffee world, Schultz realized that he could still offer larger-sized coffee creations while still elevating the brand. To this day, his favorite drink remains a traditional espresso “stained with a dash of frothy milk” -- the type of creation more likely to be purchased by those Milano coffee aficionados than a typical American consumer.

There are a variety of other ways that Starbucks continues to lead the retail industry in customer service:

Always where the customer is. Starbucks has millions and millions of followers on social media channels and is an early-adopter in these spaces. From Facebook to Twitter, you can be sure that they’re taking advantage of getting their word out where their customers constantly hang out. In each of these places, Starbucks is not only publishing content, but they’re actively spending time engaging with consumers.

Personalization. There’s a reason why baristas call out your order by name. It helps contribute to a warm, familiar environment that strives to elevate the daily ritual of sipping coffee in the store, or taking it to go on the run. The wood and steel and the clean look-and-feel of each store is designed to be replicated across any store no matter where you are. Mobile orders can be easily found and the environmental touches are always considered, down to the music and artists playing on the speakers. If you’re curious about the band, just thumb over to the music playing section of your mobile app to find out who it is. For those who work out of Starbucks frequently, a partnership with Google allows fast internet service.

Mobile-First. When Schultz handed over the reins to Kevin Johnson last year, the most critical challenge to ensure the future of the company was its development of the digital and mobile operations. If you’re a consumer of Starbucks offerings, the chances are pretty good that you use your mobile app to purchase products. Last year, mobile ordering and payments accounted for 30 percent of their transactions. More importantly, the mobile pay and order option saw increased to eight percent -- that’s the fancy feature that allows you to build, customize, and pay for an order and skip the line when you arrive to pick it up and go.

Now, other companies are getting into the game following Starbucks’ lead. McDonalds has revamped their mobile applications to easily allow consumers to order and purchase items. Although, their mobile offerings are deal-centric, Starbucks experience is designed to easily and quickly walk repeat customers through their ordering process and place drink orders quickly and efficiently. Where the current mobile ordering infrastructure accounts for 25% of orders placed and paid, the next big challenge will be expanding this mobile system for the future, without compromising speed and efficiency in-store.

How Branch Helps Support Starbucks Employees, Ease of Scheduling

As other retailers and restaurants make a concerted effort to bolster their mobile platforms, build payment systems, and cater to the ever-increasing mobile presence of customers, Starbucks has charted a course that will see them ensuring their previously adopted mobile systems not only work properly, but are optimized for efficiency and speed. It has become one of the biggest charters for their new CEO.

One of Kevin Johnson’s biggest task ahead of him is to make sure the logistics are built to facilitate speed and convenience doesn’t leave customers frustrated and cooling their heels.

As Starbucks strives to build more stores and serve more than 90 million people every day, it places an emphasis on how additional mobile tools can help employees focus on serving customers while remaining empowered to make the choices that move the company forward.

Branch Messenger has become a helpful platform that has helped take away some of the biggest pain-points of hourly and full-time employees days: Scheduling.

We talked with a number of Starbucks employees about how they go about their days. When employees are tasked with not worrying about their schedules, they’re more apt to focus on the things that matter most: providing excellent service and keeping the customers happy -- and returning. Before Branch, employees dealt with handwritten schedules, printed spreadsheets, and the dreaded call trees -- the seemingly endless phone calls that were used to track down employees.

“Sometimes you don’t have their cell phone number because you’re not that close or they’re new and you didn’t have a chance to get it yet,” explains Andrea Guido of Lawrenceville, New Jersey. “We used to have a handwritten list on the board in the back room.”

“It was hard because people didn’t keep their contact numbers updated, or simply didn’t pick up the phone, or didn’t see the phone call or message asking about it in time. Now I just post a shift available and everyone is able to see it at the same time,” says Mila Solverson who works in Ukiah, California.

For Alison Edwards of British Columbia, it has become a reliable and trusty tool to check shifts and get reminders no matter where she is: “Branch sends me reminders of when I work and allows me to browse my future shifts while I’m at home on my phone.”

Beyond scheduling, Branch has become a platform that helps managers communicate important updates, and a tool where employees can track their wages so they understand what their paychecks will be.

When Starbucks employees are given the opportunity to use technology on their existing mobile devices, it allows them to focus on the customer-focusing challenges that are head of Starbucks. It’s not a coincidence that those who have used the platform find it an invaluable tool. “It’s a lifesaver,” says Abbey Paulson who works in San Antonio, Texas.

Taylor Pipes

Taylor Pipes

I write stories about people that interact with technology that solves human problems. I love exploring and finding compelling stories at the intersection of technology and the future of work.

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