This story is not my own, but I remember reading about it in Charles Duhigg’s life changing (changed my life for sure) book, The Power of Habit.

Starbucks is synonymous with coffee the world over, the same way Parle G was in India for biscuits  (at one point of time). If you are a Starbucks addict, no other coffee will do.

Even for the non addicts, visit to any Starbucks anywhere in the world is generally a nice and very similar experience (similar when ordering the same item !!, i.e.).  And the similarity is not just because of the consistency in the process of making the coffee, but also in the attitude of the serving staff. Starbucks retail staff go through a training program before they are deputed at the store. And in this training, how to handle an angry customer is by far the most important segment. And this, according to me, is one of the ‘stand out’ facet of Starbucks service. Never has any staff ever disputed my claim on any product being different, not ok, not upto mark, poor quality – they have handled all these issues with a smile. And not that they do not make mistakes, they are not perfect, but the way they handle is what has always amazed me.

The secret to this attitude is the LATTE approach:

  • L – Listen to the Customer
  • A – Acknowledge the Problem.
  • T – Thank the customer for having pointed it out.
  • T – Take Action
  • E – Explain.

As you all would notice, Explain comes at the very end. Unlike in any dispute situation we encounter in our day to day lives, the accused immediately goes on the defence. – ” I did not do it”, “Its not my fault “, “Why am I always blamed for everything” 

Notice how “Take Action precedes Explain” – if the cup has been spilt, then first clean up so that the mess can be managed. Do not waste time in explanation.

It’s important to Thank the complainant – Be mindful of the fact that not all customers would even bother to point out that the bread is stale. They will just leave it on the plate and walk out disgusted, never to come back again. And you might continue serving stale bread to many more customers, thus spreading the malaise.

It’s very important to first acknowledge the error. My manager in Wipro always used to tell me, first acknowledge that there is a problem and then discuss the matter, the other person would have his tone down and heart rate close to 72.  But we are always in a ‘denial first’ problem.  “According to me, this tastes just fine. Problem is with your taste buds only!! “.

And finally, we all know the importance of Listening. And listen with your eyes, observe the customer’s body language, try and gauge if the coffee is his real problem, or the fact that he woke up late today or he missed the bus or whatever. Once u know that coffee is just the guinea pig, the situation can be handled much better.

Of course, the intent of this article is not to market Starbucks or  its coffee. The intent of sharing this process here is how much of this is applicable in conflict management in our day to day lives. How our state of the mind or our preconceived notions make us react negatively in many situations. How we do not allow the other person to express his main issue and jump to the subplot and harp on the same. Many times, the real reason for anger is something else and the sooner we know that, the easier it is to manage the situation.

So hop over to the nearest Starbucks  (not the desi Sardar Baksh!!!) and enjoy the LATTE experience !

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Hetal Sonpal

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