Two years ago, a long-standing neighbourhood second tier coffee shop chain was replaced with a Starbucks. The former coffee shop was usually empty. While they made awesome donuts, they struggled.
Down came the sign and nobody knew what would soon occupy this prime corner lot. Then came the infamous green signage, the modern refacing of the exterior, and beautiful interior fixtures that felt like home (or at least a home we wish we lived in). There was no modification to the physical structure, in fact the floor plan remained unchanged.
Today this Starbucks is constantly packed. From students to entrepreneurs, from parents to neighbourhood kids, it’s the local go to place.
Why is it now so busy? They both served coffee, had ample seating, and played music. One magnetized customers while the other was unnoticeable.
Starbucks created an experience in the truest sense of the word.
When the HR community talks about “employee experience”, many redirect the discussion towards process optimization which may be part of the solution, but not to be confused with the immersion of partaking in a meaningful moment.
So what can we learn from this java transformation?
Create an energy – It all boils down to energy. As Marty Neumeier says, brand is a “gut feeling” about a product or a service. Starbucks created an energy around who they are, what they stand for, and what one can expect. There, we are introduced to vibrant music some of which we have never heard before, versus the typical elevator soft rock pouring through the speakers elsewhere. Staff are laughing and chatting with each other as well as customers. The lighting is dim and warm in stark contrast to the sterile and impersonal environments elsewhere.
Ask yourself – What is the energy of your workplace when you enter the door? Even schools these days are pumping music through the PA system to kick off the day with the “right vibe”.
Vanilla (unless as an espresso shot) is the equivalent of white noise – Starbucks didn’t play it safe, they played it as them. From their decor to their music selection, it’s not for everyone but when it’s right, it’s VERY right. This is how you create raving fans. Apple also takes bold stances and as a result, their following is deep-rooted. Playing it safe and opting for vanilla will never create a remarkable brand.
Ask yourself – What is your organization’s brand personality? If you are struggling to find an answer, there’s your answer. Ditch the vanilla and leave your mark.
Traditions matter – Cultivating an experience is about creating customs and traditions. Starbucks writes your name on a cup and we joke at some of the strange spellings, but we have come to expect that as part of the experience. It is personal. It is distinct.
Ask yourself – What traditions do you share as a company that are embedded in who you are and are part of the fabric of your culture? What playful and memorable moments occur during important milestones (onboarding, birthdays, baby showers, etc.)?
Create belonging – Starbucks creates warmth and comfort at every turn. They use woods instead of plastics for seating, as though they are inviting you to “stay awhile”. This again is in stark contrast to the turnstile “fast food” ambiance that we have come to expect elsewhere. Companies too should be looking to foster belonging and warmth. From the outset, organizations that create a comfortable environment for talent to explore opportunities within, will be the ones that win, over those that “grill” and intimidate during the interview process.
Ask yourself – Are you creating comfort and belonging in your interview process?
The power of brand – Brands are built on consistency. Starbucks has found their “secret sauce” for creating a welcoming environment that has personality and emits an energy drawing in both new and repeat customers. Instead of building a process, build an “experience”, master it, and then create a system for consistently delivering it. Your employer brand will thank you.
While this example may appear to paint a picture of a diehard Starbucks coffee drinker, in fact nothing could be further from the truth. While I will drink Starbucks coffee during my many visits there, it is not my preference. So why do I keep going back? I return to truly experience something more than a transaction. Your current and prospective employees seek the same.
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