The Starbucks Experience

I just finished reading The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary by Joseph A. Michelli. I originally picked up this book given its sub-title and recurring thoughts about content management. Is CM mundane, everyday, even boring? Is it just ordinary? If it is, why is that?

Some things are meant to be in the background. They silently assist; they just work; they draw no attention to themselves per se. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they cannot also be extraordinary (e.g. principle #3: surprise and delight).

Likewise, customer experience is determined more by the people develop, market and otherwise represent the product, good or service in question. Certainly that is true of Starbucks, and I believe it’s true of any software enterprise. So, this read was an opportunity for me to step outside my own hand-crafted experience, if you will, and contrast it with a highly successful experience and approach.

Dr. Michelli distills the Starbucks Experience into five key business principles as follows:

  1. Make it your own
  2. Everything matters
  3. Surprise and delight
  4. Embrace resistance
  5. Leave your mark

Throughout the book, the author provides several questions to consider under the heading “Create Your Own Experience.” While discussing “make it your own,” Dr. Michelli asks the following question: “What can you do to invest more of yourself and to get others to invest more of themselves in the process of interpersonal connection and discovery?” As a connector and collaborator, I thrive when I’m debating the merits of an architecture, listening to how customers leverage the products I build, mentoring colleagues, etc. I’m puzzled when there isn’t a natural buzz on the floor at work–why don’t others want to connect and collaborate to the same degree? (Shouldn’t everyone in the content management industry have an active blog? :-))

Starbucks’ Green Apron Book with its “Five Ways of Being” serves as a counter-balance to such questions: be welcoming, be genuine, be considerate, be knowledgeable and be involved. Rather than focusing on others, I should focus first on myself–how can I connect, discover and respond? True passion demands involvement.

Throughout the book, the author provides several observations to consider under the heading “Ideas to Sip On.” While discussing “everything matters,” Dr. Michelli makes the following observation: “Details affect the emotional connection (the ‘felt sense’) that others have with you.” Do I actively and fully listen to concerns? Do I act more than I speak? Am I on a soul quest or just following a mental ascent?

“Whether it’s brewing coffee, designing software, or mopping floors, a commitment to Surprise and Delight literally transforms the very nature of work. Employment stops being about the words written in job descriptions and expands to including offering unexpected experiences.” -Joseph A. Michelli

It’s important to anticipate the needs of colleagues and customers alike and to surprise those served by the business, and I agree with the author that leadership sets the tone herein. Fortunately “leader” isn’t a formal title reserved for a few either. Leader is an attribute available to you and I, and it’s individually and personally realized. For example, some lead by serving; others lead by making a stand.

“Embrace Resistance” was a chapter that underscored the importance of trust in collaboration for me. It’s common for me to seek out others, perhaps fellow architects or product managers, for example, to become effective proxies for my vision and roadmap where a particular product or project is concerned. Have I effectively conveyed my passion to him or her? Have they been able to “play it back” to me (in high-def mode even)?

I can certainly inform Starbucks that their partnership with the local Albertsons grocery store (in-store Starbucks) is failing them when it comes to the production of customer delight. Not only are my wife and I often surprised by the non-welcoming, somewhat aloof staff but the service is predictably sub-par. This is surely not the Cracker Jack-like result Starbucks invests in and expects.

My point in this recollection is that embracing resistance may involve indirect resistance, too. Someone on my behalf may inadvertently (or perhaps even intentionally) create resistance–to a product, to a feature, to an idea, etc. It’s my job to seek this out, too, engage and respond accordingly after understand legitimate issues and possible recourse.

In closing, I appreciate the author’s chapter of exhortation (i.e. personal application) in “A Final Word,” and I return back to the world of content management and to you my readership. How can I surprise and delight more effectively? Am I delivering predictable, positive experiences personally and through the products I bring to market? Where is there a resistance to use content management software in your business and workflow? What works well for you and what isn’t working as expected? How can I leave a deeper and longer lasting mark on my workplace and on my industry?

I’d love to hear from you. Thanks in advance for taking the time…

Update 12/1/2008: For more of my book reviews and to see what else is in my book library (i.e. just the business-related or software-related non-fiction therein), please visit my Books page.