City Hippy

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Sunday, October 16, 2005

NEWS: Starbucks Responds

GreenLaGirl has just posted some great news.

Starbucks have taken a good first step towards moving to the next level on Fairtrade - the fulfillment of their Fairtrade promise.

First they had to admit there is a problem...they have now done that! Click here to read the "reminder" email sent to all US/Canada company operated stores this week.

So the challenge is working...and now we should start to see more success in North America so keep the challenge going. Go and retest stores already challenged.

For me one small problem though: Cindy from Starbucks has essentially blamed the staff, which is just plain mean really. She told GreenLAGirl that:

"In regards to feedback from our customers, I think it is important to note that it is not a break down in our commitment to Fair Trade or our mission. It happens to be a break down in customer service."

So Starbucks made a promise but the staff are failing to deliver. Surely this is about management giving the staff the motivation, information and tools to do the job. Isn't that what the email seeks to do?

I might be wrong though so I have written to Cindy to find out more on this.

Keep up the good work and remember be nice to the staff, it's not about them as much as it is about Starbucks.



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At 7:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went into my local Starbucks last week and asked for a Fair Trade cup of coffee. The man behind the counter was unfamiliar with the term. Confused, he turned to the woman working the cappuccino machine who confirmed that they had it and told him it was in the closet. Still not knowing what he was looking for the first employee began to dig through bags of coffee, the 12 oz kind full of whole or pre-ground beans that they sell for home brewing. After about a minute he turned to me and gave an embarrassed shrug. I said something like, "Don't worry about it, I'll just have a tall latte."

Thinking about what had happened as I walked back to my apartment I found myself becoming upset that a person working at a coffee shop had never heard of Fair Trade. Although he might laugh at you, I would imagine that your average McDonald's employee would know what you were talking about if you asked for a veggie burger. Of course I could have taken the time to explain Fair Trade to the man at Starbucks. I also could have walked away from the store in protest without buying anything, but getting a "regular" cup of coffee and grumbling to myself was more convenient. Regardless, it's ridiculous that Starbucks, with its eco-friendly aesthetic and clientele of young and informed hipsters has done such a bad job of embracing the Fair Trade movement. From what I understand, Dunkin' Donuts is a much more responsible company. That's ironic because there are probably a lot of Big Mac eating, Dunckaccino slurping folks out there who stay away from Starbucks because it looks too liberal-hippy-elite-ish. It's time to make the donuts and make a change.

Tim M

At 7:45 PM, Blogger City Hippy said...

Hey Tim

Thanks for taking part. You are not alone in feeling embarrassed because Starbucks employees are not responding positively to customer requests.

Question is whether this is poor customer service as Cindy from Starbucks seems to think (see post this comment is attached to) or whether Starbucks Fairtrade Store policy is lacking which would require better informed staff.

The fact Cindy sent out an email clarifying policy and action regarding Fairtrade implies that it is the latter and not the fault of staff.

We have fired off this point to her and look forward to her reply.

Shameful really. This is why we started the challenge to be honest. Starbucks make themselves look good by claiming to be green...well, all we are saying is walk the walk...then you will really have something to shout about.



ps which starbucks was is?

At 7:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went to the Starbucks at 39th and Genessee in Kansas City, Missouri, this morning and asked if they had Fair Trade coffee. The manager there seemed genuinely pleased to tell me Yes. However, it had to be specially prepared -- it wasn't one of their regular coffees. And after she'd started brewing it, I asked if it were organic. She said No, but they did have some organic coffee, just not any Fair Trade/Organic. (For that you'll have to go to and order triple-certified, fairly traded, shadegrown organic coffee!)

Every time I've gone into Starbucks, particularly this one, I've found the staff to be great -- friendly, welcoming, hard-working. It's really encouraginig to see how the consciousness has shifted just in the year or so since I've been stopping by there. Originally when I asked for organic coffee, they responded as if I had come into the store and started speaking Vulcan. Now, they're aware and interested, they just don't have the product to offer. So it would be really, really cool of Starbucks to give their great employees even more reason to like their jobs and be proud of what they do -- for their customers and for our perfect little planet.

K.C. Compton in Kansas City

At 7:47 PM, Blogger City Hippy said...

Hey KC

Thanks for taking part. Sounds like you had a good experience.

Starbucks are definitely improving and are one of the most progressive mainstream companies out there.

There behaviour is to be applauded and encouraged.



At 12:55 AM, Anonymous Cindy said...

City Hippy -

I have not been commenting on the blogs as I think it is more effective to engage in dialogue directly. But I have been reading them so that I may follow-up with specific managers about customers not getting Fair Trade coffee when requested.

I am hurt and a bit upset that you would imply that I blame our store partners for a "breakdown in customer service." I take that comment very personally, and I am responding to you as an individual and not as a representative of Starbucks. I have nothing but the upmost respect and praise for our baristas. I started as a barista for Starbucks, and I know how challenging it can be working in the stores. I am not sure if you have ever worked as a barista in a slamming busy coffee shop but providing flawless customer service in about 30 seconds with a line of 20 people waiting for their coffee can be difficult at times.

Starbucks baristas are asked to be knowledgable about several different things. They learn about ALL the coffees offered; how to make every possible beverage; about all the merchandise sold in stores; about the new products and promotions; etc. If some stores do not remember reading the "coffee press by request" policy in the resource manuals and training manual, I DO NOT blame them. Customers very rarely ask for a brewed coffee press which may be a reason why some baristas are not familiar with the policy. In fact, this is why we sent the email reminder to a reminder not to blame the baristas. Brewing a coffee press upon request has been a policy for ALL Starbucks coffees not just Fair Trade.

I contacted Siel because I was genuinely interested in your Challenge and engaging in productive dialogue not placing blame. I honestly felt your concerns were legitimate. When I said a "break down in customer service," I meant as a company. We may be disappointing our customers who are asking for a cup of any coffee other than what is currently being brewed. And I felt it was important to address this issue.

What would be interesting and maybe more accurate of what you are trying to accomplish is asking for a cup of coffee that is not the Coffee of the Week and not Fair Trade certified such as Verona, Sumatra, or French Roast. I'm curious to know if it is lack of knowlegde of Starbucks "coffee press by request" policy or an attempt to sabotage the fair trade movement as you are implying. You may find the same results asking for any of Starbucks coffees.

I would be more than happy to discuss Starbucks coffee buying practices with anyone who is interested in learning. I can not emphasis enough that Starbucks and the fair trade movement share the same goals to ensure farmers receive a fair price for their coffee and to strengthen coffee farms for the future. Starbucks success is directly dependent on the success of coffee farmers.

Starbucks views Fair Trade certified coffee as one way to support farmers. Siel did an amazing job at highlighting some of the challenges around the certification in her Coffee Crisis Series. Starbucks also pays premium prices; provides farmers with access to affordable credit (very IMPORTANT - we have invested 8.5 million to date); invests in social development projects; purchases conservation and certified coffees; supports coffee farmers through our Farmer Support Center in Costa Rica; and encourages participation in Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices (created with Conservation International) which is third party verified by organizations such as Rainforest Alliance.

I feel extremely passionate about this, because I have seen first hand the positive effect a company like Starbucks has on coffee growing communities.

I am proud to say that Starbucks will begin purchasing 5% of their retail energy from renewable sources such as wind. They will be offering the first ever FDA approved paper cup made with 10% of post-consumer fiber. Starbucks offers full benefits to part-time employees such as healthcare and stock options. In fact, Starbucks spent more last year on healthcare than on coffee beans. You are more than welcome to read our CSR Report at Our report is also independently verified.

Is Starbucks perfect? No. We have a long way to go in some areas, but we recognize these areas and are working hard toward sustainable change.

And for the record, Siel has been the only person in contact with me. If, Al, you sent me an email or left me a voice mail, I did not receive it.

And if you want to discuss the issues, feel free to contact me at any time. But I am not interested in personal attacks or assumptions.

Best of luck with your research and Challenge. I look forward to the results.


At 2:08 AM, Blogger Siel said...

Wow -- Cindy -- Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed and heartfelt comment.

I first want to apologize because I think some of the communication about this challenge has been partly due to me. Al was going to contact you, but first emailed me to see if I had already contacted you about issues he raised -- He didn't want to step on my toes. I told him that I had, so he held off on sending you the email.

As a challenge initiator, and as someone who has been in contact with Cindy, I do want to point out that, as I've said in my blog posts, Cindy does seem very personally concerned about fair trade issues.

While I love what City Hippy's doing in general, Al can tell you himself that we've had our differences -- fought out over email with I believe are positive results for both of us -- on issues surrounding this challenge. In my opinion, I do think I tend to be more cautious and research-oriented, and like to hear back from related parties before writing about an issue. To that end, I've kept my latest questions to Cindy private, pending her response. But I feel that at this point, I'd like to point out that my questions had a somewhat different tone. Here they are, word for word:

"1. Is the wording on the email that was sent out to the North American company owned Starbucks the same word for word text that's in the resource manuals and barista manual you mentioned in the voicemail?

2. Does Starbucks have any more detailed information as to why this "break down in customer service" occured? I understand that sometimes, store managers and district managers, say, don't read all the information they receive from headquarters. But I think many of are wondering why the lapses in customer service have been so widespread -- and, more notably -- so similar from store to store (i.e. rattling off the list of currently brewing blends, charging venti prices, etc.)."

I believe these questions do contain a healthy dose of consumer critique and cynicism. Still, I do NOT think Cindy or Starbucks was putting the blame on the baristas -- I think Cindy was clearly pointing to problems in the communication channels. Something I still have questions about, but not something I take to be putting down the baristas in any way. After all, Cindy used to be a barista herself.

I think I come from a slightly different perspective from Al, from having talked to Cindy personally. Readers may even think I'm biased; I've said I do personally like Cindy, etc.

That said, I do think it's very very important in issues like this not to hastily assign blame or leap to conclusions. As I've said before, I don't see this challenge as being "against" Starbucks. Regardless of the fact that Cindy's an employee of Starbucks, I think all three of us -- me, Al, Cindy -- have similar goals. I hope we can continue to work together towards achieving them.

At 6:39 AM, Blogger City Hippy said...


First off, Cindy, forgive my assumption. Not intended as a personal attack...I am truly sorry. The thought of giving you any pain pains me greatly. Not what I am about. You are a breath of fresh air, thats for sure. Namaste.

When I saw what you said I did leap to the defence of the staff as I saw your words as a typical corporate 'shift the blame' tactic.

In my defence, I, like most people, have had to put up with years of listening to corporate PR and that has lead to my, not uncommon, cynicism. Starbucks are different though and as I have said many times to be applauded for their FT committment etc.

The question I asked Siel to ask you by email was:

"It seems like she [Cindy] is saying that Starbucks made a promise but the staff are failing to deliver. Surely this is about management giving the staff the motivation, information and tools to do the job. Isn't that what the email seeks to do?

Would like her clarification about what a 'breakdown in customer service' would be unfair for the staff to shoulder the blame if they are not given the resources and info to deliver."

So, Cindy, after all that has been said, what IS causing this 'breakdown in customer service'?

Second, Siel and I are very different people in and at very different places and we go about things in very different ways.

That is healthy in general and healthy for the challenge as it means we have two unique perspectives trying hard to make the challenge succeed.

Personally my approach is shooting more from the hip as I do not have the time to do exhaustive research which Siel does brilliantly.

I am just a regular, normal, busy as hell, guy with very little time in the day.



At 8:37 AM, Blogger City Hippy said...

Oh one last thing...I have learnt a valuable lesson...

Before offering an opinion about the meaning of someone's comments I will seek to clarify with them first.




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