Starbucks, Politics, and Customer Service

Infini Kimbrough
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A few years ago, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced that Starbucks would welcome people carrying concealed weapons in states where it was legal to carry concealed. This resulted in gun advocates holding Starbucks Appreciation Days to celebrate their Second Amendment rights. However, the issue of Starbucks' politics has been blown out of proportion, causing Schultz to issue an open letter to Starbucks customers asking that they refrain from carrying guns into Starbucks locations. Political experts predicted that the letter would result in weeks of backlashing and boycotting. For Starbucks, politics wasn't particularly relevant. The company has stayed focused on customer service, so most of its customers were courteous enough to comply with the request.

In August, Starbucks closed its location in Newtown, Connecticut, for the day, because the company learned that gun advocates were planning to hold a Starbucks Appreciation Day at the location, which is near a school where six women and twenty children killed in December 2012. According to Schultz, these Starbucks Appreciation Day events are not endorsed by Starbucks. The events have mischaracterized the company's political stance and made customers uncomfortable. The decision to ask customers not to bring guns into Starbucks locations was based on the growing frequency of gun advocates holding Starbucks Appreciation Days events. According to the CEO of Starbucks, politics—like the gun control issue—shouldn't be handled by Starbucks leaders or its store partners. Issues regarding gun policies should be addressed by government officials and law enforcement agencies.

While Schultz's letter asked customers not to bring firearms to Starbucks locations, it also explained that, for Starbucks, politics isn't the issue. He stated that some customers are uncomfortable seeing guns in their local coffeehouses, and Starbucks strived to make everyone feel welcome. He insisted that the letter wasn't a corporate ban on firearms but rather a respectful request. Basically, guns are not welcome at Starbucks locations, but people carrying firearms will not be refused service. While there has been a little controversy on the subject, most customers have been complying with the request because of the way it was presented. The decision wasn't made to alienate anyone but to make everyone comfortable—another example of excellent Starbucks customer service.

Starbucks' focus on its customers has made consumers respectful of the company, and their respect hasn't changed because for the CEO of Starbucks, politics wasn't an important factor in the decision. According to Jim Knight, a keynote speaker at the Retail Customer Experience Summit that was held in San Diego, the way that Howard Schultz views Starbucks customer service is something that other company leaders could learn from. The popular coffee chain revolutionized the way that people buy coffee by focusing on customer service rather than coffee. The entire experience—the atmosphere and the service—justifies the price of the coffee.

The debate over Second Amendment rights will continue, but it's unlikely that Starbucks will lose business due to Schultz's request. The fact is, when it comes to Starbucks, politics have never been a deciding factor. The company has always supported a diverse group of people regardless of what they believe. It has strived to create an atmosphere where everyone feels at home, and company leaders will continue to make every decision with its customers in mind.



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