My Starbucks Barista Is Fully Empowered and Your Employees Should Be Too

Hazelnut Macchiato

My daughter and I have this Starbucks thing. We go into Starbucks on Friday mornings before school to browse mugs and music and we both get a drink. This morning I ordered the Venti Caramel Macchiato with skim milk and no whip. The Barista asked, “Have you tried our new Hazelnut Macchiato? If you like the Caramel Macchiato, you’ll love the Hazelnut flavor!”

Just as we were walking into Starbucks, I was telling my daughter that I had a coupon for a free Tall Hazelnut Macchiato. But I left it in the car and besides, I wanted the very large Venti size today. So, I say to the Barista, “I actually have a coupon for free Tall Hazelnut Macchiato. Can I upgrade that to a Venti and pay the difference and then I’ll run out to my car and grab the coupon?” Get this, this completely empowered employee says, “I’ll tell you what. Don’t worry about the coupon and I’ll give you the Venti Hazelnut Macchiato for free.”

The Starbucks employee was completely willing and empowered to honor the coupon that I didn’t even present and he gave me a drink 2 sizes larger than the coupon would have granted. This is true empowerment and it’s part of what makes for a warm and delightful customer experience at Starbucks. (Contrast the Starbucks empowerment with my encounter with a completely un-empowered donut shop employee.)

Train, empower and trust your employees to make decisions on the spot. True empowerment makes for a faster, more delightful and wonderfully memorable customer experience. A lack of empowerment results in a slower and more frustrating customer experience and it actually lowers employee morale. The choice is yours. What will you do?

Need help training or empowering your customer service team? Consider our Customer Service Training.

We are best known for our classroom training – and it is amazing! Our customer service training is led by the industry’s best trainers…experienced, engaging, and energetic. If you poke your head into a Myra Golden training session, you know this training is different. Participant involvement is astonishing. People are having fun and they are completely engaged. Most importantly, the participants are learning real-world strategies that will absolutely empower them to deliver exceptional customer service. Every one of our customer service training sessions is custom designed to meet our client’s objectives and every session delivers a measurable return on investment.

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Pay it forward! When you do, you’ll put a smile on someone’s face.


While my husband and children were still getting dressed for my son’s basketball game this beautiful Saturday morning, I slipped out of the house and went to Starbucks for a latte. It’s January and yet my Starbucks still has one of my favorite fall lattes, Pumpkin Spice.

So, I get to the drive-thru window and the Barista says, “Your drink is already taken care of. The lady in front of you paid for your latte because the two cars in front of her paid for the succeeding customers.” Um, wow. That put a big smile on my face and it warmed my heart. It slowed my pace in my crazy busy morning. I couldn’t thank the lady who paid for my drink because she had already driven off. So I paid it forward by saying, “Well, I’ll take care of the person behind me.”

The gesture of the lady in front of me at Starbucks really did bless my day and I enjoyed sharing my story with my husband and kids and parents at my son’s game. My husband said he wouldn’t be surprised if customers continued to pay for customers behind them all day at that Starbucks. It wouldn’t surprise me either. I’m already thinking about how I might make someone smile by picking up a fast-food tab, buying a cup of coffee or buying a book in a bookstore. How might you pay it forward? I challenge you to find a little opportunity to bless someone’s day by paying it forward.

Starbucks Surprised & Delighted Me…Again

Starbucks on my Patio by Myra Golden
Starbucks on my Patio, a photo by Myra Golden on Flickr.

I went to Starbucks one afternoon last week. I ordered a Pumpkin Spice Latte and the Roasted Tomato and Mozzarella Panini. Yes, it’s an odd combination, but I like the two. The friendly voice over the drive-thru speaker said, “I’m sorry. We’re out of the Roasted Tomato and Mozzarella Panini sandwich. I can give you any one of our breakfast sandwiches on us though.”

WOW. Without even a second of hesitation, the Starbucks employee made things right by not only offering a substitute sandwich, but by giving me that sandwich for free. This immediate offering ensured that I, the customer, didn’t have time to feel upset or disappointed. The fix was offered immediately and resulted in my surprise and delight.

Are your employees equipped to fix problems this quickly? When I’m designing a better customer experience for my clients, one of the things I insist on is empowerment of the front line. The front line has to be empowered with the solutions, dollar amount, and total freedom to take care of customer problems on the spot.

Empower your frontline to be able take care of problems on the spot. When you do, you’ll surprise and delight customers and you’ll keep customers from even thinking about going to the competition (or spreading negative word of mouth advertising, tweeting, blogging, etc.).

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Aubrey at Starbucks Impressed Me This Morning

Starbucks on my Patio by Myra Golden
Starbucks on my Patio, a photo by Myra Golden on Flickr.

I have two kids who keep me busy, and there is always something needing my attention with my business. So, I spend a lot of time in fast-food drive-thrus. I know. I can certainly find healthier options, but that’s another blog post. While in a drive-thru for fast food or a coffee shop, my radar is naturally up and I am always thinking about ways drive-thru employees and their companies can improve upon the customer experience.

This morning after dropping my son off at school, I went to Starbucks. I go all of the time, and the experience is always awe-inspiring. Here’s how my drive-thru experience went at Starbucks today.

“Good morning. Welcome to Starbucks. What can I get started for you?”
I could just picture the lady smiling as she greeted me.

I ordered a White Chocolate Mocha, nonfat, with whipped cream.

“I have a Venti White Chocolate Mocha, nonfat with whipped cream. Your total is $4.19.  Aubrey will see you at the window.”
It’s a beautiful touch to identify the person by name who will serve the customer at the window. I can’t recall this happening anywhere else I go.

Aubrey was really quite amazing. When I got to the window, she greeted me with a warm smile. She gave me my total, took my debit card and while waiting for my latte, she made small talk. “How’s your morning going so far?” she asked. While we talked, Aubrey faced me squarely, maintained eye contact and smiled genuinely. She was personable and confident. She’s the kind of person I’d love to have to work on my team. When my drink was ready, she read the label to confirm that I ordered a White Chocolate Mocha Latte. Aubrey ended the experience by telling me to enjoy the rest of my day.

Starbucks has mastered the warm customer experience. Creating a friendly experience for your customers makes you memorable, gets customers talking, and it facilitates relationship building with customers. What are 3 things you can do to make your customer experience warmer and friendlier? Right now, identify 3 things you can do…and then take the first step.

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How Starbucks WOWs in Routine Customer Service Interactions

(My Starbucks on 81st Street in Tulsa)

When I pulled up to the Starbucks drive-thru on 81st street in Tulsa last Thursday, I was greeted with the warm friendly persona that I’ve come to love. I ordered a Grande White Mocha Latte and a breakfast artisan sandwich. The lady taking my order wrapped things up by saying, “Thank you. Your total is $8.14, unless there’s something else.” I loved that! I loved it because it’s such a sharp contrast from fast food drive-thru ordering.

So often when I order a from a fast food drive-thru, I hear, “Your total is $5.49” before I’ve even had a chance to finish stating what I wish to order. Abruptly giving the total can make customers feel cut-off and employees can be perceived as rude.

Starbucks has mastered warm and friendly customer service. The warm experience is made up of dozens of small things in routine customer interactions. When it comes to closing a drive-thru conversation, warm and friendly at Starbucks is to keep it friendly and to avoid cutting the customer off.

When you’re wrapping up a customer interaction, be that in person or over the phone, be sure to keep it warm and friendly. Be careful not to make the customer feel cut off. When you keep it warm and friendly, you’ll surprise and delight customers and they’ll leave (or hang up) with a smile.

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