And, just like that, Starbucks is back in hot water -- or maybe it's hot java -- over customer relations. No calls to the police this time. No refusal to let a person of color use the bathroom.

This time, an employee reportedly mocked a customer's stutter, according to a friend of the target who was there at the time.

Facebook user Tan Lekwijit posted about this after he said his post about the problem on the Starbucks Facebook page was deleted:

My friend Sam who is a stutterer stuttered on his name when ordering a coffee at Starbucks. The barista said, "Okay, S-s-s-sam." When he received his coffee, he was shocked to see that his name on the cup was written as "SSSAM", which was disrespectful. Later that day, he wrote an email to Starbucks Customer Service and got a pretty standardized email saying they were sorry that he "felt disrespectful [sic]" for the way they wrote his name and offered him $5. Clearly, Starbucks missed the point. It was about how you treat people with speech impairments, not how you write names.

The post included a picture of the cup. So many layers of consumer relationship ineptitude, so little time. Is there anything the company could do? Certainly, and a one-day racial sensitivity training is clearly not enough.

Better hiring

Hiring people can be difficult. I've seen it myself and know many other business owners or managers who can tell of the difficulty finding good help.

Managers often sweat over getting enough bodies in place to do the work. But there are bare minimum qualifications. See how someone reacts during interviews, in correspondence, and on social media. If you have someone tending to snark or who doesn't understand basic formalities like please and thank-you, perhaps you should keep looking for another potential employee. It's a pain, yes, but so is getting national bad press.

And if there aren't enough people trained to deal with the customers, start to send in management. You'd be surprised what motivation that could provide.a

Improve complaint handling

Starbucks eventually fired the employee -- more than a week after the incident happened. A long time prefaced by blunders that compounded the situation. As Lekwijit mentioned, his initial post on the Starbucks Facebook page was deleted. What, did someone hope that he'd go away?

That betrays a level of social media ineptitude that shouldn't be possible or tolerated in a major company. Get people who already know what they're doing to manage the accounts or get someone who does to train and supervise others. Sending a grammatically incorrect email and offering a $5 coffee card (which is going to cost them a fraction of the amount) is ridiculous.

And if you do comment on the person's post, as Lekwijit says the company did, don't then take it down (at least, I assume they did because the comment doesn't seem to be on the page). You earned the embarrassment, so wear it and learn.

Pay more attention

You can react, but that only happens when you hear something. Pay attention to what people are saying when they're not complaining. On the tread Lekwijit started, one person who said he was fat told of a Starbucks where an employee wrote "fat man" on the cup. He said he wasn't offended, but if it happens once, he happens many times and most people won't be indifferent.

Another person who described himself as partly deaf mentioned a problem he haad at a Starbucks. He tried the district manager, who wouldn't get in contact according to the person, and a regional manager who insisted on only a phone call and not an email exchange. (Perhaps the regional manager was worried that the results would hit the desk of upper management or that it would be written proof in a legal action.)

One-time training won't do anything

The incident happened a month after the company-wide diversity training. So much for the millions it cost in expenses and foregone sales.

There is no area of business where a single training session is sufficient, whether security concerns or customer service. A company needs a culture of continuous attention to the basics. Without that, problems will continue to recur.

Published on: Jul 5, 2018
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