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Starbucks Talking Walls

A nugget of Starbucks Tribal Knowledge is the concept of ‘Talking Walls.’ Howard Behar, a long-time and since retired Starbucks executive, used to walk into a Starbucks and listen to the walls. Yep … he would listen to the walls.

Forget scouring over a store’s P&L report or reviewing employee surveys, Howard could gauge a store’s profitability and employee moral just by hearing what the walls were saying.

Stores with walls talking good vibes were usually more profitable and had lower employee turnover rates. While stores with walls mumbling bad vibes were usually struggling profitability-wise and had a difficult time keeping a full staff.

I was reminded of this ‘Talking Walls’ concept from reading Seth Godin’s post about a nice Starbucks experience he had recently. Seth clearly heard the walls talking good vibes as he comments on how Starbucks bakes marketing into its business through its employees. Seth writes …

“Inside the Starbucks, the first thing I noticed, tucked deep in the corner, not for customer inspection, apparently, was a bulletin board. The bulletin board was jammed with pictures of the staff. The staff on a picnic. The staff at an amusement park. The staff kidding around.

That very same staff was working behind the counter. If it’s possible to make an herbal tea with enthusiasm, they were doing it. If it’s possible to make a $4 transaction feel joyful, they accomplished it.

Okay, the obvious thing here is that this is the Starbucks marketing effort, almost in its entirety. They don’t advertise, they don’t launch new products every day, but they are selling the way it makes you feel to purchase something there. And I have to tell you, it made me feel great.

The less obvious thing is that the folks behind the counter weren’t making this up. It wasn’t inauthentic. They had decided to enjoy their jobs, they were enjoying their jobs and it was helping not just Starbucks, but it them, too. All I had to do was glance out the window to see the difference.” MORE from SETH


  • Ed Brenegar says:

    There is a meme running here. Recently, an interview with Howard Schultz was published online where he discussed the emotional connection that customers should have in their stores. He talked of Starbucks being in the people business who serve coffee, instead of the coffee business serving people. In response to that interview, and then in response to my own Starbucks experience as well as reader response I wrote a couple column and blog postings on this.Here are links to them.Real Life Leadership column (June 27, 2005) – Businesses gain edge with emotional link to customersLeading Questions – Emotional Connections with customers Real Life Leadership column (July 11, 2005) – Creating trust is the foundation of a successful emotional connectionLeading Questions (July 11, 2005) – Emotional Connections IISorry for the self-serving nature of this, but in reality this has sparked more personal comment to me than almost anything I’ve written in the past year. I think it worth discussing further.

  • Starbucks Talking Walls and emotional connectionJohn at Brand Autopsy posts on retired Starbucks executive Howard Behar’s practice of listening to the walls in Starbucks stores. This is a going beyond the numbers sort of assessing the environment that exists for customers. It is about getting

  • panasianbiz says:

    Too many businesses ignore the fact that unhappy employees are rude to customers, who then don’t return. Happy employees handle customers with genuine joy, and this means repeat business. Starbucks “gets” it; why doesn’t WalMart, for instance?