Reflecting on the Starbucks Situation: Check Your Bias at the Door

In light of the recent Starbucks incident that occurred in Philadelphia, when a store manager called the police on two black men for trespassing, I thought it relevant and important to talk about unconscious bias, and its impact on customer and employee experiences. Listen to how I discussed this situation with Marketplace Morning Report, the morning after the incident.

When a company falls from grace, there are two directions they can go. They either get back into our hearts, based on how they respond, the swiftness, the empathy and the humanity, and when there is proof that the situation is being rectified. Or, they’re out of our lens finder for places we want to be associated with.

Starbucks was placed in those cross hairs on April 16, with the store manager’s action to call the police. Many of us are confused by the action, since Starbucks has worked for so long to be considered the “The Third Place” we’d want to go, besides our home or office. This manager decided to boot these guys out, according to reports, while waiting for a friend to arrive.

This single action that has rocked the Starbucks brand gets squarely to the importance of why employee hiring and engagement is so critical to its reputation. We don’t know for sure if this manager was practicing what has plagued some other industries, the unconscious bias. When operating from this bias, people move into directions of treating people one way or another based on something inside of them that they may not be able to articulate.

Building a company of inclusivity and human reception has never been more important. And while CEO Kevin Johnson immediately responded, the smart company will do the work to ensure this doesn’t live elsewhere in the organization.  “Diversity is getting asked to the party, while inclusion is getting asked to dance at the party,” Heidi Grant-Halvorson, PHD of the NeuroLeadership Institute explains.

Starbucks definitely has an opportunity to polish up their dancing skills.

Earn Customer Respect, by Respecting Them First

Check Your Bias

In my upcoming book, “Would You Do That To Your Mother, the Make Mom Proud Standard for How to Treat Your Customers,” unconscious bias is featured as a case study for exactly these reasons. Companies must be prepared to understand that within the humanity of their employees, they have a responsibility to help them identify and manage biases that can impact both employee and customer experiences. Many women, for example, are very familiar with this bias delivered their way in the automotive industry.

Our opportunity in growing our businesses is to earn customer respect, by respecting customers first. When people are taken care of without bias, when they are really heard and understood and have their needs delivered, that is the beginning of cementing a long-term and potentially high-value relation­ship. This is simply about respect. And it’s about developing inclusive and respectful behaviors.

When people are taken care of without bias, when they are really heard and understood and have their needs delivered, that is the beginning of cementing a long-term and potentially high-value relation­ship. #CX Click To Tweet

Case Study: ThirdLove Decided to Honor All Women of Color

This case study from my new book is about ThirdLove, a product development company and retailer that recognized an unconscious bias in the women’s apparel industry. Generations of women have experienced unconscious bias by the “nude” tone in garments, which only applies to women of a certain skin tone, thereby excluding all the rest. Through awareness and inclusion, ThirdLove has changed that, with an inclusive color palette honoring all skin tones, earning accolades of women everywhere. 

Seek Opportunities for Inclusivity

DECISION INTENT: Honor women of all colors. ThirdLove cofounder Heidi Zak couldn’t find a bra that wasn’t a painful fit. From that need, she and her husband, Dave, founded ThirdLove, where Zak uses her robust data science skills (acquired as a Google marketer) to understand buying habits and customer sentiment and needs. Through this understanding came an opportunity for inclusiveness about the color nude. Usually a pinkish-beige color, that color is the nude skin tone for only one set of women. Zak decided to correct a world­ wide lack of inclusiveness for women of color in her product category, by developing a range of bra colors that included every skin tone.

ACTION TO #MAKEMOMPROUD: Develop the “New Nakeds.” ThirdLove’s company mission has been to serve every woman. Inclusiveness is at the foundation of product design and business conduct. To achieve this, research in understanding women’s needs is thorough and constant. An early study of 2.5 million women glob­ally, for example, gathered 9 million data points about sizing. This led to an expansion of sizing to include forty-seven sizes for women between traditional sizing who had never been served before. Vocal customer feedback also told Zak that women of color felt excluded by the definition of nude. The whole idea of this coloration was that it would blend with the color of the skin against which it was worn and not show up under a white blouse, for example.

In response to this need, ThirdLove established the “New Nakeds,” a five-color palette in its products to include all women. Following ThirdLove’s guiding principle of using data to drive business decisions, focus groups and concentrated data guided this decision and outcome. It took two years of research and development to blend color s for women’s real skin tone. With these five, all women of color can find a tone that works for them.

@ThirdLove products serve all women of color. #MakeMomProud Click To Tweet

IMPACT: ThirdLove is a disrupter new to the market. Early indications from the people who back this company as well as its customer advocacy to date cannot be ignored. Founded in 2013, its investors include Laurie Ann Goldman, former CEO of Spanx; Lori Greeley, former CEO of Victoria’s Secret stores; John Hamlin, chairman of REI; Barry Sternlicht, founder of Starwood Hotels; and Claire Bennett, former executive vice president at American Express and member of the board of directors of Tumi. ThirdLove grew 400 percent from 2014 to 2015, during its critical period of proof of concept. While women buy new bras every year, ThirdLove customers typically buy a second bra within just forty-five days.

Now, take a moment to think — does any unconscious bias exist in your business that excludes or inadvertently leaves out a portion of your customers and employees?

Case Study excerpted from Would You Do That To Your Mother? The “Make Mom Proud” Standard for How to Treat Your Customers by Jeanne Bliss with permission of Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Jeanne Bliss, 2018.

How would company act if every customer were your mom?

How do we cut through the rigmarole of business to give customers the treatment they desire, and employees the ability to deliver it?  Customer experience expert, Jeanne Bliss recommends making business personal to get the traction you need by focusing on one deceptively simple question: “Would you do that to your mother?

Learn more about my book here.

2 comments to " Reflecting on the Starbucks Situation: Check Your Bias at the Door "

  • Lisa Hern

    Thank you for a thoughtful blog that brings our systemic problems of unconscious bias to light in the workplace. Too often, we believe we are all completely independent of social structures and influences, but the reality is, we all have these hidden biases and we are subject to the systems we are a part of. Being open to these facts will help us grow more than holding up our hands and saying, “oh that’s not how I am, ” or worse, “this is all about one bad person.” We all need to be part of the solution, and burying our heads in the sand about the systemic problems that resulted in this horrible action is not the answer. Thank you for shining a light.

  • Spot on as always Jeanne.
    Looking forward to reading the new book and wishing you continued success.
    Best Wishes,

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