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Did THAT Just Happen?--Starbucks Monitors and Reacts in Real-time

Last week in this blog series I made correlations between the services I received from US Airways, and the real-time management concepts from Brad Cleveland’s book, Call Center Management on Fast Forward
I’d like to continue with that theme and extrapolate out some of the other principles of real-time management that Brad describes and that ICMI encourages. The purpose is to show that you can apply these core concepts across many facets in your customer service journey, and that they aren’t restricted solely to the call center.

“An important prerequisite to effective real-time management is to establish a good foundation BEFORE the work comes flooding in”, explains Brad.  “This involves clearing up potential misconceptions among staff, putting the right tools in place, and establishing workable objectives and a good planning process. In other words, it means ensuring that you aren’t creating many of the crises to which you are reacting.”

So let’s go back to my latest experience with effective real-time management. As with the return portion of the US Airways trip that I previously wrote about, I encountered some weather delays on the outbound as well. Instead of arriving in Chicago for dinner, I landed in Charlotte around 10p. My connection was also delayed until almost midnight, so my plan was to leisurely grab dinner and comfortably catch-up on work somewhere. I was not alone with this idea. In fact, it appeared that several hundred of my new closest traveling friends had the same plan.

Except that everything was closing around us. Apparently CLT shuts down at 10p. Every restaurant, every club lounge, and every coffee shop was closing. As I walked from one terminal to another, I was completely shocked that the airport was packed with stranded travelers and their only respites were shutting down around them. “Why wasn’t some leader taking stock of the circumstance and reacting accordingly?” I thought to myself. “Why wasn’t anyone paying attention to the needs of the customers?” Selfishly, I was also wondering where I was going to procure a decent cup of coffee.

Call Center Management on Fast Forward refers to this as monitoring real-time developments and identifying trends as early as possible.

And then I saw a Starbucks in the B concourse still in the process of closing down for the evening. They were cleaning up, but they still had a long line of customers that they were servicing. I quietly slid into place at the back of the queue and held out hope for a much-needed cup of coffee.

As I waited, a manager appeared and quickly assessed the situation playing out both in the terminal and within her store domain. In about 3 minutes she made a determination to change from the standard protocol. “We’re going to stay open for at least another hour to help out travelers”, she announced to her staff.

“The key is to react appropriately to evolving conditions”, continues Brad. “Random call (or passenger) arrival means that, at times, it will look like you are falling behind even though you are staffed appropriately. But if you are experiencing a genuine trend, you need to move quickly. Time is of the essence.”

And the Starbucks manager at CLT did exactly that. She saw a trend and she reacted accordingly. It was also very obvious that her staff was equally as prepared as she was for possible changes in the foundation. When she asked, “Is there anyone that can stay late with me tonight?” every one of her team members working that evening raised their hands.

When I finally made it to the counter, the girl who helped me was as cheerful as if I were her first customer of the evening. When I asked her how she felt about staying late, she genuinely said, “Oh, it’s fine! Why should we get to go home when you can’t?” she joked. “Seriously, our manager is great and she’ll help us close down later. We’re a good team.”

In his book, Brad describes this as not leaving agents and supervisors on the floor, or in this case behind the counter, in a ‘mission impossible’ position. Prepare them ahead of time, and as a leader, be there alongside them.

As appreciative as I was for that cup of coffee, I was even more appreciative for the smile and the well-orchestrated display of real-time monitoring and reaction by Starbucks in concourse B. They truly understand that the customer experience comes first, even for a terminal of travelers that they may not ever see again.