How Starbucks uses questionable “communication points” to evaluate its workforce

Starbucks uses crowdfunding ratings, known as communication points, to evaluate customer service at its cafes across the country.

In interviews, 17 current and five former Starbucks employees told NBC News that the system, which had not been reported before, made them feel powerless at the mercy of customer whims. In both cases, employees said low scores caused managers to reduce hours for store-specific employees.

While ratings have been used for years, many employees say the communications system has also helped drive the national workforce campaign now underway at Starbucks. Since last December, more than 80 employees of about 9,000 US-led companies have voted in favor of the union, a movement dominated by the White House. greeted և it helped to activate other work efforts.

“It’s just a good indicator of how co-workers feel the corporate has somehow come to terms with the reality of the job,” said Maddie Vanhuk, a Starbucks employee at a Starbucks cafe in Cleveland this week. “You’re just throwing out drinks. I think a lot of people just find themselves in a rut. But then somewhere in your head, if you do not greet everyone or have a little conversation with everyone in the midst of all this urgency, noise,’s other things, it seems like, oh, you know, this will affect my store numbers. ”

Most of the employees told NBC News that they would not be financially punished if their cafe connection point was low. But three current and two former Starbucks employees said they remembered their managers threatening to cut staff hours if their stores could not improve their ratings. Two employees said that their managers implemented the plan, as a result of which some employees lost their income.

Starbucks spokesman Reggie Borges has repeatedly denied that communication points affect a store’s working hours, which he says are based on factors such as traffic and sales. But he also said that customer contact points reflect the company’s priorities for its employees, whom they call partners.

“It’s a big number, we take care of it because we are a company based on the idea that the customer-partner relationship in the store is different for us than other companies,” he said. “People come for the Starbucks experience.”

Starbucks Coffee Manager Maddie Vanhuk holds Starbucks Workers United pins on May 19 in Cleveland.Amber N. Ford for NBC News

Beyond the baristas

Over the past decade, corporations have begun to ask customers to rate the work of retailers. restaurant servers, pharmacists, doctors ներկայացուցիչ representatives of the call center. Similar systems are used in gig desktops such as: About:, Life:t և: DoorDash:which, unlike Starbucks, say they directly punish individual employees whose ratings are below acceptable thresholds.

Legal experts say that the trend is transforming the customer-service relationship, giving customers a role that is more like a supervisor. They worry that by using the responses collected through online surveys, corporations may inadvertently allow their clients’ gender-racial bias to influence how they manage their workforce, which can be discriminatory.

“Customer feedback is clearly unreliable, discriminatory, especially on women, of people of color,” said Dallan Flake, a professor of law at Ohio State University who wrote about customer feedback. “Nevertheless, businesses are relying more and more on employment decisions, such as promotion, termination, and pay rates.”

Starbucks Coffee Supervisor Maddie Vanhuk shows the example of customer feedback units over the past eight weeks.
Starbucks Coffee Supervisor Maddie Vanhuk shows the example of customer feedback units over the past eight weeks.Amber N. Ford for NBC News

Borges stressed that communication units are just one signal that Starbucks uses to evaluate the performance of its stores. He said the company is aware that the demographics of its staff can affect ratings, encouraging store managers to focus on improving over time rather than comparing them to other places. He added that the company’s diversity inclusion team works closely with the teams responsible for creating materials such as customer inquiries.Points 101:

Starbucks calculates contact points by compiling email inquiries sent to a sample of customers who are part of its rewards plan, which the company believes has more than 27 million Active members in the US They are asked to rate a number of statements about their recent experience with Starbucks (1) ‘Strongly disagree’ to (7) ‘Strongly agree’. The survey includes questions about how clean the store was, how tasty the drinks were, but one of them was most related to the communication unit. “The staff worked hard to get to know me.”

Perfect scores are taken into account for increasing the measurement, according to Starbucks, while anything less than 7 actually counts as zero. For example, if 40 out of 100 respondents answered 7, the customer contact point at that location would be 40. The points are updated at the beginning of each week, taking into account the data of the previous eight weeks.

Some employees said that district managers often share data on communication points throughout the area so that they can tell how they are compared to others in the area. Employees said they could look at customer comments that sometimes referred to things beyond employee control, such as a lack of components.

The former Starbucks employee said that their store received about 30 inquiries a week from more than 6,000 visitors. Borges said Starbucks could not say how many responses were usually included in customer service units, but that “stores are looking in large numbers.”

Studies have: many times has shown that the opinions of online customers can be biased in different ways. In many cases, researchers I have found that people value the activities of minority women less than those of other groups. Opinions can also be influenced by other factors, such as whether they are customers to predict asking their opinion և them understanding: about how negative evaluations can damage a person’s life.

Starbucks Coffee Manager Maddie Vanhuk in Cleveland on May 19, 2022.
Starbucks Coffee Manager Maddie Vanhuk in Cleveland on May 19, 2022.Amber N. Ford for NBC News

Duel requirements

Heather Weisssaker, manager of a Starbucks store in Seattle, says her other managers are being pressured to keep their communications high, which is a concern for employees. “It was a shame for those of us who had low scores,” said Weitzsaker, who went on medical leave in 2020. “Sometimes other managers even made ‘jokes’, very demoralizing.” (Starbucks says mocking people is not in line with its values.)

Employees said that in order to influence ratings, managers often pushed clients to engage in conversations that seemed unreal. “It’s so fake, it’s horrible,” said Sierra Gulsby, a 29-year-old Starbucks employee in Carbondale, Illinois. “Some people like it. But it feels weird when I try to get to know people without actually inviting some people into you. ”

Casey Moore, a barrister in Buffalo, New York, says the manager instructed employees to ask customers a “question of the day” that he hears repeated through his headset 60 times an hour. At Cinco De Mayo, his colleagues asked: “My favorite Mexican food is a burrito. Which one is yours? ”

Employees often said that trying to improve their in-store communications contradicted other requirements of Starbucks, such as serving drinks to customers faster through windows.

“It’s frustrating because there are so many motivations to focus on speed, volume, but with the same breadth, let us connect with people like that,” said Olivia Lewis, 30, a Starbucks employee who recently voted for the union. in favor of: Native, North Carolina. “It’s what we want to do. We are in the service sector. We like to talk to people. But you can not do both. “

Such claims are part of what worries Keith Cunningham-Parmeter, a law professor at the University of Wilamette, who recently wrote an article. Customer rating: which will be published next year.

“This is a point of pressure in the lives of workers,” he said. “And at some point you have to ask if you have to give something. “Because the growing pressure, combined with low wages, combined with the anxiety we all feel about the epidemic, is a fundamental burnout.”

Lack of control Starbucks employees thought they had communications, other aspects of their workplace, and some of them said that unions looked attractive.

“We are doing this to be able to fight for everything from working conditions to better health to paying for a collective bargaining agreement,” said Moore, whose store in Buffalo voted in favor of the union earlier this week (election results are yet to be finalized). ).

Joe Thompson, 19, who works for Starbucks in Santa Cruz, California, said he thought his store had a connection because the workers there were unionized. “The union brings unity, facilitates the work,” he explained. “We have fun, our customers support us more.”

Thompson said he also believes that managers with high scores receive bonuses. Asked if this was the case, Starbucks spokesman Borges said: “There are a number of factors that contribute to rewarding all of our partners.”

He emphasized that the link was not intended to be a tool of punishment, and that Starbucks believed that employees needed to balance effective service with quality customer interaction.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “you know, we’re in the business of coffee people.”

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