Maybe it’s our never-ending need for more caffeine (or at least mine) . . . . Despite the complaints about the quality of coffee that spurred the recent Starbuck’s retooling and the “perfect coffee pledge,” Starbucks came in at #7 on Fortune’s list of Best Companies to Work For. Paid sabbaticals, on-site child care and fitness centers and health care caught my eye as some of the “perks” of working at Starbucks. This week, though, Starbucks suffered a setback with a California decision requiring the company to repay more than $100 million in tips back to the baristas due to state law violations from the company’s practice of allowing supervisors to share in employee tips. Kind of puts a damper on the good place to work recognition.
Well, back to the java. Interestingly, Starbucks seems to be sticking to the quality control issue and is adopting new automatic espresso machines designed to leave less error in the puling of the shots and steaming milk. The company is also returning to grinding beans at the stores, rather than using pre-ground bags of coffee. I’m not sure that this all will lead them to increased sales and business success, but it does show company commitment to make the “best” coffee a reality. The problem with the perfect coffee pledge to me, though, still remains. Starbucks has set consumer expectations high, but their ability to convert on their pledge of quality coffee rests with the employees in the stores. That is where the tension between being a great place to work and discontent over the tipping policy may affect whether the baristas ultimately “make it right.”
All of this serves as a reminder that companies which make express warranties regarding the quality of their products may be heavily dependent on their employees to really come through. This would seem to be especially true where the sale involves a mixed goods and services transaction. As to Starbucks, the dependence and ultimate fulfillment of warranty conditions (if the perfect coffee pledge is more than puffery) will require employee dedication to ensure quality coffees. When I went to the Starbucks website, the company’s statement concerning the tipping issue was prominent on the website. That struck me immediately, but upon reflection Starbucks really must tackle this issue that could threaten quality. Although the statement now appears on a less prominent company page, the tipping issue reflects the delicate balance that companies must achieve between satisfaction of warranties of quality and employee relations.