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What “Onward” by Howard Schultz Taught Me About Customer Experience - FCR - Blog

What “Onward” by Howard Schultz Taught Me About Customer Experience

I have several books staring at me, begging to be read — one of which is Onward by Howard Schultz, Executive Chairman at Starbucks. It would still be staring at me had it not been for the discovery that my local library membership affords me access to stream tons of audiobooks using Hoopla.

I’ve long been a fan of Starbucks, writing many blog articles from there, so it was a treat to finally listen to the book. Unbeknownst to me, but not surprising was the fact that Starbucks faced significant threats to their business in 2007 as the economy faced a terrible financial crisis. It’s at this point in time that Schultz stepped back into the role of CEO of Starbucks and set in motion his transformation agenda, putting the company on a better path.

As I listened, there were many aha moments, especially in relation to the customer experience. Allow me to share them with you in no particular order.

Even the smallest details matter

When Schultz decided to return to Starbucks as CEO, one thing he immediately worked to change was the breakfast sandwiches. The way they were cooked caused cheese to spill over into the oven and eventually the smell of burnt cheese would overtake the smell of coffee. While this certainly was an issue, the bigger issue was that there were a bunch of little things eating away at the core of what Starbucks was. If you look at any company with a great customer experience, they consistently get the little details right.

Innovation can come from anywhere

There are a number of interesting innovations that came out of this period of time at Starbucks. The one that stuck out to me most was where a chemist went into a Starbucks and shared an instant coffee he had developed in his spare time. It happened to taste significantly better than traditional instant coffee. Somehow that potential innovation made its way to Howard Schultz and they hired the man to run their R&D department. Many years and several innovations later, they created Via, an incredibly successful product which might not have been possible had they not listened to the feedback of a customer.

Schultz shares another story in the book about a meeting with Aldo Lorenzi, the owner of a cutlery shop in Milan, Italy. Schultz was impressed with the beauty of the store and merchandise. Lorenzi was not familiar with Starbucks and was blown away to learn that they had thousands of stores. This shows us that even the CEO of a giant corporation can learn something from a single shop owner. In this case, Schultz gained great insight as he was revamping the design of his stores.

Connection with a bigger purpose and impact

One of my favorite stories in the book came from Starbucks’ leadership conference in 2008. The company chose to hold the conference in New Orleans and ended up donating more than 50,000 hours of service to a community still reeling from Hurricane Katrina. This is just one example where they’ve worked to be good citizens in local communities, cities, and the world. Connecting employees and customers with a greater purpose than simply running a business and making money is incredibly powerful. While stock price performance is mentioned multiple times in the book, it’s the involvement in helping others and giving back that adds the real richness and value to the turnaround story.

Employees as partners

Starbucks refers to all of their employees as partners. This is something that’s near and dear to our hearts at FCR where our employees are called “colleagues.” I like these terms because they have the power to break down walls and hierarchies as we work together as a team to improve the customer experience.

Don’t lose connection with customers

I’ve written many times about Starbucks’ customer service and the way they excel at connecting with their customers. While many initiatives occurred on a grand scale to turn the company around, Schultz also places significant focus on each and every customer interaction. They even reconfigured their stores to make human interaction between baristas and customers more conducive.

Quality over efficiency

Aware of the fact that Starbucks Baristas were frequently sacrificing the quality of beverages in the name of efficiency, Schultz aimed to realign the organization around what’s most important. As a result, they closed 7,000 for a few hours one evening to train their staff on how to properly pull a shot of espresso. The goal was to instill in the team the importance of delivering the same, high quality drink every time to customers, and if it wasn’t right, they were empowered to throw it out and start over. There are many companies that choose quality or efficiency and vice versa and there are definite trade offs to both approaches. While Starbucks was still wise to look for efficiencies, it wasn’t going to be at the expense of the quality of their product.

Customer experience transformation comes from the top

It’s easy to look upon a billionaire leader of a large corporation with a degree of skepticism, as I’m sure many do, but the reality is that any initiative that aims to improve the customer experience will be most successful if it has the complete support of the CEO. This is the best way to ensure that everyone in the organization is aligned and working together to accomplish the transformation goal.


Despite my love for Starbucks, I’m not actually a coffee drinker. I’m a green tea drinker (iced and hot), having given up on Frappuccinos after my doctor told me to (cholesterol). In the book, Schultz talks about the Pike Place Roast that was created during this time of transformation that they began serving every day in each of their stores. The way he described the magic of drinking a cup of this coffee actually made me want to try it —  and I just might on my next visit.


Publish Date: October 20, 2017 5:00 AM

2021 Buyers Guide Speech Technology


Agara is an autonomous virtual voice agent powered by Real-time Voice AI. It is designed to have intelligent conversations with your customers, vendors, and partners without any assistance from human agents. It can handle a wide variety of calls including inbound customer care calls, outbound lead generation calls, appointment scheduling calls, and overdue payment recovery calls.

Agara is available for several industries including banking, insurance, retail, e-commerce, airlines, and telecom. Powered by advanced Real-time Voice AI that understands speech in real-time, automatically determines the right process to follow and guides the caller along in the process with natural conversation.

Call Center Studio

Call Center Studio
Call Center Studio is the world’s first call center built on Google and is one of the most secure and stable systems with some of the industry’s best reporting. It is one of the most full-featured enterprise grade systems (with the most calling features, one of the best call distribution, outbound dialing features and integrations—including IVR, AI Speech Recognition, blended inbound/outbound calling and includes Google’s new Dialogflow and Speech API. Call Center Studio is the absolute easiest to use (with a 10 minute setup), and is the price performance leader with lower equipment cost and less setup time.

Call Tracking Metrics

Execute automated actions based on words spoken by your customer.

Our intelligent word detection and transcription tools make it easier for you to decipher the content of your customer conversations and automate action based on those insights.

Transform the audio of your calls into speaker-organized scripts so you can easily search your call log for specific words from a conversation, or automatically detect when words of intent are spoken by your customer.

Listen in on and highlight common patterns in order to execute triggers to initiate a new action or workflow, such as emailing a manager if the word “cancel” is spoken on a call. You can also set up to automatically redact content from a transcript, such as sensitive health information transmitted on a call.


Daisee builds technology that empowers people to solve problems by making interactions simple and smart so they can have a more significant impact, be more productive and be better at what they do. We believe incremental improvements carry huge potency and provide exponentially greater change for the better.

Genesys customers can now automate risk and quality management using Daisee’s speech and sentiment analytics and remediation workflow software. Daisee helps improve customer experience, ensure regulatory compliance, identify missed commercial opportunities & training requirements as well as provide valuable insights back to the business directly from the frontline – the true voice-of-...
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Advanced speech recognition and natural language expertise that routes callers by simply asking ‘how can I help you?’. It allows customers to use their own words to ask for what they want and steers them to the right place.

Menus are eliminated altogether and contact centres can use a single inbound telephone number.

MattsenKumar LLC

SmartSpeech – The Best In Class Speech Analytics Software

An all-inclusive speech analytics application that enables you to visualize your audio using state-of-the-art speech recognition, transcription, and text analytics technologies.


InTone Suite - Emotion Detection via Voice Analysis
InTone™ is a voice analysis tool geared to detect genuine emotional and cognitive reactions regardless of the speaker’s language or chosen intonation.
It integrates into existing contact center environments and provides realtime indications of both client and agent emotional reactions throughout all ongoing calls. This unique set of indications assists managers and call center representatives to truly understand the client, improve call center performance, easily detect angry calls, elevate training efficiency and provide a tailored customer experience in every single call.

Nemesysco's contact center technology is also available in API and SDK forms.
Please visit our website for information about our product portfolio.

Voci Technologies Incorporated

V-Blaze Speech to Text
Our GPU-accelerated, AI-based technology enables you to deliver greater insights to the contact center by transcribing audio into analyzable text.

- Transcribe large volumes of recorded audio quickly
- Integrate transcripts with your analytics or business intelligence platform
- Reduce your hardware footprint and minimize total cost of ownership


Voxjar is your one-stop-shop for driving better phone calls with your customers. We're a modern Conversation Analytics and Call Coaching Platform.

- Custom Charts and Dashboards give you the freedom to analyze calls from the highest level down to the details of each conversation.

- AI-Powered Speech Analytics transcribes, searches, and analyzes your reps' phone conversations, at scale.

- Quality Assurance and Call Coaching tools let you evaluate and improve agent performance with a human touch.

- Long term recording storage for historical analysis

All of these together provide the holistic, easy-to-use software that you need to manage a modern call team and create better con...
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