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Starbucks Emphasizes Customer Connections

COLORADO SPRINGS — A big measure of Starbucks’ success results from connecting with consumers and adjusting strategies based on feedback, according to executives from the company who addressed the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s Executive Conference here last week.

The opportunities to connect have ranged from conversations in Starbucks outlets to interactions on social media, executives said.

“Our model works because we appeal to consumers and connect with them,” said Mary Wagner, senior vice president, Global Research and Development/Quality and Regulatory, Starbucks Coffee Co.

“Our baristas interact one-on-one with customers, and in-store conversations can then transfer to products for CPG,” she said.

Starbucks has some 70 million Facebook fans, and 50 million are in the United States, she added.

“We get instant consumer feedback from Facebook and Twitter, and these interactions with consumers allow us to adjust our directions,” said Ric Schneider, senior vice president, Global Procurement.

Starbucks operates in 60 countries with more than 17,000 stores.

The company’s international footprint is driven by a global supply chain.

“We have between 83,000 and 90,000 deliveries a week globally to our stores,” Schneider said.

The company’s sourcing seeks out suppliers that share values centered on community and humanity.

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“There’s a short list of these providers, so we help develop them on the technical side,” he said.

Starbucks also strives to build a workforce that meshes well with its culture, and the company partners with universities to help get the right talent.

“We want to teach what it means to be effective in the Starbucks organization,” Schneider said.

He added that when employees start at Starbucks, they’re told not to worry about being successful all the time. If they are, “they’re not taking enough risks.”

Another element of the company culture is being lean and agile. For example, there are only 40 employees working in the U.S. research and development operation, a fact that allows it to stay nimble, Wagner said.

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