Interview with Starbucks


Starbucks is renowned for making employees their first priority. There is a popular quote about Starbucks that states “in the business of People that happened to be serving coffee”. In the US, we understand that Starbucks even extends its insurance coverage to their part time staff. We spoke to Mr Sydney Quays, the Managing Director of Starbucks Malaysia, to find out more.

Why does Starbucks go the extra mile to take care of their employees?
We believe that our partners (employees) are our biggest assets and we take pride in taking care of them, making them an integral part of the company. Here at Starbucks®, we groom talented partners with our outstanding training and development programs. Most of our store partners are food service professionals and college students, and what they all have in common is their passion for great coffee and quality customer service, which ultimately helps them to bond as a family and build satisfying careers at Starbucks. The commitment of our partners is a major reason why we are recognised as the leading specialty coffee company and the industry benchmark in Malaysia.

Tell us about the Starbucks culture.
At Starbucks, we are not in the coffee business serving people, we are in the people business serving coffee. We want to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighbourhood at a time. From our coffee to our customers, we care deeply because it is not just a job, it is our passion. Our work goes far beyond that, it is really about human connection. Our company’s culture revolves around people and we manage our business through the ‘lens of humanity’. For example, we do not call our people employee or staff but we call ourselves PARTNERS. The word ‘partner’ means working together, giving the sense of belonging as a team and family. Our partners set out to create a great 2nd place working environment for each other and provide the preferred 3rd place to our customers. This type of culture enables the partners to perform at their best when delivering World Class Customer Service to highly satisfied customers and this ultimately results in good business.

“At Starbucks, we are not in the coffee business serving people, we are in the people business serving coffee.”

Photo courtesy of Starbucks

From our observation and the public’s feedback, the employees at your recently opened Starbucks Brunei seem to be very competent, exude very positive energy and provide consistently good customer service in spite of having to manage a high volume of customers at certain times. What kind of training, empowerment and reward mechanism do you have in place which leads to such high standards? 
With strong Employer Branding, robust teaching and development programs, as well as fun work environments, we are able to attract and retain talented people. Retention starts from hiring the right talent; hence, we have trained our hiring managers to recruit candidates that have the desired attitude. To ensure our service quality is always on top, we invest a lot in the training of every employee including part-timers, empowering them with the necessary skills and knowledge.

With the majority of Generation Y in the workforce, the Recognition and Award system has shifted to become more personal and situational and it has been proven to be the top motivator of employees’ performance. Starbucks has introduced formal and informal, planned and spontaneous, tangible and intangible recognition; focusing on acknowledging our partner’s desired behavior, efforts and achievements. The talents nowadays also strive for opportunities to connect with something bigger hence, we provide the platform for example, connecting them with the community that matches their values.

How has the Brunei’s market responded to Starbucks being here?
We are happy to say that Brunei’s reception to Starbucks was strong, and we received a lot of feedback from Bruneians even before we began construction. Starbucks has been wanting to establish a branch in Brunei for a long time and finally we found the right time to enter. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Brunei for supporting our brand. Since the first day we opened in Mabohai Mall, loyal followers were seen at our stores because of their product knowledge and understanding of our brand. One of the key features of our store is the ‘slow bar’ which allows customers to enjoy their favorite Starbucks® whole bean coffee, using the traditional Pour-Over brewing method; and an exclusive interior design which includes leather sofas, raw wooden stools, and fine carpet providing a cosy environment that encourages human connection. We call this the 3rd place.

Starbucks Coffee at Mabohai Shopping Complex, Brunei

What can we expect from Starbucks Brunei in the next 5 years?
Starbucks will be opening the second store in Beribi and looking at the response from our customers, we are looking to explore the Drive-Thru concept here in Brunei to provide convenience aside from a cosy environment. Also, for those who bring their own tumblers, they will be able to enjoy BND 0.50 off their drinks. We are focusing on the quality of our service and products and not store numbers but we do aim to open a few more stores in the next few years.

For those people who have not yet visited Starbucks – what kind of experience should they expect? What food and beverage would you recommend?
We understand that different people have different preferences, so at Starbucks besides serving coffee one cup at a time, we allow customisation – you can create your own beverage. Customers can personalise their own drinks, if you are lactose intolerant you can opt to use soy milk; for coffee lovers you can add a shot of vanilla to your latte to enhance the flavour. We want to provide a third place with World Class Customer Service to all. Do visit our store and try our real wholesome muffin best paired with our famous Caramel Macchiato.

This article was published in the Jul-Sept 2014 issue of Inspire Magazine. Download it here!