This week, Starbucks faced another discrimination case and accusation. The first case was in 2018, the coffee shop company was accused of racial discrimination because two black men were arrested in a Starbucks store while waiting for someone for a business meeting at the coffee shop store. As we explained in a previous case study, the two men were accused of trespassing just because of their skin color. 

Two years later, in July 2020, Starbucks faced this time a Religious Discrimination, when a 19-year-old Muslim girl who wears a hijab complained after a barista at Starbucks in Minnesota wrote ‘ISIS’ on her drink cup in place of her name Aishah. 

When the girl complained, the employee claimed that she didn’t hear the name correctly. When she asked to speak to the manager, the latter didn’t try to solve the situation and told her that she was overreacting, and people get their names wrong all the time. The only thing the manager did was giving her a free drink, and a $25 gift card.

Aisha explained that when she ordered her drink, she repeated her name twice and slowly. She felt enraged and humiliated, since this situation is considered as Islamophobia, and Aishah is not an unknown name in the US. 

The incident happened in a Starbucks branch that was operated by Target store when the girl demanded that the manager and the barista lose their job, Target apologized and called the situation as  “unfortunate mistake” and the employee will undergo a training program, even she has never heard of ISIS.

The first discrimination case affected Starbucks a lot because it was published in social media, and people reacted to it and promised to boycott the coffee shop. Starbucks dealt with the situation with more seriousness, because of the brand attack they got, and closed their shops for a day and gave 175,000 employees a training program on understanding racial bias. 

Aishah’s case didn’t get attention, because few people talked about it on social media. A minority of people sympathized with her, it was basically just Muslims of America. 

We are here to discuss Starbucks’ reaction from a Marketing perspective. The first time, people applauded their Social Media Listening, and crisis management, because their reaction was fast, and seemed genuine. Their decision to close nearly 900 shops and train their employees was copied by many other companies. 

How to Deal with a Crisis before it ends up on Social Media?

This time, they showed some irreverence concerning the situation, because they didn’t receive a backlash on social media, where it’s easy to have a huge crisis that may affect the whole company. And instead of being grateful that the situation didn’t go bad or out of control, they preferred to deny it until the girl decided to sue them.

A crisis shouldn’t be taken lightly, there are many rules to follow, and to set up, to avoid a brand attack:

  • Crises escalate at lightning speed, and it’s usually due to social media.

When you face a problem with a customer in your stores, try to fix it, and find a solution with him before he takes it to social media because in the store no one will know, however on social media, you will be exposed in front of millions of people, and instead of facing one critic, and one person complaining, you will be in front many bad reviews, comments and even articles talking about you. 

  • The apology comes first. 

A genuine apology can avoid adding fuel to the fire and delay the crisis.

  • Never try to come up with excuses

If you don’t have proof that the customer is wrong, never try to acquit yourself, by giving silly excuses, like saying the employee never heard of ISIS. Accept your responsibility, and be accountable for what the employees do and say. 

  • Discrimination is a killer crisis

Avoid any sensitive topic, religion, skin color and politics can close your business. As far as Starbucks is concerned, this crisis will not impact them, but they may be labeled as a racist company since it’s not the first time it happens. 

If you were at the Starbucks crisis management team place, what would you do, and what actions you deem suitable when you face a crisis? 

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