How Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson is Prioritizing Human Interaction

Kevin Johnson is the president and chief executive officer for Starbucks, passionately and proudly carrying on the Starbucks legacy of human connection in all of his initiatives as he leads over 330,000 Starbucks partners in more than 28,000 stores around the world. 

Since becoming the CEO in April of 2017, heightening human interaction beyond customer service has been at the forefront of Johnson’s projects, believing that shared experiences create common understandings, beliefs and languages. Because of this, those working at Starbucks are referred to as partners, not employees, citing that the term fosters a sense of equality and shared vision. 

At his featured Keynote at NRF 2020, Johnson said that “Starbucks has worked to create a special customer experience grounded in human connection” that “ comes together in a comfortable third place, a community different than home or work.” 

When asked about what inspires him to bring back human interaction in the height of commercial technology, Johnson mentioned his disdain of how this age of unparalleled digital connection has brought with it an age of unprecedented human disconnection.  

“While technology has done many wonderful things, it’s also changed behaviors in a way where people don’t interact with one another nearly as much, which is unhealthy and I think is contributing to a global epidemic of human loneliness. I realize that serving 100 million customers a week at Starbucks means we have at least that many opportunities to enhance human connections and perhaps create that sense of community and a place where people feel more connected face-to-face with other people.” 

This sense of community can be seen not only in traditional Starbucks stores, but in their specialty-focused stores for military families and deaf communities as well. The Starbucks Signing Store and Military Families Stores aim to provide a hyper-welcoming environment for all customers, with particular recognition and support of the local military and deaf communities in the cities the stores are found in. The Starbucks Signing Store is located in Washington D.C., while the Military Family Stores can be found in Austin and El Paso, Texas, Clarksville, Tennessee, Newport, Rhode Island, and Bedford, Massachusetts, all located in military camp and base communities. 

Johnson isn’t only encouraging the creation of micro-communities in stores to heighten customer experience. Starbucks Deep Brew is a technology initiative working on a broad suite of tools to elevate almost every aspect of the business, eventually helping to automate many aspects of the store life. Primarily, it will act as an invisible, super-smart sidekick to baristas to elevate the Starbucks experience for the customer. It can help with tracking inventory, supply chain logistics and replenishment orders, allowing partners extra time to focus on fostering meaningful interactions with customers. With more time dedicated to perfecting customer interactions, Starbucks can create micro-communities in every neighborhood that feel personalized and prioritized. 

Behind every aspect of Johnson’s hopes for Starbucks to headline customer service is his tried and true rapid cycle plan of bringing ideas to implementation in 100 days. Off the bat, Johnson saw the need to perfect new ideas and initiatives for 31,000 stores. Instead of focusing on mass implementation, Johnson recommended working on advancements in levels, measuring success by what you learned at each individual step along the way and perfecting initiatives in one store, learning from the process, and taking that expertise to the next store. 

Johnson’s drive and passion for creating a community can be seen from a mile away. His excitement strengthens Starbucks’ legacy of connection from president to partner and continues to pave the way for the future of technology’s role in human interaction.