This is the third in a 5-post series, How to Deliver World-Class Customer Experiences – Leading the Starbucks Way, as we continue through the business concepts in my book Leading the Starbucks Way: 5 Principles to Connect with Your Customers, Your Products, and Your People.
In the context of my principle, Reach for Common Ground, I highlight two competing perspectives held by cultural anthropologists – universalism and cultural relativism. While the words are daunting, the concepts are straightforward. Universalism suggests that the underlying similarities of all people are greater than cultural differences. By contrast, cultural relativism asserts that cultural differences have the most profound effect on people making it difficult for “outsiders” to fully understand a relevant context of behavior. While anthropologists may argue about universalism or cultural relativism, most business owners and leaders are not interested in winning a debate. Instead, we need to scale our business to maximize commonalities while making local adjustments to ensure market acceptance.
In Leading the Starbucks Way, I share a conversation I had with Michelle Gass. At that time, Michelle was president of Starbucks EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa). Since then, Michelle and I connected to talk about leading in the context of COVID – given her current position as CEO of Kohl’s.
During our Starbucks conversation, Michelle shared, “The balance between the universal and the local is much more an art than it is a science. We have global brand standards and my expectation is that our leaders will have the Starbucks brand in their blood so they can make good decisions. I think you have to be relevant while creating an experience that is still undeniably Starbucks.”
Much of the art in scaling a business across geographical borders (whether those borders are towns, states, or countries) is determining transcendent customer needs versus local preferences. Regarding universally shared needs – in Leading the Starbucks Way, I explored how Starbucks leaders seek to have every customer:
- Feel Seen and Heard
- Experience Personalized Care
- Receive Goods and Services Conveniently
- Be Appreciated
- Feel Connected
By contrast, the book discussed, customer preferences that required local adjustments like:
- Flavor profiles
- Cultural celebrations and rituals
- The formality of service
- Social mores that affect marketing or service delivery.
As you widen your base of operation or consider doing so, here are a few universalist/cultural relativist challenge questions for you to consider:
- In your business, what factors do you consider to be “one size fits all?”
- What elements need to be nuanced based on local preferences?
- How do you determine if you should vary your offering or drive consistency across locations?
- Moreover, how do you maintain your brand identity while customizing to address regional or local needs?