After the arrest of two black men in a Philadelphia store, Starbucks announced that 8,000 stores will close on May 29 for racial-bias training. But are some skeptical about the impact that one day of training will have, and the company seems to be imitating Chipotle's decision to close stores for food safety training. On the other hand, the company could have blamed the employee who called the police, a crisis communication strategy we have seem in many other situations.
An article in the New York Times describes racial bias research in hospitality customer service and may tell us more about the incident in Philadelphia. In one study, researchers sent emails to hotels using different names that reflected gender and race, asking for restaurant recommendations. Responses indicated racial bias, as the authors describe: "Hotel employees were significantly more likely to respond to inquiries from people who had typically white names than from those who had typically black and Asian names."
In addition, researchers analyzed "politeness," for example, whether employees wrote "best" or "sincerely" before signing their name. They were more likely to use such words when responding to guests with names that sounded white, and the authors describe another finding for this group:
They were three times as likely to provide extra information — even when the initial inquiry was just about restaurants — to white than to black or Asian people.
In addition to training, the authors suggest periodic customer service audits and consistent scripts and policies.
In a turn, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross has apologized to the two men who were arrested. In his original video, Ross defended the officers actions and said, based on a sergeant's experience at Starbucks, "they are at least consistent in their policy." But in the news conference, Ross says, "shame on me" and "I have to do better."
- What's your view of the research about customer service at hotels? What does the research potentially say about the situation at Starbucks?
- Have you experienced bias in a customer service setting? What was the situation, and how did you handle it?
- How well does Ross handle the apology in the news conference? How does his identity factor into his response? How does he demonstrate authenticity, vulnerability, and other leadership character dimensions?