I really respect the people who work at Starbucks. Dealing with the daily hordes of under-caffeinated control freaks ordering their Extra Hot Grande Triple Shot decaf with sugar free vanilla, extra white mocha, no whip, no foam, extra chocolate drizzle marble mocha macchiatos is no easy task and requires a special kind of patience along with a freakishly good memory.

Memorizing those orders is hard enough, but angry customers could make anyone snap. That’s what Starbucks’ executives struggled with as the company expanded. They wanted to grow rapidly, but didn’t want customer service quality to drop.

Dealing with an angry customer requires tremendous willpower. You can’t raise your voice, you have to fix their problems and you have to smile. You also can’t bludgeon them with an espresso cup. That’s bad for business.

What makes this especially hard is that willpower is a finite thing. Each time you hit that willpower muscle, it gets a little more tired. Like muscles, it is possible to increase your willpower. You can exercise it (e.g. work out) or you can make things easier (e.g. automate things so you don’t think).

Starbucks tried a number of different things to increase willpower that ranged from gym memberships to diet programs. They didn’t work.

Finally, they figured it out. They automated things. They had employees write out their responses to tough scenarios and had them practice their responses over and over again in role playing situations. When things did happen, the training would kick in and the employees could rely on their automatic responses.

Starbucks employees now spend at least 50 hours in the classroom in their first year of employment. Hours more are spent going through workbooks and with their mentors. Starbucks may be in the business of selling coffee, but their biggest export is willpower.

The same skills required to deal with angry customers are no different from those required to cut back on spending. Every day, you will have things you need to buy, things you want to buy and things you’ll buy to make you feel better about life.

Starbucks has something called the LATTE method for dealing with angry customers:

  • Listen
  • Acknowledge the problem
  • Take problem-solving action
  • Thank them, and
  • Explain what you’ve done

I’m going to coin the RICH method for dealing with spending:

  • Realize the cue
  • Imagine your response
  • Carry it out
  • High-five yourself

Realize your cue: Want spending is triggered by something and always started with “When I…”

Imagine your response: Once you’ve realized your trigger, take some time to imagine how you are going to react. It starts with recalling what you’ve written done and then visualizing it in your head. If you are heading out somewhere where you might be tempted to spend more (e.g. Vegas), then visualizing your reactions beforehand will help when the time comes.

Carry it out: In the words of Michael Jordan, “Just do it.”

High-five yourself: Celebrate your small victory. High five yourself (I guess this would be a clap), pat yourself on the back, jazz hands, do a little dance, whatever. Just a little positive reinforcement is all you need to continue creating that habit.

Action Jackson

Whenever possible, I’m going to include some action steps at the end of each article for actions that you can take to build good habits, increase your wealth and/or become happier. I’d love it if you reported what you did in the comments, but if you’re shy (it’s ok) and still want to share, e-mail me. I want to hear about it!

If you have forty-eight seconds: Watch this video, think happy thoughts and make some Jazz Hands.

If you have five minutes: Write out this mad-lib. Whenever I [trigger], instead of [action involving product/service], I will [free (ideally) or cheaper action] and reward myself by [free reward action]. Once you’ve done that, post it on your door to remind yourself and practice practice practice!.


Whenever I walk by a Starbucks, instead of buying myself a drink, I will keep walking past it and celebrate by doing some Jazz Hands when I walk by.

If you have twenty minutes: Come up with as many scenarios as you can for the above. As always, practice, practice, practice!


Baumeister, R; Bratslavsky, E; Muraven, M; Tice, D. Ego-Depletion: Is the Active Self a Limited Resource?  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 1998. http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/74/5/1252/

Duhigg, C. The Power of Habit. New York, NY: Random House, Inc., 2012.

Dunn, E; Gilbert, D; Wilson, T. If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right.  Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2011. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1057740811000209

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rudolf_schuba/473295245/