What Providence can learn from Starbucks

Dave Olsen crop arrow I recently had a few minutes to talk with retired Starbucks executive Dave Olsen about why he serves as a member of the Providence board. I loved his response.

After getting to know Providence, he said, “I called a colleague at Starbucks and said, ‘You know that values-driven organization we’ve been wanting to find? I think I found it.’”

That says a lot coming from a man who spent 27 years shaping the culture and iconic customer experience that Starbucks is famous for today. We are very fortunate at Providence to have a rich culture that other organizations would love to call their own.

I hope you’ll take a moment to watch this eight-minute interview with Dave.  It’s great to hear his thoughts on:

  • Why he’s so impressed with the Providence culture
  • What we might be able to learn from the Starbucks experience
  • Why he thinks the term caregiver is a meaningful way to refer to everyone who works for Providence regardless of whether they deliver direct patient care or play a support role

What do you think we can learn from retail brands?
I know serving coffee is not nearly as complex as delivering health care but I think it’s important to learn from the experiences of retail brands as we work to ease the way of the patients we serve.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on learning from the retail sector. Whether it was a great hotel stay or a convenient online shopping experience, what experiences have you had as a consumer that blew you away that you think we can emulate? Or is there a specific activity that your clinic or department is doing to ease the way of those we serve?

I encourage you to get the conversation started in the comments below.


  1. It’s great to hear senior leaders of Providence putting out a message and setting priorities so aligned with our mission. It bouys my own energy and commitment. It may sound campy but ultimately this world will only be saved by Love. Love takes on many forms and each caregiver at Providence has the ability to shape our culture (“the way we do things”) from a place within themselves that truly can change things for the betterment of all. Thanks!

  2. You never know where the next great idea, or innovative concept might come from. I love that we are looking around us, beyond just healthcare to find inspiration about how we might better care for those we are privileged to work with.

    Thank you for challenging us all to not just think outside the box, but to step outside of it.


  3. What Starbucks does well and could be emulated is a totally consistent brand and retail experience; every place is the same . . . even in Paris. But the difference is so total is frightens me. They sell a product nobody needs, for prices many can’t afford and, still, many people want. No one wants to need medical care; we must not price ourselves at the top of the market seeking huge profits, and we should hope to minimize the number of times our services are needed….hence the comparison’s discomfort to me.

  4. Thank you, all. Some great ideas and insights here. Really appreciate you taking the time to read the post and share your thoughts. Looking forward to more of these exchanges. Have a great day, everyone.

  5. Hello ~

    Great choice with Starbucks!
    Transparent pricing, regulated environment, large global supply chain to manage, recent failure and successful turnaround, analytics for trending and decisions, good technology. All things at Starbucks we can learn from.

    Thankfully Starbucks came up with ways to minimize spills of hot coffee so their coffee drinkers don’t burn themselves and need to go to hospital. 🙂

    Prices are transparent to their coffee lover. Their baristas don’t say “don’t worry, your insurance will cover it” as I recently experienced in multiple doctor appointments in recent weeks. I wouldn’t buy a latte’ and wait for my invoice at end of month and find out how much it cost me, or cost my insurance. We’re on the road to helping consumers research pricing and make different selections, a long way to go to be fully transparent.

    Starbucks and Providence both live with regulated environments, Providence much more. Starbucks has regulated restaurant environment, problaby regulated for trucking product over state lines and import regs for country boundaries.

    Starbucks has a huge global supply chain that has to be managed well so their product gets to each site on time. The stores are small and don’t have a lot of space to stock up extra inventory. Their product has a shelf life. Seems familiar. Providence is large, has shelf life of medical supplies, economies of scale available, might we learn from Starbucks supply chain management? (And might we teach them?) They also live their values by sourcing from fair trade farmers in other parts of the world.

    Starbucks failed in recent years, not just because of the economic recession but also due to the company straying too far away from it’s base and what it’s consumers wanted. Lost a lot of business. Schultz had to step back in and turn the company right so the aroma once again could be smelled when entering the store’s doors. His book “Onward” is an incredible read of a leader being transparent of how he and others turning the company back around.

    What if Providence and all of healthcare looked at recent years as “failing” our consumer? And, now we are “turning ourselves around to something new and more appealing to our healthcare consumers?” Some tough decisions to turn the place around — and they had support of great metrics and analytics (per stories in Schultz book) which we could use a lot more of to know how we are doing and be able to benchmark (i.e. Shared Services areas)

    Starbucks has mastered social media to their advantage — their users engage with them via social media (give them product and service ideas!)

    So much to look at when using Starbucks for a learning partner.

    Thanks for the video blog!~
    Diana Lilla

  6. I previously worked for a large national retailer with a great reputation for customer service. Like most companies, they recorded customer service phone calls for training purposes.

    But the recordings weren’t just listened to by call center personnel. Leaders across the organization could sign up for a listening session and hear first-hand how our products and services were and were not meeting customer needs and expectations.

    I think something similar could be valuable for Providence.

  7. Hi Dr. Hochman,
    For me as a consumer, Starbucks offers some important attributes that keep me coming back. I get a consistent cup of coffee – maybe not my absolute favorite but one I can count on and with a host of available choices. No request is too picky! Quality is publicly guaranteed – no guilt about asking for a redo. Service is almost always friendly and is consistenly respectful. The food choices include indulgences and healthy options. Pretty much everything I need to know is right there at the counter, including clearly marked prices and specials. The environment is pleasant and the bathrooms are clean. Drive-through service is a nice plus. In terms of early innovation, Starbucks started branding its products as fair trade before the term was really fully understood and also pays a fair wage with benefits for many part-timers. The brand is unique and reliable.

    As you say, there is no direct comparison between food service and health care (with apologies to Dr. Gawande and the Cheesecake Factory!) but there are principles that can transfer across industry platforms.

    I like the idea of blogs open to cargiver comments – looking forward to more posts.

  8. Hi Dr. Hochman:

    I really enjoyed your piece with Dave Olsen of Starbucks. Medicine has for far far too long done a poor job of being “patient centered”. We have historically been more focused on doctors, or hospitals; we can do more to make the healthcare system for more responsive to patient’s needs, and to make their interaction with the healthcare system more seemless and hassle free. More and more transparency is coming, for example, particularly around the cost of care which remains opaque – in fact many patient’s final overall impression of their healthcare experience they received is dependent upon their interaction with the accounting and billing departments. If one of these touch points is not up to snuff then this peppers the whole experience. We all have to pick up a paddle and row this boat.

    Starbucks gets it, they offer a reliable, consistent, good product with great service. They have been successful in perpetuating this culture across thousands of stores which is no small accomplishment.

    I look forward to more posts. Thanks.


  9. Dear Mr. Hochman,
    Thank you for giving me this opportunity. It is my first time blogging as well. I am a 23 year employee of Providence. One thing that I love about the Providence culture is they are willing to try new and innovative ways to care for our patients. I am the Coordinator of Faith Community Nursing. It is specialized nursing that provides health education and resources to communities through health ministry outreach. As we know, this is vital in today’s health care system. The problem, there are no other Faith Community Nurse Resource Centers across the Providence regions. What are the chances of this nursing specialty growing within Providence? Thank you for your time. Sincerely, Marlise James RN, MSN, Faith Community Nurse Coordinator