Since the Starbucks culture reboot of the early 2000s, coffee shop culture op-eds have become ubiquitous, but they always seem to focus on the wrong things when analyzing those customer experience successes. When I patronize a cafe, the first thing I look for is whether the baristas are happy. Forget whether they remember my name or my order, the most important question is “Do they look like they want to be there?”
I remember visiting a coffee shop in Union Square, one I had never visited before, and despite being slammed, every single employee looked like they were enjoying themselves. After I left, one of them found me halfway down the block to switch the coffee in my hand with the one I’d actually ordered. Let me reiterate—I had never been there before and a complete stranger in a busy shop took the time to track me down, correct a mistake, and make my day that much better. That’s the power of a great employee culture on the customer experience. It’s what we, as business owners and managers, are chasing every day.
So, how do you eliminate the chase and promote a positive and engaged employee culture? It comes down to three things: trust, communication, and ownership.
As a group, your employees rely on a set of unspoken, unwritten rules for survival. Over their tenure, they’ve learned how to steer, swerve, and pivot alongside your management practices and policies. They decide whether to support an initiative or let it die a slow, meandering death. But here’s the catch; it all depends on trust, and we all know how difficult that is to earn.
The fastest, most reliable way to build trust is to make verifiable, measurable, and achievable commitments. Start slowly and make promises to your employees that you can not only keep, but exceed. Remember to include initiatives that also improve the employee experience. Once you’ve established that initial baseline, you can afford to take on larger projects and initiatives and receive more substantial, consistent support from your employees.
When building and maintaining those levels of trust, communicate with your employees regularly and thoroughly. As Stan Slap, author of Under The Hood, states, you have to light the path forward a little bit at a time, making sure to highlight what is and is NOT changing. Big changes entail big risk, so it’s important to maintain confidence and trust by being open. Reciprocate the trust you expect from your staff through honesty and transparency regarding how a new initiative will operate, what will be expected of them, and how they can contribute.
Active participants with a stake in a project will have a vested interest in its success. Encourage your employees to not just contribute their knowledge to existing programs, but to bring their own ideas to the job to make it better. Passion and enthusiasm are contagious—foster those feelings by supporting employee-led initiatives, whether that’s an idea for a new product or founding a charity group. Enable them to take ownership and lead within the company. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed by the results.
These three efforts build on and sustain one another, so the stronger you make each of them, the more engaged and successful your employees, and as a result, your business will be. A culture that trusts, supports, and contributes to the company is one that will provide excellent customer experiences. A great customer experience is a direct reflection of how an employee feels about not just their job, but the entire company. And whether customers consciously acknowledge it or not, they understand the subtle difference in an employee culture that gives them a wonderful experience versus just a good one.
One of my favorite sayings is: What’s happening on the inside of an organization is felt on the outside by the customers. This article proves that point. The companies known for customer service know it starts with employee culture.