Updated: Feb 4
I don’t recall the last time I discussed customer service with my employees. If I did, it was maybe regarding how to handle a complaint. I know for certain it has never been emphasized by me or my leadership team. Not once in the nearly four years we’ve been open.
We recently received our 200th review on Google. With an average rating of 4.8, most of those reviews are 5 stars. The top two compliments? Quality and customer service.
I don’t believe in a “cookie cutter” model, or a standard 10-step process, for running a successful small business. Most small businesses will closely represent the personality and experience of the owner. In other words, a small business is individualized.
We are a product of our experience, education, and upbringing. The life experiences and education which shaped how I view running a small business are certainly different from other business owners. I’ll provide details on this in future articles.
The employees of The Coffee Shelf are my most important asset. Everything else which goes into the running of my business is secondary. They are more important than my financial results, and they are more important than my customers.
The focus of this three part series is to show you what that looks like. It’s all fine and good to state, to even believe, your employees are the most important asset to your company. But how does one implement this?
In this first part I’ll explain the atmosphere in The Coffee Shelf. How my policies are implemented to create a relaxed and fun atmosphere.
In part two, I’ll provide examples where there was conflict between employee and customer, and how that was resolved in a manner which clearly defined where the employee stands with my company.
And in part three, I’ll provide examples where time and effort given to the employees reinforces their value as a member of my company.
My employee policy, rules, and guidelines might be considered lax by some, but mostly they are what you might read at any other business. It’s the implementation of a policy which can make or break a team, not the policy itself.
Here’s just a few examples of what it’s like to work at The Coffee Shelf.
Being on time for work. This is not emphasized very often. Our employees know to communicate if they are running late. The emphasis is getting to work safe, not breaking speed limits to prevent a lecture from your boss. When an employee is late, they are greeted with, “Welcome to work. How’s your day been?”
If there is a trend of being late feedback will be provided. Otherwise it is forgotten.
Employees are allowed to have their smartphones out and use them while on shift (only if all work is complete and no customers are present). Shift Supervisors and Managers provide guidance on this, and kindly redirect if work is not getting done.
Taking pictures during work and sharing funny videos is encouraged.
Employees are permitted to take breaks without having to clock out, and they are permitted to go grab food within a short driving distance, again, without having to clock out.
The relaxed, fun atmosphere is established on day one. We call our training program Low Stress Training. In the middle of the first day of training we will often pause and get to know the new team member. And new employees are told it is okay to come back the next day and ask the exact same questions. Another way to describe our training; self-paced learning in a structured environment.
There are no set scripts at the register. We emphasize knowing one’s trade as a Barista, and using that knowledge to work with the customer. The presentation is up to each individual employee.
Note. This is customer engagement, which we do indeed emphasize at The Coffee Shelf. There is much more to great customer service. Customer engagement is but one part of the overall customer experience. And to emphasize the point; the customer experience at The Coffee Shelf is above and beyond simply because our employees love their job.
Shift Supervisors are trained to assist, not direct. The primary focus of a Shift Supervisor is to ensure the team on shift is doing well and has a positive experience. The secondary focus of a Shift Supervisor is the smooth operation of the shift.
We also provide our employees with an opportunity to participate in the business.
Because we are a bookstore and a coffee shop, all of our Baristas are encouraged to create a formula and name it after a literary character. Then they get to see how well their concoction sells. This is something they really enjoy.
Our bakers are encouraged to create new items.
If an employee provides a good idea, it is implemented. Here are three from the past two years.
Three of my employees wanted a chalkboard menu instead of the printed one we had originally. I agreed and we all worked together on the construction in my garage. It was fun.
One of our employees mentioned expanding our tea offerings. We did so.
Recently, our Assistant Manager mentioned a 10 percent discount on Tuesdays if a customer shows us our website on their device. This has been implemented.
I understand if you have doubts about implementing this philosophy. It is easier said that done. After nearly four years in business I can present the results I've witnessed at The Coffee Shelf. We get asked if there are openings for a job almost daily. Clearly the word is out in the community. Most important to me, the employees of The Coffee Shelf love their job. They rarely give up shifts, and often ask for more shifts.
It’s fun to be a Barista at The Coffee Shelf. When a customer walks in the door they can immediately feel the positive atmosphere from our employees. It’s infectious. They are greeted by a person behind the register who is happy. This naturally carries over to great customer service.
To say we are a strong team is an understatement. We are close. We all work well together, we socialize outside of work, and we are a support network for one another when life happens.
This does not happen overnight. It requires a leader who is focused on treating the employees as the most important aspect of the business. It requires true caring for the welfare of those working for you. It requires you to demand more from those you promote to leader. Refer to my article on Entitlement.
It’s okay to hold your employees to standards. It’s okay to hold them accountable when they go off course. If you do this with love and caring, you will earn their trust and loyalty. And you will gain so much more. You will gain a larger family in the process.
Part two coming soon.