You are your company

After placing my usual order at my favorite coffee shop last week, I casually mentioned to the barista that I’d been having trouble with the new mints container. The lid kept popping open and the mints were spilling in my purse. She expressed disappointment and concern, but then leaned in and quietly said (as if she were sharing a secret with me),

“You should totally call corporate and tell them about it.”

I tried to speak, but was so stunned by what I heard, I simply smiled and walked away. When I got out the door, I started laughing in disbelief.

Looking back, when the employee empathized with me, I felt she was concerned and cared about my problem. However, instead of telling me she would pass along my comment, her direction for me to call the corporate office sent the message that she:

  1. didn’t feel empowered to help me with my concern
  2. wanted me to work more/harder than her
  3. viewed herself as separate from the company.

To her benefit, she may have been a new employee — it was my first time seeing her at this store. Yet it still proves a powerful point – to the customer, employees ARE the company. Employees must feel empowered to positively impact customer experiences. Both to make those experiences positive to begin with AND to help redirect them when things aren’t going so well.

We can think through this on many different levels:

  • As an employee, do I think of myself as the face of my company?
  • As a leader, how well do I empower employees?
  • As a marketer, how do I help build frequent customer experience trainings to align with brand objectives?
  • As a customer, what do I expect from companies and their employees?

Making the connection between an employee’s work and the customer’s experience is critical.  When employees feel invested in the outcome, the more they own their part in the process. This is when employees begin to align their personal and professional goals with those of the company, which ultimately benefits everyone, especially the customer.


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  1. Any chance that she was more along the lines of “The more people that complain about it, the better chance corporate would actually DO something about it”?

    That’s how I interpreted her suggestion.

    • Hi Marie, that certainly could have been her intention! I wasn’t so much looking for someone to solve the problem or even change the packaging as I wanted to be heard in that moment. Perception is reality, though, and depending on our own experiences, we could interpret her suggestion in different ways. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  2. I agree that more employees need to take responsibility for brands that employ them. But I think companies have to start listening to their employees more as well in order to avoid the type of reaction you experienced.

    I’ve worked for companies in the past that resoundingly ignored their own employees. It would take a flurry of customer complaints or an external vendor to change the course of direction. The root problem: leadership did not trust the research, judgement and experience of their own employees. Maybe the barista you encountered has no easy way to make her ideas heard. Or even worse, maybe her company ignores her ideas.

    To me, this is a tragedy for the brand too, not just the employee.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Josh. I agree it’s a two-way street. This is not a case of a mad/confused/mis-informed/renegade employee! This was simply a brief moment in time when I asked her something off the menu. Her training and experiences with the company helped prepare her (or not) for that moment… and obviously something was amiss.

  3. This is a great experience to share Missy. It’s a classic example of how culture eats strategy for lunch. I’m sure the corporate strategy is all about serving the customer (I mean, they sell $5 coffee, am I right?) – but something got lost in the mix there. Ms. Barista heard her company say “serve the customer” but perhaps missed a critical tactical element about how the heck to DO that!

    Employees are only able to be effective if they have the right training, the right tools and the right skills to do the job. I’m going to guess she got the training and has the skills, but something was missing from the tool box. It’s a great reminder that strategy is only as good as it is executed at the ground level.

    • Thanks Molly! The interesting piece that I commend the employee for is she had a sincere desire to help and offer a solution. It just wasn’t pointed in the right direction (which would be back at herself).

  4. I’m lucky to work somewhere (St. Catherine University) where everybody really is the company and expresses pride and joy in their work. No wonder I think of it as the best place I’ve ever worked.

  5. This is a great reminder that it’s the little things that make a brand memorable, whether good or bad. Of course it makes me paranoid about when I misstep with my brand, but nonetheless, thanks for the reminder and great post!

    • Sasha (aka Fabuliss), you are in a unique position because you are THE company, not just one person. Of course that means that you get to decide how to manage difficult situations and how far you will go to make your clients happy. A big part of your work is gaining the trust of your clients that you have their best interest at heart. And the results you give them are tangible. No need to be paranoid! Thanks for the comment.

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