Starbucks made headlines in 2014 when it announced its College Achievement Plan, which allowed any employee who worked at least 20 hours a week to earn a bachelor’s college degree with full tuition coverage.
Venture-backed food startup Sweetgreen, which says it aims to become the “Starbucks of real food,” makes their restaurant employees feel listened to and engaged with daily “Sweet Talks” (a version of pep talks), annual retreats, and lots of interaction with corporate employees — all of whom work shifts in their restaurants when the seasonal menu changes.
These two companies may showcase different tactics for frontline employee engagement, but the general thought is similar — happy employees make for happy customers.
Empowering employees does translate to a better frontline experience, a McKinsey case study found.
“Every company has a DNA: the mission, the vision, and the values. What I’ve learned is how those three things shape the way that people work, the engagement of people, and how that affects the customer,” says Wendy Wood.
Wood recently joined on-demand moving company Bellhops as their Vice President of People, where she oversees all internal initiatives around people and places — recruitment, hiring, benefits, culture, new offices, and more.
Previously, she worked at a host of companies with significant frontline teams, including the aforementioned two. Wood actually worked on the rollout of the Starbucks College Achievement Plan and was at Sweetgreen as the company saw rapid expansion across the country. She also spent time at Walmart, where the vast majority of the workforce is in stores.
“I believe you can make work on the frontline really, really meaningful and fun and customer-centric,” she says. “The corporate office should be a support center.”
Despite her varied experience, Bellhops is Wood’s first company with a gig economy-based business model. The eponymous Bellhops movers work when they want, however much they want, scheduling their shifts through an app.
It’s one of the better-paying gig economy jobs, according to Bellhops representatives. On average, bellhops make about $21 per hour (including bonus and tip). And in Wood’s initial surveys, she says the one thing they all ask for is “continued flexibility on the job.”
But she does want to continue digging in to figure out what the company can do to make being a bellhop a relevant and desirable role.
“They’re my number-one customer,” says Wood. “When we think something new is needed, we go to both customers — the actual moving customer and our bellhops.”
“It can’t feel like your corporate office is an ivory tower,” says Wood. Similarly to Sweetgreen, corporate employees often join workers out in the field to help on moves.
One corporate employee says he’s worked dozens of moves.
Bellhops currently employs over 200 full-time corporate employees and is growing in both of their offices: a Chattanooga headquarters and a newly-opened Atlanta office with about 40.
Meanwhile, their service markets continue to expand: just this year, they have added over 20 cities to reach 55 markets across 27 states.