Learn from Your Customers: Walking an Hourly Shift in Their Shoes
My career in business began at an unconventional location: the Brewhouse Grill in Hermosa Beach, Calif. Fresh out of college, I worked there as a waitress. And while that may seem to have little to do with my present career as a tech executive, I consistently draw upon the experiences and lessons of that first job in my daily professional and personal life.
As the COO of Snagajob, which connects hourly workers and employers in the service industry, I wanted to expand our executive leadership team’s internal and professional boundaries by spending a day in the shoes of our customers (the hourly workers and employers who use our software and online platforms). In our ongoing effort to build meaningful experiences for hourly employees by understanding our customers, we took on hourly shifts right alongside them. Each of us chose a local employer that most resembled the first job each of us had.
That’s why our CEO flipped burgers at a local Five Guys and I joined the team at The Greene Turtle as a bartender and server. I was curious to see if I still had the chops to keep up with the fast-paced world of restaurant work, and how my experience as a tech executive might help me rise to that challenge. Over the course of my shift, I learned exactly how being an hourly worker and waitress prepared me to be a successful product manager and company leader. As a result, here are four key lessons every business owner can learn from hourly work and take back to their office.
1. Get into the customer’s head
During my shift, I experienced firsthand what motivates, frustrates, and inspires our core customer, the hourly worker. My favorite part was getting to connect with each employee to learn about who they were: a full-time student working to complete his business degree, and a mother working to support her 5-year-old daughter. Through their stories, I was able to see how these individuals approached their hourly jobs, what they got from the experience, and how they handled the challenges. This reinforced my own day-to-day mission: to create seamless technology that puts people into the right-fit positions so they can maximize their potential and lead more fulfilling lives.
I spend a lot of time thinking about the needs and behaviors of our customers. But I rarely have the chance to live their experience, and I was reminded just how important this kind of regular connection with our customers is.
2. Hospitality is always important
My shift at The Greene Turtle illustrated how hospitality is the bedrock of all industries. The staff were generous with their time and expertise, training and guiding me through every step of my shift. Even as the line at the bar stretched longer and the customers’ demands grew louder, the crew helped keep me calm under pressure.
This particular team had a strong rapport, and their warm, welcoming attitude radiated in their interactions with each other and their customers (even the demanding ones). Every minute, each team member skillfully observed the restaurant to see if a customer or fellow worker might need special attention—a top hospitality sector skill that optimizes the dining experience for customers, creates a safer environment for workers, and vastly improves efficiency.
The conscientious care that The Greene Turtle staff brought to their jobs was incredibly valuable—and transferable—to any sector and across business settings. I returned to my office the next day vowing to bring that same focus on hospitality into my own workplace. Do my product team members have everything they need to succeed? Am I doing everything I can to show my appreciation for my employees, both individually and as a team? Do I offer enough personal training and guidance?
3. Hourly work is hard work
Hourly work, whether it involves pouring beers or driving for a ride-sharing service, takes concentration, dedication, and skill. I was embarrassed to discover that, despite my past experience as a waitress, I struggled to properly pour a beer. No question, restaurant work requires intense concentration, attention to detail, and patience.
The hundreds of tasks I saw hourly workers perform simultaneously renewed my appreciation for the collaborative multitasking required of us in all of our jobs. Serving in a restaurant is at its core a human interaction, and the last thing we want technology to do is get in the way of people connecting. Back in my office, I thought about how I could better guide and encourage collaboration among our engineers and designers as they create new features and products that enhance and simplify our customers’ lives.
4. Teamwork is everything
In an hourly shift setting, there is an art to working “on the floor” with other team members, sensing what they need, helping them manage responsibilities, even moving out of the way when needed. When orders were ready for two of my tables at the same time, a co-worker kindly stepped in to help carry the food so that all the guests were served quickly.
Whether your particular team is composed of a waitress and a bartender, or an engineer and a product manager, people who work gracefully together will always bring the best results. This lesson transcends industries and positions, and applies to everyone from entry-level to CEO.
My journey from the boardroom to the bar and back was incredibly rewarding, thought-provoking, and fun. I hope my experience encourages you to take a moment to appreciate everything that hourly workers do. Moreover, in our roles as managers, franchisees, executives and team leaders, let’s recommit to understanding our customers, building meaningful experiences for them, and remembering to ask ourselves: What does it feel like to spend a day in our customer’s shoes?
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