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Using Pal’s Sudden Service model can make you famous for service, staff retention

(EDITORIAL) Winner of the 2001 Malcolm Baldridge Quality Award — the first restaurant to do so — Pal’s is a fan favorite with a turnover rate a third lower than the industry average. Here’s how they do it.

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It’s no accident

Regardless of your business, its focus is on people: the people you engage as customers, served by the people that you hire. It’s not about what you make, but about who you make it for, and how well the people who represent you do that. Impassioned customer engagement and employee retention doesn’t happen accidentally. It’s earned, day after day, by a devotion to establishing and maintaining your culture with the people who are hired and trained to do so.

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We all should be looking for ways to create the best customer experience by investing our energy in those things which we can control, starting with our employees and their experiences.

As we look to companies that are renowned for their customer service, such as Walt Disney or Zappos, it’s easy to say to ourselves, “Well, if I had the money and resources that those companies do, it’d be easy for me to have a more attractive experience for my customer and employee.” But there are companies much smaller in scope who deliver an amazing customer and employee experience.

How Pal’s Sudden Service succeeds

Located on the Tennessee/Virginia border, Pal’s Sudden Service is a quick-stop restaurant (QSR) with 26 stores that’s physically similar to other such restaurants, excepting that it’s a drive-thru only. However, there are many differences. When cars approach the dual drive-thrus, customers provide their order to a Pal’s employee face-to-face, rather than through a speaker.

This is such a hallmark of Pal’s that their recent advertising campaign was titled “Face-to-Face”, highlighting the speed and accuracy that come from beginning the order process talking to a person rather than a screen, allowing customers to progress through the line faster and resume enjoying their day. Speaking of their speed and accuracy, it’s legendary.

From the time of first contact with a Pal’s employee, the customer orders and receives their order within 30 seconds. By way of comparison, the next closest competitor completes the process in two minutes, four times slower than Pal’s. Now, you might well be thinking, “Great. They’re fast, we can be fast at my business, but only being fast doesn’t guarantee customer satisfaction.” And you’d be right.

It’s about more than just speed

The story of Pal’s transcends speed. Winner of the 2001 Malcolm Baldridge Quality Award — the first restaurant to do so — Pal’s makes a mistake in a customer order only once in every 3,600 orders, reports Harvard Business Review.

In comparison, that’s ten times better than their closest competitor, and the combination of speed and accuracy has won them loyalty from their customer base, as well as being a company worthy of study by competitors and management experts alike.

How do they do it, and how can we apply their methodology to our companies? It all comes down to their approach to their employees.

Retention begins with selection

Pal’s 26 locations employ roughly 1,000 workers. 90 percent are part-time, and 40 percent are between 16 and 18 years old. Given the complexities in managing this segment of the demographic, the hiring process at Pal’s begins with an extensive psychometric screener, a 60-point check to see how well the candidate is aligned with the attitudinal characteristics of Pal’s most talented employees.

“We’re believers that birds of a feather flock together,” said CEO Thom Crosby, speaking to the Harvard Business Review. “If you start having an operation with weak crew training and not a lot of really good leadership by managers, the people who apply there are the same kinds of people. We go the opposite direction.”

Training never stops

The work’s just beginning when employees are hired. At Pal’s, training isn’t a one-time event, but an intense process designed to ensure that all employees can successfully do all of the tasks involved in operating the store, with frequent rechecks to test for proficiency.

Employees new to the company receive 120 hours of training before they are allowed to work independently.

Each of the tasks that they do is accompanied by a certification test, which must be passed as well before they can work on their own.

The training is continuous: daily, in each restaurant on each shift, the company’s training software generates the names of employees that must be recertified in one of their areas of responsibility. Think of these as a form of a surprise quiz for the employee; they complete the brief test, and if they aren’t successful, they must be retrained in that area before they can do it again independently. This occurs for every employee on average 2 to 3 times monthly.

“Human beings go out of calibration, just like equipment”, said Crosby.  “We see so many operations that have training and they’re so happy when a trainee can pass a test. Then they sign off on this person as “trained” and they usually don’t revisit that person unless there’s a really severe performance issue.”

By focusing time, energy, and money on ensuring that employees don’t have the opportunity to go out of calibration with the expected standard, or to develop bad habits, Pal’s focuses on not only quality, but also culture in the same stroke.

Staff development is not a one-off event, especially for the part-time or adult learner.

By focusing on your staff as assets to be developed, rather than employees with varying levels of performance based on infrequent or non-existent training, you meet the needs of your customer and demonstrate to your employee that they matter.

Leadership never rests

At Pal’s, leadership is a serious endeavor in coaching employees. All leaders, including the CEO, are expected to spend 10 percent of their time daily teaching a specific skill to a specific employee. “At Pal’s, every leader needs to have a coaching and training target every single day,” said Crosby to Burger Business. “As CEO, I’m not exempt: Anyone is welcome to ask me my coaching target on any day.” This hands-on approach is bolstered by their master reading list, a selection of 21 books spanning leadership classics, alongside modern tomes on quality. These books are discussed at a bi-monthly book study occurring with the CEO and selected management.

This approach is also seen in how they approach their role within the industry. After winning the Malcolm Baldridge Quality Award, the company created its Business Excellence Institute (BEI) as a development arm to provide best practices to others. As a sign of their success, one of their clients, Austin’s K&N Management became the second restaurant winner of the Baldridge award in 2010.

The result of all this? The customers are unswervingly loyal, and the employees stay employed.

In an industry renowned for its turnover rates, employee turnover rate for hourly employees is one-third the industry average.

Among leaders, it’s lower still. Over more than three decades, only seven general managers have left the company voluntarily, and assistant managers have an annual turnover rate of 1.4 percent.

How do we apply this to our individual circumstances? By focusing on the customer through the lens of improving your employees, you receive dual benefit. Your employees satisfy your customer, and you’ve invested in the best walking advertisement for your company that you can: a carefully selected employee who’s been well-trained and coached to take care of your customer.

#WorkForYourWorkforce

Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master’s degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

Opinion Editorials

If Reddit goes IPO, will it have to shed its soul?

(EDITORIAL) Reddit is known as a firebrand, a bastion of free speech, but if they go public, will they be able to remain as they are now?

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Reddit, the eighth-most popular website on the Internet, is reportedly considering an IPO. As a site valued at over 1.8 billion dollars, this is great news for the company itself – but how much of Reddit will remain if the IPO goes through?

Reddit’s history is steeped in controversy, from minor incidents such as invasion of privacy and a few creepily quirky community members to allegations of child pornography and egregious hate speech. While Reddit’s policy has allowed it to tighten posting restrictions regarding the latter two, the fact remains that Reddit – for all its usefulness – is viewed by many as a ticking time bomb.

An IPO would certainly lend back to Reddit a degree of credibility not seen since its inception, but the problem is that Reddit itself (the haven of free speech and original content that made it so popular in the first place) might not survive the offering. Given the platform’s controversial past, many believe it likely that stakeholders would move to tighten further the restrictions on the platform, ultimately ending a significant era in Reddit’s history.

Admittedly, Reddit has come a long way since its early days of supporting user-created content regardless of persuasion: this past year saw entire subreddits shut down for violating the terms of use regarding hate speech, and the platform certainly has cracked down on illegal and abusive content. Unfortunately, the history might be too much to shake off going forward, which is why we think that Reddit’s branding won’t be a part of the final IPO.

The platform’s developers’ dedication to free speech and truth-seeking is what makes Reddit so fantastic, and that’s not liable to change – it’s the most marketable aspect of the site, after all – but perhaps the rationale behind going public lies in a sense of duty rather than routine. 2017 has seen some of the most reprehensible instances of false reporting and deliberate misguidance in recent history; maybe Reddit’s team feels that they can provide a stable news platform at the cost of some personality.

At any rate, the IPO itself isn’t set in stone, and is unlikely to take place for quite some time. As the situation develops, it will be interesting to see if Reddit embraces its past, or sheds it altogether.

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Opinion Editorials

‘Follow your passion and the money will follow’ is bulls**t advice

(EDITORIAL) Following your passion can create success, though it may not be financial. So should you really just “do what you love” and hope for the best?

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If you asked anyone who knows me, they would tell you that I’m a strong advocate for people following their passion. However, when I encourage people to pursue their dreams, this comes with a big asterisk.

I recently heard someone use a phrase along the lines of, “if you do what you love, the money will follow.” Um… no.

While it’s great that you’ve found something you’re passionate about, that’s only a trillionth of the battle. You need to be willing to work your ass off and be willing to sacrifice everything in order to make that enthusiasm into a success.

Most people that have started their own business will tell you that it took a while into the process to begin paying themselves. Again, if it truly is your passion, this is all worth it in the end. But if you like food and shelter, it might not be.

Say, for example, your passion is acting and your goal in life is to become a famous movie star. Now, you can’t pull a Tobias Funke and simply say, “I’m an actor” and then expect everything to miraculously fall into place.

Like any other passion, you need to invest in yourself. You’ll need to get headshots, take acting classes, and find a flexible day job that allows you to go on auditions. Cutting corners on any of this in order to expedite the process or save a few bucks will end up hurting you in the long run.

For the sake of this article, let’s define “passion” as loving something so much you couldn’t imagine doing anything else… you would even do it for free. And, as there is no correlation between having passion for something and money, you just might.

While doing what you love is admirable, be aware that it may take an incredibly long time to see results in the form of numbers. Because of this, it’s wise to always have a back up plan to support yourself financially and pursue passion with a strong business plan in tact.

It is never wrong to want to follow your passion. I personally think that everyone should give it at least something of a shot during the course of their career so that you never ask “what if?” But following passion because you read a cliche statement can lead to major financial and emotional losses, so put on your business hat before blindly chasing dreams.

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Opinion Editorials

Tech CEO tweet ruins years of a young designer’s hard work

(EDITORIAL) With a tweet here and there, thoughtless questions have potentially bullied a young Asian woman in tech out of her career.

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It’s hard enough for women, particularly women of color, to make it in the world of tech, without rude jerks questioning if you literally exist.

Sadly, that’s what happened to Naomi Wu, also known as “SexyCyborg,” a 23-year old cyberpunk superstar from Shenzhen, China who has amassed a huge following for her 3D printing experiments and other techie pursuits. Wu has 140,000 followers and millions of views for her YouTube channel, where she shows off her experiments and provides educational tutorials.

Unfortunately, some rude dudes from America can’t seem to imagine that a young Asian woman is capable of the feats that Wu has accomplished.

Dale Dougherty, CEO of the DIY magazine Maker (and an official schmuck), has cyberbullied Wu so badly that it is said to have damaged her career. He tweeted, “I am questioning who she really is. Naomi is a persona, not a real person. She is several or many people.”

This despite the fact that Wu says that she has actually spoken to Dougherty, and that he knows she is real. “For Westerners who don’t understand the important of reputation in China it seems like a very minor thing,” says Wu, “it is everything here and there’s no repairing this.”

Wu has even lost a sponsorship deal from a 3D printer company over the accusations that she isn’t who she says she is.

Dougherty eventually apologized, but Wu says that “the damage had been done” at that point, and that Dougherty knew the accusations would be “devastating” to her “reputation and professional prospects.”

Wu says that the attack is motivated by white male entitlement to tech spaces.

She says that she can’t imagine Dougherty attacking “a white lady from San Francisco.” Wu has been an advocate for diversity in tech and maker spaces. “I kept pushing for more inclusion – not just me, other underrepresented people,” she says. “They didn’t like being pushed. This is payback.”

We stand behind Wu as she continues to push the edge in tech spaces, and say shame on you to bullies who won’t make space for women and racial minorities. Sorry you’re not as cool as SexyCyborg, but that’s on you and you need to get over it.

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