Turning grunts into grads at Silverbow
Silverbow Bakery Café’s Juneau, Alaska, location has housed a bakery for more than 100 years, but training is a never-ending process for current owner Jill Ramiel.
“We feel like we are training all the time, and we’re always trying to cross train, so if you run into a bind, there’s always someone who can step in and help,” Ramiel says.
Customer service is the foundation of Silverbow’s training program. Even with a population of 30,000, the competition among coffee shops and bakery cafés is surprisingly fierce in Juneau. Ramiel believes that if a customer doesn’t walk away having had a good experience, that person will take their money elsewhere.
“I’m a firm believer in the attitude–good or bad–of the most senior person rains down on all the employees and sets the tone. We have a general manager, a supervisor, then shift supervisors, and with all of them, it’s all about a positive attitude,” Ramiel says. “People come to us for product quality, but they also feel treated well when they’re here. It’s less expensive to keep a customer coming back than it is to have to seek replacement customers.”
Training also is expensive, as shadowing, though necessary, employs two people to do one person’s job. Ramiel aims to train them well, train them once and keep them on staff for a long time.
“It’s much better for us to keep people happy, liking their job, and earning a good wage, than for us to be training new people,” she says. “When we look at W2s every year, we find we’re sending out fewer and fewer even though we’re growing in company size. This is a sign of employee satisfaction.”
By and large, new hires are students at nearby University of Alaska Southeast. Ramiel likes this type of employee because they tend to be responsible, career minded, forward-looking long-term planners. In order to attract this type of person, Silverbow offers a scholarship program designed to provide employees some off-the-job training, as well. After six months of full-time work, participating employees who continue to work full-time will be fully reimbursed for any classes they take and pass. The program incentivizes a long tenure with the bakery, which in turn cuts down on training.
Ramiel uses a task management computer program to track employees’ progress, and four times per year, every employee gets a performance review. They assess themselves, and results are compared to a peer assessment and a managers’ assessment. They talk about what’s going well, what needs improvement, what the employee would like to learn and where they see themselves going.
“I’m always willing to let someone try something new. It tells us a good employee is getting bored and needs to do something else, so it keeps employees engaged,” Ramiel says. “Also, it helps to keep everyone cross-trained and gain appreciation for what other employees are doing.”
Training employs a six-part “grunt manual” that walks the new employee (or grunt) through proper procedures on everything from break times to proper bagel slicing. In order to gain some patience from customers dealing with new hires, trainees are identified by their shirts, which feature stickers announcing “Hello, my name is: Trainee.”
The espresso machine is a stumbling block for many a new hire. In Juneau, the competition for coffee is stiffer than for anything else on Silverbow’s menu, and the last thing Ramiel wants to see is a customer coming in for a bagel with a to-go coffee cup from somewhere else. Ramiel strives for consistency from employee to employee, and that can be especially difficult for employees with past espresso experience. “It’s harder to train bad habits out of people than it is to start with a blank slate, but the flip side of that is we’re also up for change and open to suggestion,” she says.
When the employee finally gets to take trainee shirt off and don one of Silverbow’s characteristically funky t-shirts, Ramiel makes a celebration of it and announces the achievement to the entire shop. As an added incentive to learn fast, employees don’t get a share of the tip jar until they’ve made this transition. And very little motivates as well as cash.
elé Cake Co. offers a passport to success
Training is a journey, especially at elé Cake Co., West Carrollton, Ohio. Owners Melody Richey and Becky Nels Lewis were struggling to keep up with their 14-year-old company’s fast growth, so they traveled to training mogul Zingerman’s Bakery in Ann Arbor, Mich., for a crash course.
Armed with a vision for the future and a blueprint of how to get there, the two are in the final stages of implementing a training concept featuring a passport to success.
The passport is a training manual of sorts, made of cardstock and folded into a booklet to resemble the real thing. The training passport lays out what’s expected from each employee, a timeline for when it’s expected, and a description of how management is going to assist. Lewis and Richey expect the staff to be responsible for the effectiveness of their own training. They provide the tools–video, manual or worksheet–for employees to learn at their own pace and in their own style.
Each department has a page in the passport booklet. If a trainee meets the training goals laid out for a department, a supervisor will sign (or stamp) the corresponding page, confirming success and permitting the employee to move on to the next step.
“It’s been a long time coming–it’s not something you can do overnight,” Lewis says. “We’ve been working with managers to figure out the departments’ specific goals. Customer service, café, bakery, cake tech (decoration, cutting, icing, etc.), and cupcakes–each has its own set of standards. These standards have to be formatted to communicate three things: what is expected, how learning tools are made available, and a time line for completion–so it takes time.”
As is common in bakeries, training starts with customer service. New hires are trained to follow the 10/4 rule–smile at customers within 10 ft. of them, and engage in conversation with people within 4 ft. And customer service doesn’t end at the customer. Staff members are trained to behave
consistently, maintaining positive and upbeat attitudes whether talking to a customer or another employee.
To Lewis, three steps are required to give great customer service. First, find out what the customer wants. Second, get it for them accurately, politely and enthusiastically. Finally, employees are asked to do one better than what a customer expects. That could mean anything–helping to carry a cake to a car, suggesting more personalized decorating touches–but armed with their passports, elé employees are prepared to go the extra mile.