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The Business Value of Customer Trust

Trust Is at the Core of Safelite AutoGlass’ Business Success

Tom Feeney has witnessed many changes in his 24-year tenure at Safelite AutoGlass, but none as effectual as the cultural transformation toward customer centricity that he initiated in 2008 when he was promoted to CEO.

Feeney says that until the 2008 timeframe the 65-year-old vehicle glass repair and replacement provider was product focused and short-term oriented, and thus was paying lip service to customer experience. "[Customer service] was not part of our DNA," he says. "We were a good company, but not a great company."

He saw the business climate change dramatically in recent years and knew that Safelite needed to transform with it. In setting out to grow the business, Feeney saw an opportunity to differentiate the company within the vehicle glass repair industry by providing an extraordinary customer experience through a cultural transformation focused on engaging Safelite's associates. "The path to greatness had to be defined by putting people first and delighting customers," he says. "We knew that to make our customers happy, we also had to make our people happy."

Here, Feeney talks about the programs, processes, and strategies in place that help foster a culture of trust at Safelite AutoGlass.

Customer Strategist: In 2009 Safelite introduced its People First program as a primary pillar that supports its overall business strategy. How does it help to instill trust among employees?

Tom Feeney: The objective of People First is to drive business performance by having an obsessive focus on retaining talented people who are inspired to deliver great results. Our People Pledge (see sidebar, page 22) is the outcome of getting the organization to start thinking and acting People First.

Making this pledge to our associates has been critical to instilling trust in the direction we're heading. It gives us a framework to make decisions related to hiring, training, rewarding, and compensating. If a manager does not create this People First culture, we now have justification for replacing him or her with someone who can. Those decisions are hard, but owning up to them proves our commitment to our people.

While our business objectives are the "what," our core competencies are the "how," and are ultimately what sets us apart from the [competition]. Our six core competencies (see sidebar, page 24) are key skills and behaviors that effective performers demonstrate to deliver better business results, and therefore serve as the foundation for all of our talent management programs such as hiring, performance management, learning and development, and recognition.

CS: How do you reinforce the six competencies and ensure that employees are applying them to their daily jobs?

TF: As a company with nearly 10,000 employees across the country, the majority of Safelite's communication is distributed in a cascaded effect with in-person communications for leaders, supported by video communications and town hall meetings for the remainder of the company. Follow-up communication tools such as posters are used to further emphasize the message and keep it top of mind. In addition, all materials and training information are available on the company intranet.

In introducing People First, we published something called the Core Competencies Roadmap. This brochure was provided to all associates and is shared with new associates during the onboarding process. It outlines the People First behaviors and expectations. We also provided all leaders with an in-person People First Leadership Training guide.

Ongoing communication and rewards are the key to keeping People First top of mind, so we introduced an annual People First Leadership Award last year to inspire others to look to our best managers as role models. The award is worth $10,000.

CS: How are employees chosen to receive this award and how does such a generous bonus help to foster employee trust in the company?

TF: And at the heart of this award is the knowledge that when you put People First leadership into action, it absolutely delivers business results.   

Our first-ever recipient of the award, Brad Edwards, district manager of the Northwest division, clearly showed that. He won because he embodies what it means to be a People First leader. He develops his people, he makes sure that they have the tools they need to succeed, he communicates effectively with them, he tackles people issues head on, he cares about his team, and at the end of the day, that shows up in his results. He showed that again this year as he and his teams had another outstanding year of performance. 

And this year's winner, Jon Laski, general manager of the Orlando market, shows a lot of those same characteristics. As I was talking to people about him I heard some consistent themes, such as "He has grown as a leader," "He learned that his success as a leader was dependent on his team," and "He became a coach rather than a manager."

CS: How do you listen to employees and then act on their feedback?

TF: To ensure Safelite lives up to its mission, vision, and values, the company asks for feedback from employees frequently.

The Annual People Opinion Survey is an anonymous employee electronic survey that measures engagement. Monthly "pulse checks" are also randomly emailed to employees to survey their feelings about the organization. Managers meet with their departments to review the findings and to create action plans to address feedback.

Also, I have my own "Ask Tom" blog on our intranet for associates to submit any question they want with a promise from me to provide an honest and open answer.

CS: Safelite has employee boot camps. How do they help improve the customer experience and instill trust among employees?

TF: Using our Net Promoter Score (NPS) results, we found that the Orlando market, for example, was one of our highest performers. So we visited with manager Jon Laski to learn why. Together we created several best practices and strategies for customer service that we then introduced in our boot camps. During the boot camps, Laski helped lead the training. This peer-to-peer style of learning has shown to be more effective for us than having training that feels forced from a corporate office.

Markets that continued to struggle then received some special attention through boot camps. Knowing we weren't abandoning them—that we were giving them the skills, the tools, and the training they needed—helped form a stronger level of trust.

Also, seeing is believing. When [employees] saw other markets improve, they grew to trust the tactics we were using and knew that they were beneficial to them.

CS: You have a mantra, "Celebrate and celebrate often, make positive examples of people, and shout successes from the mountain top." How does this translate to your organization?

TF: All of our awards are designed to reinforce the business strategies and behaviors we know will take us to the next level. In addition to the annual People First award, we also recognize our top-scoring NPS employee each quarter with a celebratory luncheon. We honor our best customer-focused employees with an Everyday Hero Award. And associates who get a written customer compliment earn an Excellence in Service Award, which gives them points toward gifts through an online gift store.

CS: How do your latest Net Promoter Scores  reflect the employee-focused efforts made at Safelite?

TF: NPS gave our employees a way to talk about customer delight in very tangible terms. Our NPS has increased every year since we introduced it, reaching an all-time high of 85 percent in 2011. I think that reflects improvements on our end, both internally and externally.

CS: What have been the effects of these employee-focused strategies on the  entire organization?

TF: In years past the P&L would tell us the performance. Today we have evolved where we use four key metrics: NPS, engagement score, total net conversion, and P&L. Collectively those four metrics offer a very good indication of performance. If they show that you're in the bottom quartile, then we let you go. We also put a personal development plan in place to help [employees] improve and then help them achieve their goals.

You have to truly believe that having an engaged workforce predicated on having an engaged strategy will lead to happier associates who, in turn, delight customers. It's overly simplistic, but, in fact, it's that simple.

CS: Why do think many businesses still don't understand the importance of fostering employee engagement?

TF: Because they don't have trust. Trust is absolutely critical in getting the engagement. Trust is the foundation of all relationships between colleagues in every aspect of business, and in your personal life. Trust is at the heart of it all. We spend a lot of time at Safelite talking about trust and its components.

The reality is in any new relationship trust is a given. It's like your reputation—only you can give it away. Only you can give away trust if you accept the importance and value of it in organizations where there are hierarchies. If you're not walking the walk…distrust enters the picture and distrust will destroy a relationship, as well as destroy the ability for a leader to positively impact their people.

What's the single biggest component of leadership? It's trust. And there are ways to destroy it and build on it, but it takes awareness as a leader, authenticity, honesty, approachability, being in the moment, and accessibility. I've seen it personally where distrust destroys an organization; it happens slowly and it takes a long time. At Safelite, we spend a fair amount of time talking about trust, explaining to people what it really means and how important it is to being a good leader.

CS: Can you share some of the business results that stem from your employee-focused strategies?

TF: Since our cultural transformation began five years ago, we have more than doubled our business.

CS: How do you plan to grow Safelite's employee-engagement strategies that are in place?

TF: We're very early in on our journey. We recognize that we still have room for improvement. It's a three-part process that includes:

  1. Change perspectives and behaviors
  2. Change processes and systems
  3. Change the rules of the game with innovation

Ideally you want to value your customers and focus on behaviors in support of the business direction.