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Taco Bell is making waves in the quick-service restaurant (QSR) industry. According to Yum Brands, Taco Bell’s parent company, the fast-food giant posted an eight percent sales growth in the first quarter of 2017, topping analyst forecast of 3.7 percent.

Many media outlets attributed Taco Bell’s impressive performance to innovative products like the Naked Chicken Chalupa and the Triple Double Crunchwrap. But if you look closer, you’ll see that the company has another delicious ingredient in its success menu: employee engagement.

As a recent article in QSRweb reveals, Taco Bell has been investing in better understanding its employees. For example, the company implemented technology that asks front-line staff for regular feedback. The goal is to unlock actionable insight about the company’s culture and measure employee engagement.

As a result of input from staff, the company tweaked important employee programs, including providing more support for people to finish their post-secondary education. “Taco Bell is now number two in hospitality in the QSR industry, and we don’t think it’s a coincidence that our team members are happier and more engaged than ever before,” says Frank Tucker, Taco Bell’s chief people officer.

Taco Bell isn’t the only QSR focusing on keeping employees happy and engaged. Arby’s and Chick-Fil-A have both attributed some of their recent success to keeping employee satisfaction up.

Driving improvements in the service-profit chain

Your employees are an important link in the service-profit chain, and they’re at the heart of the customer experience. As Harvard Business School professor James L. Heskett points out, the value a company ultimately provides is driven by employee satisfaction, loyalty and productivity.

The service profit chain

The biggest QSR in the world is proving that consumers support businesses that treat employees well. Nearly two years ago, analysts warned that McDonald’s plan to increase wages would hurt the restaurant chain’s bottom line. But it may have been the best decision the fast food behemoth has made. After years of decline, its sales soared last year—something that company attributes to better customer service through wage increases and training.

Treating your employees well builds brand loyalty

Employee satisfaction not only boosts value for customers—it also improves loyalty and enhances brand value. In fact, research shows customers are willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that prioritize their employees.

"When employees are satisfied and engaged, the result is deeper customer connections and an elevated customer experience”

- Corey duBrowa, SVP of global communications at Starbucks

Starbucks has long enjoyed the side effects of treating employees well. The coffee chain offers health insurance to part-time employees working an average of 20 hours per week, for example. Its own survey conducted in 2014 found that 87 percent of the company’s brand affinity was dictated by how Starbucks treats its staff.

"When employees are satisfied and engaged, the result is deeper customer connections and an elevated customer experience,” Corey duBrowa, SVP of global communications at Starbucks, explains to AdWeek.

Gaining actionable customer intelligence

Not only is there a case for treating employees well, in the era of Big Data, better business intelligence also drives growth and profitability, and what better data source is there than people on the front lines?

Engaging with employees on a regular basis can give you deep insights into what influences the customer experience. Does a new menu item take longer to prepare than expected? Are the new point-of-sale terminals confusing customers and slowing down payment? Does staff scheduling and resourcing reflect foot traffic? Are facilities being repaired in a prompt fashion? Your employees know.

Quick wins in improving employee engagement

Despite the importance of employee engagement, it continues to be a significant problem for employers globally, with only 13 percent of workers across 142 countries engaged at work. As a starting point, companies should follow best practices when establishing employee-engagement programs:

  • Engage regularly: To maximize the potential of employee engagement, don’t wait for the annual employee survey. Ask for feedback on an ongoing basis.
  • Create a dialogue: Maintain a two-way conversation with employees to identify areas of improvement. Close the feedback loop and demonstrate that you’re listening.
  • Provide the right incentives: Employees are more likely to participate if they know they are contributing to the overall improvement of their workplace. Update your employees on what you did with their feedback.
  • Leverage always-on reporting: You should be able to see at a moment's glance the state of employee engagement at all levels using reports based on data and visuals.

In today’s competitive business landscape, customer loyalty plays a huge role in long-term growth and profitability. Your front-line staff are the face of the company as well as a trove of useful customer insight. Investing in your employees translates into bottom-line benefits.

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