This article was originally written by Nancy Gohring for Citeworld.com.
People who are paid hourly, including nurses, restaurant workers, and hotel staff, make up around 60 percent of the U.S. workforce. These people typically aren’t issued a company phone or laptop. Many are not going to get a company email address. So how do employers reach them?
A small chain of coffee shops in Louisville, Kentucky, struggled with just this issue, until it realized that its workers are essentially the original BYOD employees.
Heine Brothers’ Coffee faced a road block when trying to deliver important messages to workers. It had plenty of important communications to send. For instance, it might need employees to fill out health benefit paperwork by a certain deadline. It also needs to let workers know about new promotions.
“We invest a large portion of sales into marketing and now we have no way to communicate some of these very important and timely marketing campaigns to our cashiers on the front lines. Customers would come in who had gotten a promotion before the barista was aware of it,” said Chris Lavenson, vice president and owner of the company.
That’s because Heine Brothers was sending messages to the personal email addresses that workers offered, but only getting around a 20 percent open rate. The company was using Constant Contact to send the messages and track how many were opened. “It was maddening,” Lavenson said.
The company began to look for a better way to communicate with workers.
Heine Brothers’ 240 employees are spread around 14 coffee shops and tend to be young and technically savvy, Lavenson said. “But many of them don’t have a home computer or a desk. Certainly not an office with a computer that we’ve furnished,” he said.
They do, however, live on their smartphones.
The company considered trying to use a text-based product of the kind typically used to market to customers. “The problem with texting was it was pretty basic as far as functionality went,” he said. The character count is limited and attachments are difficult.
Plus, “it’s coming through a medium where a lot of our employees get hundreds of texts a day and it would be hard to differentiate that this is important,” he said.
Heine Brothers decided to sign up for Red e App. It’s an app, available on iOS, Android, and the web that workers install on their phones. Once an employee has the app, they subscribe to the employer’s network.
Red e App does not require a corporate email address. Heine can cut off a user from the network any time, if, for instance, the employee leaves the company, and can even remotely remove company documents that have been sent to the employee.
When Heine sends a message to employees, they see a banner showing that they have a message from the company. That helps differentiate the messages from texts they get from friends. “As an employer, I want my employee to look down and go, ‘oh shit, that’s my boss. This is important, I need to take a look at this,’” Lavenson said.
On the backend, he can view a variety of analytics including who had opened messages and when. Heine is getting “if not 100 percent, 98 percent open rates,” he said.
The app has come in handy recently in a couple of emergency situations. “We had a snafu with paychecks two weeks ago where our bank had a problem and the deposit didn’t go through,” he said. Heine Brothers had a similar situation two years ago and “it was a disaster,” he said. “We were running around with cash in the car” trying to deliver pay to workers.
This time around, the company sent a message via Red e App letting workers know that there was a problem and offering instructions for those who needed their paychecks before the weekend. “The most important thing was the emotional connection we could make with employees,” he said. Especially for the many younger workers on staff, “knowing that it’s going to be ok and that the company is ok and that we recognize there’s a problem and it’s not a problem with their bank account” made a big difference, he said. “The most important piece was that people weren’t running around going, ‘man, can you believe this,’ or, ‘I wonder if it’s my bank,’” he said.
In another recent scenario, the company’s coffee roasting machines went down. The company’s roaster used Red e App to notify managers that they should use the coffee they had in stock in a different order.
The app allows Heine to set up different groups so that it sends the right message to the right people. The people who are authorized to send messages include the company’s executive team, the social media manager, the roaster, and every store manager.
The company has also created groups for special events. Recently 19 employees went to a training event in Chicago. They created a group to received targeted information about the event.
Lavenson had a piece of advice for other companies similarly looking to solve an internal communication problem. “Here’s one of the push backs I had to get over before using this platform: avoid the temptation of trying to find a silver bullet for all the problems you need to solve,” he said.
For instance, Heine Brothers is still looking for better ways to communicate with customers. Once it decided to tackle internal communications differently, Lavenson worried about the employees who don’t have smartphones and so aren’t reachable via Red e App. But given that 80 percent of Heine Brothers workers are able to get the app, the improvement in communications over the former email method is significant.