Wayfair and Burger King Forget That Its People Come First

Marketing has some important evergreen principles. One principle is this: just because a brand-business is customer-focused does not mean that customers come first. Customers come second. Customer-focused employees come first.

Regardless of your industry, employees are the frontline when it comes to customer relationships. Internal brand-business pride is an essential success factor affecting brand-business outcomes.

Here is another brand-business truth: you cannot reinvent or reinforce your brand-business experience if your people are not proud and inspired to be part of that brand-business experience.

If you want your employees to love your brand-business, you have to love your employees. If you want your employees to be passionate about and proud to deliver a superior brand-business experience, you have to show employees that you are passionate and proud about what they do for the brand-business experience and who they are as dedicated employees.

Foundational marketing truths.

Too bad that it seems as if a few brand-business leaders have forgotten what it takes to lead. Currently, there are some unfortunate brand-business situations where employees are apparently not feeling the love.

The CEO of Wayfair, the online furniture and accessories brand-business, has seemingly trampled on these brand-business truths in a cringe-worthy manner. Wayfair’s exemplary list of core values seems to have just taken a gut-punch.

Wayfair institutionalized this element into its every day operations and internal marketing:
Galvanizing Team members to Create and Deliver the Promise and Desired Customer Experience

For galvanizing Wayfair team members, there are three key aligning elements:

  1. Great People
  2. Great Ideas
  3. Great Ambition

According to Wayfair, these three elements anchor the Wayfair people principles which must deliver against these priorities:

  • Relentless Customer Focus
  • Deliver Results With Agility
  • Use Good Judgement
  • Build the Best Team
  • Collaborate Effectively
  • Respect Others
  • Be an Owner
  • Innovate & Improve

Sounds so good. Sounds so customer-focused-employee beneficial. And, yet, the force behind these words has been diminished by the brand-business’ behavior. About a month ago, Wayfair CEO, Niraj Shah, publicly chastised employees and told them “… to work harder.” He said, “Working long hours, being responsive, blending work and life, is not anything to shy away from. There is not a lot of history of laziness being rewarded.”

Not exactly inspirational. Who knows whether this was necessary to say. Certainly not publicly. But, in todays’ world, nothing is secret. So now we are all aware of the CEO’s sentiments.

Unfortunately, there was little time for this “work harder” edict to settle in, because just a bit later, Wayfair CEO Shah said that Wayfair will to lay off 13% of these potentially “harder working” employees (about 1650 people). This mass firing is because the brand-business must cut costs to boost financial results. Profit has sagged for almost 2 years.

Apparently, too many people were hired due to COVID-19. That “expansion” is not working in today’s marketplace. Wayfair has already undergone 3 rounds of layoffs since 2020. One might think that it is not the number of employees that is holding back the brand-business but something inherently wrong in the overall cost structure strategy.

Wayfair is just one of many brand-businesses that went “overboard” to deal with locked-down customers who spent money on home furnishings. Many brand-businesses are trimming employee ranks that grew due to Covid-19. And, many brand-businesses are letting go of redundant employees. So, it is not the layoffs per se. It is the seeming hypocrisy of CEO Shah’s announcement coming on the heels of the “you must work harder” dictum that rankles.

Mr. Shah’s reorganization or “strategic recalibration” (hyperbole for “you are fired”) announcement was a letter to the organization. The letter indicated that the brand-business had “veered away from its core principles.” Reading the above core principles, one might say that leadership has veered away from Wayfair’s core principles. Galvanizing people around the idea of working better to improve the brand-business and then reneging on that purpose seems to be veering away from the core principles.

At a meeting to discuss the layoffs, according to The Wall Street Journal, many employees questioned the tone and timing of the “work harder” memo. Employee were told that it would be everyone’s fault if Wayfair went into bankruptcy by the co-chairman of the Board who is also a co-founder of the brand-business. “If bankruptcy is inevitable then shame on all of us for not working harder.”

Google News and other business news outlets appear to be keeping this story alive. The more Wayfair is seen as treating employees poorly, the worse it becomes for the external image and trustworthiness of the brand-business.

Wayfair wants “faster-decision-making and committed small teams.” For this strategy to work, Wayfair must be more adept at handling the “internal friction” that it has created due to the mixed messages. Making employees feel as if the entire burden of success is one their shoulders is poor brand-business management.

To be fair, Wayfair is not alone when it comes to dampening trust among employees.

A recent opinion piece on Bloomberg.com describes the behavior to which Burger King crew members must adhere. The writer describes Burger King’s behavior as putting “the burden of turning around company culture on already taxed workers.” The writer references Burger King’s new policy that all employees must offer customers a carboard crown and tell customers “You rule.”

The writer indicates that Burger King “should focus on improving work conditions that might create authentically content (even happy) workers who are motivated to give diners genuinely good service.” Apparently, crew members are faced with offering cardboard crowns and “You Rule” compliments regardless of the customer. Burger King will send monitors to restaurants to ensure the policy is followed.

Crew members and customers are finding the irreverence is “undignified and unworthy of respect.” The article describes these supposed brand-business enhancing behaviors as “cheesy, feel-good antics.” Burger King believes the extra time needed to offer the crown and the “You rule” compliment will nurture customer satisfaction. The “extra two minutes generates engagement” with the brand-business. According to Business World, Burger King sees the priority as “patron feedback over order speed.” The underlying idea is to make the staff appear to be more friendly. McDonald’s tried this with its initiative around seven steps to a friendly smile. The upshot was that you cannot teach people to be friendly: you just need to hire friendly people.

Even though the Burger King jingle has become an ear-worm (you know, the ubiquitous “Whopper, Whopper, Whopper, Whopper….”), Burger King has “struggled” in its brand revitalization strategy called “Reclaim the Flame”. Two of Burger King’s biggest operators filed for bankruptcy. And, even an infusion of cash into the system has not completely helped the brand-business’s leaders right the ship.

Part of putting customer-focused employees first is making the brand-business a good place to work; a place where an employee can gain skills for a lifetime. This is bigger than income. It is also a career path where employees are valued. People need to know that the organization cares about them and their work. People need to feel valued.

Part of the problem probably rests with Burger King’s owner, Brazilian 3G Capital, that enforced zero-based budgeting. This system did not support brand-businesses such as its Kraft Heinz brand-businesses. Brand-business focused actions were considered costs to be avoided. Encouraging employees was probably seen as part of these costs.

The Bloomberg.com writer suggests that employers must recognize that there is both functional labor and emotional labor. Both Wayfair and Burger King seem to have forgotten that employees have to work both internally with each other and externally with customers. There are the functional tasks and the emotional/social deliverables. Creating situations that workers deem embarrassing and upsetting is not putting customer-focused employees first. You cannot create a “positive aura” if your people do not feel positive.

Inconsistency and demoralization erode internal trust. Lack of internal trust affects external communications with customers. Customer-focused employees are the frontline of every brand-business. Build employee pride.

Customer-focused employees play a powerful role in shaping brand-business perceptions. Proud employees’ communications and advocacy of the brand-business enhance internal and external perceptions. Data show that employee pride translates into higher job satisfaction. Higher job satisfaction contributes to customer brand-business satisfaction. Customer brand-business satisfaction generates brand-business value leading to enduring profitable growth.