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Ep 446: The Competitive Advantage Of Employee Experience

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Many employers will claim to be people-centric organisations, but how many actually have the quality of employer experience to back this up? A high-quality employee experience dries value for businesses in many ways, including competitive advantage in talent acquisition, better retention, increased productivity and better service for clients and customers.

So how do you build a genuinely people-centric organisation with an employer experience that delivers on its promises? My guest this week is Mayra Chimienti, COO of Mister Carwash, the largest car wash operator in North America. Mister Car Wash is a certified Great Place to Work that has built a category-leading employee experience.

In the interview, we discuss:

• What it means to be a people-first business

• Employee experience and customer experience

• Building competitive advantage in Talent Acquisition

• Telling authentic stories and showing evidence in the recruiting process

• Retention, professional development and benefits

• The long term impact of the pandemic

• Innovation

• The future of people strategy at Mister Carwash

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Interview transcript:

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Matt Alder (Intro) (1m 5s):
Hi there, this is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 446 of The Recruiting Future podcast. Many employers will claim to be people-centric organizations, but how many actually have the quality of employer experience to back this up? A high-quality employee experience dries value for businesses in many ways, including competitive advantage in talent acquisition, better retention, increased productivity and better service for clients and customers. So how do you build a genuinely people-centric organization with an employer experience that delivers on its promises?

Matt Alder (Intro) (1m 48s):
My guest this week is Mayra Chimienti, COO of Mister Carwash, the largest car wash operator in North America. Mister Car Wash is a certified Great Place to Work that has built a category-leading employee experience.

Matt Alder (2m 4s):
Hi, Mayra, and welcome to the podcast. It’s an absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please, could you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

Mayra Chimienti (2m 13s):
I’m excited to be here, Matt. My name is Mayra Chimienti. I am currently the chief operating officer for Mr. Carwash. We are a US national carwash company that operates roughly 400 locations spread across 21 states. We have been at this for roughly 25 years. For me personally, my journey started in the car wash industry almost 20 years ago, as a part time job while I was going to college, believe it or not, it seemed like a great job at the time. And lo and behold, Mr. Carwash actually acquired the company that I worked for back in El Paso, Texas, which is my hometown. And I can say the rest is history.

Mayra Chimienti (2m 53s):
But you fast forward my career with Mr. now going 15 years, I have been leading the charge in a lot of things training, development, and standardization, customer service, operational excellence. And when you look back at our kind of our trajectory and what makes Mr. Carwash great. I think it’s that my story probably represents a lot of stories within our organization of people that come in for just a job and they actually make lifelong careers out of it.

Matt Alder (3m 21s):
Tell us a little bit more about that. I mean, how did that pan out over 15 years? How did your career develop to get you where you are now?

Mayra Chimienti (3m 29s):
You know, it’s funny, I was actually studying advertising and marketing at the time with a prior owner. And back then I mean, operations and marketing. They don’t tend to mix very well. So, him knowing that I was within the industry. He said, “You know what I’d love for you to do our advertising and marketing.” And for me, it seemed like a great opportunity to do kind of an internal internship at the time. And sure enough, I graduated college and then I found out that my carwash was acquired by this big carwash, Mr. Carwash. Now mind you, when you look back at it back then big was 30 something units and now being at 400. It’s kind of crazy to believe. But for me it was significant going from a nine-carwash organization to a, you know, now, what made it 54.

Mayra Chimienti (4m 14s):
And what was amazing to me at that time is that there wasn’t a specific position for me at all, but they saw that I had talent, they saw that I had drive, and then all of a sudden opportunities started creating themselves for me. And two years later, I moved to our headquarters, which is in Tucson, Arizona, and the opportunities just continue to come. and I think back to what I mentioned earlier, when you talk about organization, it I think a lot of it was made a successful is that we just identify talent, we honed the talent, we figure out ways to put people in the right places. And then overall, it’s made our company more successful because of it. So, I can point to I mean hundreds of stories that are very similar because I mean, let’s face it, nobody comes to a carwash and say, I’m going to build a career out of car washing.

Mayra Chimienti (5m 0s):
I could besides so many plain conversations in which either the conversation stops quickly. When I tell them, I wash cars for a living, or they’re actually intrigued, but what is great about it is that once you’re in the door, you realize that it’s far more than just washing cars. It’s about people. It’s about development, about providing the service, and with professionalism. So, the people that get in the door, they realize that very quickly, and they realize they can build a lifelong career out of it. And we have done that across the table. So, you know, it’s a unique story for us. And I think one that we get excited because most people think it’s just a carwash.

Matt Alder (5m 36s):
I mean, that’s really interesting. Obviously, it’s a very successful business that’s grown impressively over the years. Is that the absolute key to the success? Do you think that the fact that you do promote people from within? Is that kind of a really important part of it?

Mayra Chimienti (5m 53s):
You know, I get asked so many times, what makes Mr. Carwash so great? And I think at the core is that we have put the people at the center of everything that we do. All of our decisions have been surrounded by our people and that has led us through wonderful things. And early investments and development of our people and building that standard. And, you know what, it’s so cliché people think you take care of people to take care of your customers, but saying it and doing it are two different things. And when I look back at our trajectory, we’ve always put forth the investments the time. And it’s a hard thing to do, Matt, because most commented that this isn’t an immediate ROI that you get out of building some of these investments that they pay off in the long run.

Mayra Chimienti (6m 36s):
So, when you look at, I think our success is that we’ve done all our decisions surrounding our people. We’re going to invest in them, we’re going to pay them well, we’re going to treat them well, we’re going to train them. And that has paid off for us in the long run. I think through that we have built an endearing brand across 400 units throughout the entire United States. And I love the fact that I get so many comments from folks, that the consistent theme is like your people are so great. When I go to your locations, it doesn’t matter if it’s in Spokane, if it’s in Tampa, Florida, if it’s in Pennsylvania. Everybody’s always smiling. There’s a sense of ownership and pride that people get. And that’s hard to make repeatable. And we have a wonderful team here at our Tucson headquarters that is here to support the field teams and make their lives easier and more successful.

Mayra Chimienti (7m 23s):
So, this is all part of our secret sauce.

Matt Alder (7m 26s):
I think that’s really interesting in terms of the customer feedback there. So, did you see a really strong correlation between the way that you treat your employees and employee happiness? And, you know, the success of the business in terms of the way that customers are looked after?

Mayra Chimienti (7m 45s):
Oh, absolutely. I mean, there is a direct correlation. When you look at, if you take care of your people, they’re going to be happy coming to work, they’re going to feel they have purpose, they’re going to feel that there’s a company that is investing in them. And that naturally shows up in how they show up to work. And our customers feel it. They see it when they’re on our sites. I mean, they tell us immediately. And you know, what’s strange is that we are operating, the majority of our locations run this express exterior model, which for those that are new to the carwash industry, it’s one that you come in, you drive in, you’re out within three to five minutes. So, you can ask yourself, well, how can you really enhance an experience there? Well, a lot of it is through the nonverbal communication is. So those short interactions with the folks that are greeting you and just saying, “How are you doing today?” And when you feel that it’s genuine, it automatically enhances that customer experience?

Mayra Chimienti (8m 31s):
Now, you asked me what is the most challenging thing is how do you do it at scale. And that requires a lot of investments and training the people, training the leaders that are training your people, and putting forth that time. And I think if you asked me this isn’t something that we woke up last year and said, “Wow, we’re in this great resignation. Let’s start putting investments.” These are investments that we’ve been doing over the last decade that are now paying off. And if you ask me, I am so thankful that we started on that journey.

Matt Alder (9m 0s):
No, absolutely. I mean, that makes perfect sense. And there’ll be lots of employers listening who are really looking very carefully at their employee experience at the moment and how they create a happy workplace for all kinds of reasons. But obviously, a large part of it is just how difficult it is to attract and keep talent at the moment. Where would your tips be to an organization that’s looking at its employee experience and how it’s trying to create a better working environment for its employees.

Mayra Chimienti (9m 34s):
You know, it’s funny. When we talk about people ask us about recruiting, recruiting, and then our two cents bag of saying we should have a employee retention program, because it is about first keeping the employees that you have happy and engaged. And a lot of that, honestly, it starts with just listening first and foremost. And we’re all human. Humans have an innate need to feel welcome, to feel like they have purpose. That they are a part of something bigger. And when you can get at the more of that, then you can really start connecting to your employees on a deeper level. And then the other part is that you actually have to put in the work, you know. And I think when you talk about for us, when we’re spread out across 400 locations, the work starts with your managers.

Mayra Chimienti (10m 17s):
And training your leaders on how to be people developers? How to care? How to provide feedback? Feedback is one of those things that people don’t take into account. And having a system where you’re providing your employees constant feedback, not only is it good for them and their development, but it’s overall good for the business. So, it’s all of these little things. It’s not just a one magic trick. And mind you, by the way, we don’t have it all figured out, Matt. You know, we’re still figuring out as we go. And when you’re dealing with people, you know, the biggest thing is knowing when and how to evolve. The organization today is not the way it was 10 years ago. And how we manage the business 10 years ago is definitely not how we manage it today.

Mayra Chimienti (10m 60s):
And I think being keenly aware of those changes, and being able to adapt accordingly, is the key to success. And I can guarantee you the way we manage this business five years from now is going to be very different. I think it’ll pose a different conversation between us.

Matt Alder (11m 14s):
That’s really interesting. And I suppose just to dig a little bit into the recruiting aspect of this. So as an organization you promote from within. Where do you do your recruiting? And what areas of the business do you do the most recruiting? And what do you sort of really use as your competitive advantage?

Mayra Chimienti (11m 32s):
Well, we have, I mean, two segments of our business. We have our HQ segment that we’re competing against other professional industries. And then we have our field leadership, and we’re acquiring just customer service individuals. Both of them are highly competitive. And for us, a big piece of the equation is being able to promote from within, but then it’s your people are your selling card. When people come to our stores, they see that people are happy. And then they start asking questions, “Do you like your job?” So, a lot of our recruiting at our store level comes from within. It’s from people that are seeing happy engaged employees that want to be a part of it, or perhaps those team members themselves say, “Hey, you know what, have a great job over here.

Mayra Chimienti (12m 14s):
If you want to come join us. And you know, it’s really neat to see that the level of engagement that we have internally is because people see that investment. I think 93% of our field leadership has been developed from within. So, when you have those people that are your primary recruiters selling their story, that is a huge component of our recruitment strategy. Now, we right now in this universe, right now, it’s a war for talent. So, what we’re telling our leaders is that you have to double down on that experience and ensuring that whatever you are saying that you are backing up, because people can choose right now the power, it’s crazy, the power is on the employee side.

Mayra Chimienti (12m 54s):
They can choose to go wherever they want to go. And it comes down to being feeling valued, and feel like you have a purpose.

Matt Alder (13m 7s):
And I’m guessing as part of that, you must have some amazing employee stories of people who’ve sort of had their sort of professional grocery business.

Mayra Chimienti (13m 15s):
I mean, this would have to be like a four-hour podcast, if not more, if we were to go into so many. And even though if you look at my like my story, there’s so many of them out there. All of our directors of operations have also come from within the organization that guess what, Matt, they started also as a part time job. It was something that they said, “You know what, I could do this temporarily.” And then they grew their careers. And I think when you peel the curtain and look at Mr. Carwash a lot of people assume, what’s a carwash? How crazy can they be? Or how intricate can it be? And the systems that we have built, the professional leadership development systems that we have built internally in house, you know, really, I think, our proof of our commitment to developing those leaders because I would put them up against any other business leadership programs out there.

Mayra Chimienti (14m 3s):
So, when they see this caliber of training being delivered to them, by people who care about them, then all of a sudden they feel somebody cares equally, and it’s a reciprocated thing. And, you know, when you look at our leaders in organizations, they all came from those ranks. And that is our biggest calling card. I think if you say and I think one of the things that makes Mr. so great is that we have developed those leaders from within.

Matt Alder (14m 29s):
And so, leadership development and training and professional growth are obviously a huge part of the mix here. What other elements are there in your employee experience that kind of really makes you stand out as an employer?

Mayra Chimienti (14m 44s):
We have great benefits. I think a lot of people don’t realize from paid parental leave too low out of pocket costs for high benefits. We have progressive offering of benefits that actually offer anything from mental health to other programs. And if you look at our engagement I think one of the beautiful things, for those of you don’t know, last year was a monumental year for us which we took our company public. And through that process, we were able to then not only make every single one our general managers, shareholders in the company, but we also offer an employee stock purchase plan, that if you look at our diverse workforce, the fact that 30% of our employees now participate in that stock purchase plan is amazing, because we are sharing the wealth and they feel that they are part of that.

Mayra Chimienti (15m 35s):
So, I think benefits are a huge component of not only, again, it’s I think it’s validating the fact that if you truly care for your employees, you’re going to be able to offer not only professional growth, but benefits that will help them in their daily lives.

Matt Alder (15m 49s):
You mentioned there the war for talent and the huge issues that the many employers are having, getting the people they need in their business. How is your business affected by the pandemic? And what are the sort of the longer-term impacts or consequences that you’re seeing?

Mayra Chimienti (16m 4s):
Well, I mean, we all had to hustle and work a little harder that I tell you, that’s for sure. In a current state where you know, right now, the great resignation, and a lot of companies are seeing crazy numbers and turnover, I think for us, the fact that we’ve been able to remain relatively flat is a huge win. Now, is it a little painful to see? Absolutely. Because prior to that, we had been on a really big quest to reduce our turnover year over year. But I think comparatively, I’ll take flat as a win. It doesn’t mean that we let our foot off the gas. I think it’s more, again, we have to double down and continue to do what we do. Because, you know, this will, I think will settle. And we want to be able to win at the end of it.

Matt Alder (16m 49s):
Yeah, I mean, that’s amazing that you’re in that position in such a tough labor market. When you do recruit, what are your kind of main sources of talent? I’m just trying to get a sense of the type of people who come into your organization.

Mayra Chimienti (17m 1s):
Well, honestly, I mean, professionals, people entering the business. I mean, this is where I think one of our ability to be able to train and develop internally provides us that opportunity. But anybody that’s willing to work hard and wants to grow a career. And perhaps, you know, wants to develop different skills. You know, we do offer. I mean, we’re not looking just for anybody off the street, we’re not looking for just a pulse hire, we’re looking for people that have a great attitude that have this customer service chip, because that, when you have that skill, you can train for the rest. You know, those are the key ingredients. So, when we look at individuals that are coming out of school, that’s a great way to grow. And the beautiful part is that with an organization, is that you can grow within the leadership ranks, but then we also have great HQ opportunities that offer an array from IT, and marketing.

Mayra Chimienti (17m 47s):
And so, there is a lot of opportunities. And again, for me, I made the transition. There’s dozens of folks within our HQ teams that have made the transition from field to HQ because they wanted to try something else. Now, one thing, Matt, I don’t want to deceive you in the sense that we are hunky dory and the world is great, because we are suffering right now. That it is a war for talent. But I think a lot of the things that have, that we’ve developed over the last decade are allowing us to weather the storm and to be able to get through it. But it is a full-on war right now.

Matt Alder (18m 20s):
And we’ve sort of quite rightly really focused this conversation on your on your people and your development and the amazing stories that you have to share. Will rolled does technology play in all this as to, you know, HR technology, recruiting technology? Does that play a part in in your strategy?

Mayra Chimienti (18m 47s):
Absolutely. I think right now, our charge to all of our teams is that we have to be innovating in every single department. And I’ll give you a really quick story because back to you mentioned the pandemic and one of those things that for us innovation has always been a key to staying ahead not only in the industry, but just staying relevant in this very rapidly changing environment. But we you know, back to the learning space, when everything shut down in the world shut down, and schools were trying to figure out how to pivot to go to online learning and how to do all those pieces. As a company, we were already there. We had made those investments and remote online learning for all our team members.

Mayra Chimienti (19m 27s):
Because when you have such a diverse workforce, that’s the only way you can deliver consistent training. And in those moments, it was one of those just that light bulb goes off and says Thank goodness, we put these investments ahead of time, because as people were scrambling, we were already there. Now we have to do that across every department. So, we’re innovating in chemistry, we’re innovating in digital technologies, and how we communicate with our customers. So, for us, innovation is going to be an ongoing thing. But I’ll tell you right now, with this current environment, it’s like you’re trying to run as fast as you can just to keep up.

Matt Alder (20m 3s):
Absolutely. So as a final question, we’re predicting the future is impossible and recent events have really showed us that. But I’m interested to know where you’re going next as an organization, sort of, particularly with your people strategy. So, you sort of mentioned that five years ago, you had a very, very different strategy. Where do you think you’re going next? If we were having this conversation in two years’ time, what would we be talking about?

Mayra Chimienti (20m 32s):
Well, scale has been kind of our driver. And we aspire to be and continue to be the largest carwash chain in North America. And hopefully, you know, it’ll expand across in future years. But for us, it’s about growing responsibly, growing with our people, and making sure that we are able to still deliver the same great service that we’ve been able to deliver thus far. And that’s to me where I would call it a success. Growing just to grow in numbers is not the objective. Anybody can grow just in numbers. Anybody can add units. But well, you can add units and deliver the same experience through the people and continue to take care of your people to meet that success.

Matt Alder (21m 15s):
Mayra, thank you very much for talking to me.

Mayra Chimienti (21m 21s):
Thank you, Matt. It was wonderful talking to you.

Matt Alder (21m 25s):
My thanks to Mayra. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com. On that site, you can also subscribe to the mailing list to get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show.

Matt Alder (22m 18s):
Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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