Industry News | May 15, 2013

Subway, Checkers Execs Back for More on “Undercover Boss”

Subway chief development officer Don Fertman catches up with a Subway employee from his first appearance on "Undercover Boss".
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One appearance on CBS’s hit show “Undercover Boss” just wasn’t enough for two quick-serve industry execs. That’s why Subway chief development officer Don Fertman and Checkers president and CEO Rick Silva are going back for round two this Friday.

The “Epic Bosses” episode catches up with nine executives from past seasons of “Undercover Boss”, taking a look at what they learned and how their brands have since changed.

Both Silva and Fertman say their original appearance on the show shed light on many areas of the business that needed improving, spurring their respective brands to create programs to addres these issues.

At Subway, Fertman says his time spent working alongside the chain’s Sandwich Artists reinforced the important role these front-line employees play at the brand every day.

“We already knew that our Sandwich Artists are a valuable interface with the customer, but we really got a sense of the scope of their job and their enthusiasm for customer service when I went undercover and behind the counter,” he says.

Borne from a desire to understand how Sandwich Artists view their job and the company as a whole, Fertman and the Subway team created Sandwich Artist Roundtables, for which Fertman and other executives traveled the globe to get feedback firsthand from employees.

Fertman says the roundtables helped the brand not only uncover employees' focus on customer service, but also their hunger for tools to improve the customer service experience and find out how they’re doing.

To meet these needs, Subway developed a Customer Experience Strategy to measure satisfaction; it then shares the findings with franchise owners and Sandwich Artists.

Though the first batch of roundtable meetings took place over a year, the brand continues to hold them periodically when it wants to test an idea with the help of Sandwich Artists.

“We realized it’s very important that when you roll out new products or a new system or a new way of doing something that we get the input from the field so we know it’s going to work at the store level and so we know it’s going to be OK for the folks behind the counter to implement,” Fertman says.

Similar to the Sandwich Artist Roundtables, Silva says his “Undercover Boss” experience played a hand in the creation of Checkers’ GM Council.

The council is made up of the top 10 percent of general managers from both company-owned and franchise units. Each year, these GMs—around 80 of them—are treated to a “Best of the Best” cruise to reward them for their performance. They’re also consulted each quarter on various ideas, and the corporate team sends them information about possible promotions and products to gauge their reaction.

“It certainly isn’t perfect, but it’s a way of getting direct feedback from the field,” Silva says.

He also helped launch the Team Member Incentive Program, thanks to feedback from hourly associates he worked with on the show. Though the brand already had a bonus incentive program in place for the management team—including general, assistant, and shift managers—it didn’t apply to front-line employees.

“It seems so obvious now looking back. How do you do it for part of your employees and not all of your employees?” Silva says. “We were being progressive and going beyond just general managers, so we thought we were really cool … and all of a sudden we have team members saying, ‘That’s really cool for you, but I’m not getting it.’”

With the expanded program, employees at units that meet monthly goals are awarded bonuses based on the number of hours they worked during the month.

Silva says more than 1,500 employees benefit from the program each month, and in the nine periods since it was launched, team members have earned more than $200,000 in combined additional pay.

Not only has the program improved employee morale, but Silva says it has also made management’s job easier.

“Now everybody has a stake in it, so when [managers are] talking about improving speed of service … the team members have a financial incentive in making that difference,” he says.

Other changes at the brand that have yet to roll out include the Coach to Grow program, as well as a learning management system.

The Coach to Grow program is a mentor system—being tested now—that pairs district managers with assistant managers and general managers with employees.

The learning management system is a technology that will allow the company to produce training information from a centralized location and give employees a clear path for career advancement.

“It will allow us to know who’s doing really well from a training perspective and who’s ready to be promoted,” Silva says, “but it will also allow the employee … to have a very clear vision of what areas they need to work on” to move up int he company.

By Mary Avant

News and information presented in this release has not been corroborated by QSR, Food News Media, or Journalistic, Inc.