ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

October 1999


Boeing Flies High

Fostering Creativity: An Early Start

Are We There Yet?

If It Ain't Pretty - I'm Outta Here

Flying Above Mediocrity

Teams At The Top


Large Ideas Expressed In Small Amounts
by Peter Block


Brief Cases

Diary of a Shutdown

Views for a Change



Are We There Yet?
Chevron's Journey To Consistent Outstanding Retail Expereinces

"Daddy, I have to go to the bathroom."

This urgent plea strikes terror in vacationing families traveling on an interstate or passing through unfamiliar neighborhoods. "We have to stop, but where? Where can we go for a clean restroom?"

This dilemma is reflected in a recent effort undertaken by Expressworks International, of San Jose, CA, on behalf of the Chevron Products Company, which has its name displayed on approximately 8,700 service stations across the nation.

As Jeff Traeger, then general manager of retail marketing in Chevron's Los Angeles area, explained at AQP's annual Spring Conference in Las Vegas, the effort involves the company's shift in focus from a supply driven strategy (refining) to a customer driven one (marketing).

The Key is Clean or Cleanliness a Must
"A need was felt to increase a return on investment at the stations which we serve. With the cost of building a station now being approximately $2 million, there has been an industry-wide move toward sharing a station site with a fast food business or convenience mart.

"We observed that fast food enterprises succeed as the result of uniformity. Some of our partnerships are with McDonald's and we noted that their success stems from a uniformity of product and presentation. The customer satisfaction data showed us that customer loyalty is affected by several key dimensions, one of which is cleanliness.

"Our difficulties came with the multitude of distribution centers and the fact that only ten percent of our total number of stations are company owned. Assuming an average of ten employees per unit, that means that more than 80,000 workers are serving in non-company operated two-and three-party service stations. Furthermore, most of these employees are at entry level, earning close to minimum wages."

To set about building and deploying a unification process that would guarantee results in 8,700 locations, Chevron chose Expressworks, a firm which they had used successfully on previous projects. Says Traeger, "We felt they would be most likely to become totally involved."

Employee Engagement
To achieve Chevron's customer-driven vision, Expressworks coined the term C.O.R.E. (Consistently Outstanding Retail Experience) to reflect the overall goal of the marketing organization. The turn-around of such a large, longtime firm would require the engagement of all personnel.

"From Jeff, as general manager, down to each individual employee, there had to be empathy and an understanding of the overall goal," explains Robyn Holt, an Expressworks associate at the time the Chevron project was getting under way.

"To reach through the distribution system to the myriad of Chevron stations would involve multiple implementers. The engagement had to make clear who would be responsible for every action taken." To engage all personnel became a one-step-at-a-time process.

"Our strategy of discovery was one of gathering information onsite at the point of execution," says Expressworks' partner Peter Lohnberg, adding that Chevron itself would find a number of things for which the company had not been previously aware.

"My team was responsible for the discovery portion of our research, and since the earlier studies had indicated cleanliness as a major point in customer satisfaction, we began by taking on the study of service station restrooms. The other areas we studied were the pump island, convenience store, yard lot and short tunnel car wash.

"Our design process began with learning how restrooms are currently being cleaned. We conducted sample interviews and work process observations at stations across the country. We learned that there was little consistency between what one might find at one Chevron station and what might be found at another. Station managers just assumed that new employees knew how to clean up a restroom."

What was the major gauge for customers assessing restroom cleanliness?
According to Lohnberg, it was somewhat surprising, "Smell."

"The initial odor affected all other appraisals. Next, we learned that the odor actually emanated from bacteria and that it could be found most anywhere in the room. We had to find the best process and product possible for eliminating bacteria, and where did we find it? In hospitals. We agreed that any company-wide manual would have to require a uniform cleanser being used not only around toilets, but throughout the room, from top to bottom and back to front: ceiling, walls and floors.

Expressworks' findings revealed that some entry-level workers could not read well. As finalized, the Cleaning System Guide is color-coded for each area to be cleaned: not only the restrooms, but also the pump islands, the yard lot and, where applicable, the food mart or car wash areas. Laminated for durability and filled with graphics, the manual pictures each step to be undertaken as scheduled.

Follow the Leader
Leading the way in the deployment of this C.O.R.E. effort were Chevron's retail marketing managers.

Expressworks utilized an engagement process labeled "see one, do one, teach one" to enlist the help and support of all retail managers and employees. Traeger began the process by observing the implementation of the cleanliness processes and then actually cleaned a station himself using the same tools every station employee would ultimately use.

Traeger brought his management team together, demonstrated the use of the processes and tools to clean the station and then observed them implementing those processes. The method was passed along in repeated demonstrations, from area managers to retail managers, from retail managers to marketing managers, from marketing to territory management and finally to each individual Chevron station manager. After the station manager had demonstrated the process to his employees, there would be daily and weekly logs to be kept at each location.

Using a basketball metaphor, the effort encouraged those involved to follow your shot" by working with others to see that the process continued moving forward. Within the marketing division, achievement was recognized by a "Chevron U" certificate not unlike those earned at McDonald's renowned Hamburger University.

Recognizing that employee turnover mandated continuing reinforcement of this Consistently Outstanding Retail Experience effort, Expressworks set up a separate design support process for RDRI, the "rapid deployment of retail incentives."

In the first full year of the new program, customer satisfaction ratings have increased and acceptance of the voluntary program has been widely adopted by non-company stations as well. Eighty percent of all Chevron operated station restrooms are now cleanliness certified.
Asked how the program has been affected by low unemployment figures, Traeger, now retired, admitted to problems in urban areas facing high employee turnover.

"However, most of the independents have a loyal customer base and they want to improve upon that. Furthermore, there has been a factor of greater employee satisfaction as the result of a required cleaning agenda taking less time or making the work easier. Employees are being paid more individual attention and the engagement process brings them together in a group dialogue. The process is finally becoming 'the way we do business.' Employees become involved and feel good knowing that they are serving in an approved manner."
Making the ideal cleaning process a consistent method of daily work is, of course, what Expressworks and Chevron set out to do.

"It has proven to be highly successful and is still building," says Lohnberg.

Perhaps the success of Chevron's station-wide effort has given the company an affirmative answer to that other question that besets traveling families: "Are we there yet?"

November '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
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