How the Employee Experience Drives the Guest Experience

Hilary Sutton Human Resources Leave a Comment

As Chief People Officer Beverly Carmichael works to inspire and motivate Cracker Barrel’s 72,000 employees every day

When the words “Cracker Barrel Old Country Store” are spoken, what pops to mind first? It may be the rocking chairs that line the front entrance, or the classic country tunes that hum in the background, or maybe it’s the crackle of the fireplaces, the gentlemen playing a slow game of checkers, freshly baked biscuits or the cheery familiarity with which a server has taken an order. No matter what pops to mind first, one thing is consistent: the guest experience is a good one. So who ensures that delighted guests become lifelong customers? That’s the job of Beverly Carmichael, head of human resources at the Lebanon, TN headquartered company.

Beverly Carmichael is Senior Vice President, Chief People Officer at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. She joined the company in January of 2014 with 20 years of human resources experience including working as Chief People Officer at Ticketmaster and Senior Vice President of labor and employee relations and Vice President of People at Southwest Airlines. She also spent nine years in law, first for a private firm then for Southwest. Carmichael holds a business degree as well as a JD from University of Oklahoma where she recently taught as an adjunct professor.

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store opened its doors in 1969. It now has more than 70,000 employees in 633 locations across 42 states. All locations are company owned and operated.


The Secret to Customer Satisfaction

Because Cracker Barrel believes that the happy employee is the key to happy guests and ultimately a successful business, Carmichael’s job is very important to the company’s success.  Carmichael explained that the employee experience drives the guest experience. A great guest experience means that they will become loyal customers. “That was also the model at Southwest: you take good care of your employees, they will take care of your customers, and everything else falls into place. As much as we appreciate our guests at Cracker Barrel, the guest experience should never exceed the employee experience,” said Carmichael.

Core to the company culture is an investment in employee growth and retention. “A lot of people are attracted to us because they know that no matter what job they may come in with, there are lots of opportunities for them to grow and develop and progress throughout the company. Often people say they want a foot in the door because they know there will be many opportunities for them,” said Carmichael. Cracker Barrel places high value on developing employees and giving them the opportunity to grow and develop. “Development is something we’re always focused on. We have a robust training department that includes all aspects of restaurant training, retail training, financial training, and a lot of on the job training.  If you have aspirations to do something different, you’ll have that opportunity.  We have many employees who have been here for decades.  They’ve had many careers at Cracker Barrel and never left the company…If you work hard, do great work, and stay true to our mission of pleasing people, really the sky is the limit here,” said Carmichael.

_K9B6320Understanding the Employee Experience

“I’ve been a guest of Cracker Barrel for years. I observed as a guest that the employees were the essence of the guest experience,” said Carmichael. In her earliest days at Cracker Barrel, Carmichael made understanding each employee’s function a top priority. “I’ve never worked in the same industry twice, so I have always made it a high priority to learn the business where it happens, where guests and customers experience it…Especially in the top HR job, you really need to understand every employee’s job to understand how the guest experience is delivered.” Carmichael did this by training in a local restaurant working side by side with employees — with them training her.  “I’ve been a server, a host, a grill cook, a cashier, a retail sales person, really every position.  As a result of that experience I do my job better,” said Carmichael.

Having hands on experience reminded Carmichael that every job at Cracker Barrel requires an orientation toward Pleasing People, which is our mission. “You really do have to select people who have a passion for service and enjoy what they’re doing,” said Carmichael. Her experience training in so many positions immediately endeared employees to the new head of HR. In addition to that, Carmichael has made getting to know employees on all levels of the organization a top priority. “Employees call and text me all the time and they know me when I come into their store.  It really makes a difference when they know that executives from the corporate office know them personally and genuinely care about them.”

Carmichael explained that her unique approach to work hinges on a commitment to servant leadership. “Irrespective of your functional responsibility, as a leader, your main job is to serve and support your employees… It’s also important that they respect you, feel inspired and motivated by you, and see you lead by example.” Carmichael seeks not only to lead by example, but through accessibility, empathy, and empowerment. She said, “Employees want you to be available when they need you.  But sometimes, all they need you to do is step out of their way.  The key is to know when to do which.”  ♦


Beverly Carmichael’s 3 Musts for Young Professionals

  1. Before accepting a job, make sure the company and you are a good fit. “There are lots of great employees and lots of great companies, but they don’t always fit each other. Fit is arguably the most important factor in any employee’s success or failure in a job.  I’ve tried to be very intentional about this.  I want to know whether I fit the culture and the culture fits me. When you have that, there is a very good chance you will be successful and happy.
  1. Have a personal board of directors. “I’ve had a number of people throughout my life and career who have made time for me, coached, mentored, and guided me along the way… Everyone needs someone who they trust, who has their best interest at heart, and who will give it to them straight. I’ve been blessed to have crossed paths with some very special people, my personal board of directors.  Any success that I’ve had, those people have been instrumental in it.”
  1. Find what you’re good at and what you love. “You have to do something you love. You have to do something you’re good at. You have to do something you can make a living doing. If you don’t love it, you’re only going to be so good at it.  If you’re not good at it, you’re probably not going to be that successful.  If you can’t make a living doing it, it’s a hobby.”


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