It was 10:55am and there was already a line.
I was standing outside Shake Shack's Theatre District location in New York City with my friend, Jenny Dempsey. She was working nearby at the time and I was in town for a conference, so this was a rare opportunity to meet up.
Jenny co-authors the fabulous Customer Service Life blog, which meant we naturally had to visit a place that offers outstanding customer service. Jenny suggested Shake Shack, but warned that we needed to get there early. "Tables fill up fast," she said.
The employees' friendliness immediately struck me when the doors opened at 11. They smiled, looked you in the eye, and seemed genuinely happy. The restaurant quickly crowded, but that friendliness must have been contagious, because guests were friendly, too.
Oh, and the burgers were as delicious as advertised.
It was a great introduction to a restaurant chain that was already legendary in New York City and was rapidly expanding. But I left wondering how a busy fast-casual chain could create an oasis of friendliness and welcome in the heart of New York City.
As I later learned, it all starts with vision.
Meet The Roker Burger
On my second visit to Shake Shack, I took my mother-in-law, Mabeth, and my wife, Sally.
The three of us were touring New York City and I wanted them to experience the phenomenon. We decided to visit the original location in Madison Square Park.
Just like my first visit, the employees were friendly and engaging. We also had an extra treat in store for us this time. A film crew was setting up in the park.
We soon learned it was a Today Show film crew.
Al Roker appeared and began filming a segment. He had teamed up with Shake Shack to create a unique hamburger called The Roker Burger. We watched as Roker went through the line handing out samples and conducting a taste test.
It was a great New York City moment. We enjoyed tasty burgers, received friendly and engaging service, and saw a celebrity filming a segment for a television show. I even used up a few seconds of my 15 minutes of fame when I appeared in the background of the clip. (At 2:33)
The Roker Burger ended up raising $20,000 for No Kid Hungry.
The Shake Shack Vision
All of the things I described in my experiences come from Shake Shack's customer service vision, Stand For Something Good.
A customer service vision is a shared definition of outstanding service that guides the actions of all employees throughout the company.
This vision is evident in everything Shake Shack does.
Restaurant locations are carefully selected and designed to become part of the local neighborhood. Prospective employees are screened for friendly, outgoing attitudes, and then given constant encouragement to connect with guests. Food is carefully sourced to maintain quality and then prepared with an exacting process to ensure a consistent taste. Employees are given extensive training and then empowered to create great guest experiences.
Even the Roker Burger fits the vision.
For Shake Shack, part of Stand For Something Good includes donating to local charities and organizing company volunteers to help feed the hungry, mentor kids, and clean up parks in the community.
The Secret of Alignment
Shake Shack is featured in Chapter 5 of The Service Culture Handbook because the company emulates the concept of alignment so well.
Yes, Shake Shack's customer-focused culture starts with the Stand For Something Good vision. You can use this guide to create a vision for your organization or team.
But the vision becomes real by aligning all aspects of company operations around it. While most organizations struggle to implement a vision because leaders treat it like a side project, Shake Shack's leadership has made the vision a central part of every decision.
You can test your organization or team's alignment using this simple assessment.
The results can help you start the conversation internally about where to start improving customer-focus and employee engagement.