Vacherin is one of London’s leading independent caterers, serving up a combination of high-quality cuisine with best-in-class and highly differentiated front of house experiences at venues including Regent’s University London, London Stock Exchange Group, Investec, ITV and Hiscox. With exceptional customer and employee experiences integrated into the company’s DNA, Vacherin turned to Speakap – a private and secure mobile-first employee comms solution for reaching, engaging and educating its highly-dispersed workforce many of whom had no company email or device.
“Vacherin is a special kind of workplace,” Zoe Watts, Commercial Director, told us. “We are a team of passionate individuals who are naturally collaborative, interested in our work and excited about our future.
“We have always encouraged our people to have a voice, and to get involved in the company beyond their day to day role, and as the business continues to grow, we’ve realised we need a better way – a more modern way – to communicate with each other. Introducing our employee app is just one way of looking ahead and planning for our future”
Of the 504 staff, just 30 are based in the head office with the rest out on site across the 45 contracts in London. With the exception of site managers and head chefs, the majority don’t have access to desktop systems and don’t have a Vacherin email address.
Employee comms rethink
“We’ve always shared information with our staff on a regular basis, via a variety of different formats and as much as possible face to face. Obviously as the company gets bigger this gets trickier and we are very reliant on our site managers keeping their teams informed. We used to email a weekly newsletter to employees’ personal accounts, but we knew this wasn’t ideal and engagement with it could have been better. The time was definitely right to introduce our first social platform.”
Zoe and her team looked at the usual suspects, including Workplace by Facebook and Yammer, but neither of these could be white labelled. “We were keen to have our own company-branded employee app, and Speakap stood out for us. The fact that it works like Facebook and other familiar social platforms meant that it was easy to use and required minimal training.”
Having taken the idea to the board and got them on side, it was full steam ahead to focus on the launch. “In keeping with the informal style of internal communication around the company, the app is called VachChat – encouraging two-way conversation from the off. We had a lot of fun introducing it to the business. Firstly, we invited all the 45 site managers to head office, got them all signed up and demonstrated the benefits of using VachChat with their teams as well as with the wider business. We followed this up with a roadshow to all sites, working with each team to get them on board, signed up and excited about the possibilities of using the app. VachChat branded cakes at each site launch went down well and team photos welcoming them on board were posted from each site. Having such easy access to colleagues across the wider business piqued curiosity and early response has been incredibly positive.”
A sense of pride
VachChat has only been live since February this year and has made an immediate impact on the business. “There are of course lots of food pictures!” admits Zoe. “Our chefs are incredibly proud of the food they create for our clients and being able to share and see what is happening elsewhere in the company has added a healthily competitive dimension! In last year’s annual company meeting we asked our managers and head chefs how they felt about communication; they said they wanted to know more about what was happening at other sites, so VachChat is definitely doing this for them.
“I am really keen that as VachChat settles in, we see posting move to the next level – where it is more informative, more about dialogue and more about finding great business solutions. For example, just last week two of our chefs went foraging in their own time for wild garlic to use in their recipes, with plenty available to offer to other sites if they wanted some too. This not only shows their commitment and passion for their work, but it gets to the heart of what we are about as a company – the best, seasonal produce, responsibly sourced, sustainably produced and delicious! Demonstrating our values through a story like this is way more powerful than any induction training. It’s a great way to get people talking.”
As well as encouraging this sharing behaviour, head office makes good use of the platform too, with weekly reminders of relevant staff benefits; for example, the recent spring weather was the ideal opportunity to promote the cycle to work scheme. Current vacancies are also posted on VachChat as well as workshops and training opportunities. There’s lots of employee recognition and competition successes are frequent shout-outs. Raising the profile of individuals across the whole business, in all the various roles, is having a very positive effect on morale across the company.”
Complementing other channels
All staff are encouraged to complete their profile on the app including a photo which is enormously helpful in improving face to face gatherings too as staff begin to recognise colleagues more readily. VachChat helps to build excitement for internal events such as the annual cooking and barista competitions with the expectation that, as a result of greater visibility, attendance at these events will be enhanced.
As a push channel it is used sparingly, essentially for news posts announcing new client acquisitions. In the pipeline is a polling function as well as a greater use of video, which will be led by the HR and comms teams.
At the moment success is measured in usage stats but Zoe plans to run focus groups and feedback sessions later in the summer to drill a little deeper into what people think about VachChat. Importantly, this will include gathering insight from those who do use the app and the 80 or so who don’t currently. The annual employee survey will include questions around internal communication and use of VachChat, to see whether it is impacting the net promoter score and the overall sense of engagement in the business.
Zoe concludes: “VachChat has taken our staff engagement to a whole new level. Now our people can learn about news, people stories, company events, innovation, creativity and training and progression opportunities in real time. They can chat to one another and share across sites, groups or company-wide all that is happening in their world of work.
“Already the response has been wholly positive; our people are posting with gusto and are loving having the ability to comment on the achievement of others.
“Nothing beats face to face contact and conversation, but in our world, where a significant number of our staff don’t have access to a Vacherin email account, the platform has huge potential and VachChat fills the requirement for day to day communications perfectly.”
Zoe Watts will be joining us at smileexpo with Guy Chiswick of Speakap talking about introducing an employee comms app to a growing business. If you haven’t yet done so, you can book your ticket here.