Welcome back to Culture, Comms, & Cocktails, the podcast where internal communications is served straight up. I’m your host, Chuck Gose, strategic advisor at SocialChorus. Over cocktails, I’ll introduce you to the latest ideas in corporate culture and real-world examples of how to engage employees with the best workplace communications programs.
It’s fitting that we spoke with Kyla Turner, Communications Manager at Love’s Travel Stops on Valentine’s Day. Every February 14th they celebrate “Share the Love” day; it’s a community-service event everyone looks forward to it all year.
Love’s Travel Stops is a family-owned fuel retailer with more than 450 truck stop and convenience stores in 41 states. I’ll speak with Kyla on why Valentine’s Day is so special at Love’s, how they nurtured company culture especially with their truck drivers, and how they encouraged and managed employee- generated content in their internal communications program.
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“Our employees were always number one, but I just don’t know if we formalized it on that top, top level before, and now we are. So, yes. I do credit [our Love’s NOW app]… and our culture drives us and our employees drive us. Happy employees make for very happy customers.”
— Kyla Turner, Communications Manager at Love’s Travel Stops
Kyla Turner: Hi. It is a big day, so I’m thrilled to be here talking with you.
Chuck Gose: Well, it is a treat having you on Culture, Comms & Cocktails, Kyla, so let’s dig in to the culture and comms at Love’s, and hopefully a great cocktail recommendation from you. As I mentioned at the beginning, Valentine’s Day should be a special day for lots of people, but it’s a very special day for Love’s Travel Stops. Explain why that is.
Kyla Turner: Well, it is. It’s who we are. It’s in our name. We have a big echo heart in our logo. [The company is] owned by the Love family. So yeah, we kind of see Valentine’s Day as something that we own with our customers. But also, here at our corporate office in Oklahoma City, this is the day where we put down our work and we get away from our desks, and we go out into the community. We work with the food bank, we work with the Boys & Girls Clubs, we go to the children’s hospital, and we really dedicate this day to the community. It’s called “Share the Love,” and it’s something we look forward to all year long.
Chuck Gose: Where did you share the love today?
Kyla Turner: I went to the food bank. Which, I love doing this in the morning. There’s something about it. You know, they blast the music loud. It’s all love songs. We all sing along. We all pack boxes and develop these meals that will be served in our community. So, it’s an awesome way to kick off the day, and it’s something that … I mean, we just have employees who are taking selfies, taking pictures of each other, and we’re sharing those photos. So, it just really sets the tone for the day.
Chuck Gose: Well, it’s awesome any time a company does that, especially when you have this great tie-in, and it gives people that freedom to go back into the community and share the love. What I think is interesting, too, that I think listeners would like to hear … In your background, you previously worked at Southwest Airlines, which also has its own luv, more L-U-V, connection. Southwest is a company that is known for its culture. So, I’m curious. What have you brought with you from Southwest to Love’s, and how have you seen the culture at Love’s evolve over the years?
Kyla Turner: Yeah. Well, first, everything you hear and see about Southwest Airlines is true. The culture is what drives everything. Employees come first, and just the love they have for each other and for their customers, too. So, for those of us who have gone forth from Southwest, it’s exciting to know that we can bring something, that knowledge of how how that culture is done, and how it’s nurtured at Southwest, and go somewhere and really make a difference with it.
So, Love’s. When I got here to Oklahoma City, it’s run very operationally, like Southwest Airlines, but their culture was kind of … underground. he employees were taking care of each other. They’re very much a family, in both our travel stops and at the corporate office. But it wasn’t something that was formally promoted, or really had a spotlight shone on it.
So, that’s something that we’ve been working to do for the past several years. I think it’s a wonderful combination of having great leaders, who are now really building that up and speaking to it more, and also, just some of our comms channels have done that. And our Love’s NOW app has been one of the things that truly, especially in the past year, has really allowed us to put that highlight on our people, and let our people speak for the culture itself.
Chuck Gose: Now, for those that aren’t familiar, I think it’d be helpful to tell everyone how big Love’s is, like who the company is, who the employees are. Especially if they don’t live in a part of the country that might have a Love’s Travel Stop nearby.
Kyla Turner: Well, even if you don’t live in a part of the country that has a Love’s, hopefully you get on the road and you drive somewhere you will see one on the way. So, Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores (that’s our full name)is a family-owned and privately-run fuel retailer. We’re listed as one of four of the largest private companies in America, and we provide fuel, food, lots of things you can get on the road, and a safe, clean place to stop if you’re traveling on the Interstate. We serve everyone, but also, just specifically the trucking industry and professional truck drivers. We have almost 500 locations across the country, and more than 23,000 employees and growing every single day.
Chuck Gose: On my drives to Chicago, I always stop at a Love’s before I get on the Interstate. And as I described this to you, you were like, “Oh, that’s the Whitestown location. I’ve been there.” That was so impressive. It’s not just the vastness of it, but you guys have this great knowledge of all these places. I’m sure they’re all a little bit unique, and all have a little different character to them.
Kyla Turner: They are, and I think that’s something that … Once you come to Love’s, you see the Love family is always out in the stores. Now we’re 500 locations, but they used to visit every single location once a quarter. And now we’ve grown a little too big to have them do that. We have some of our senior leaders that also help make those visits. But that’s the thing. They’re very much involved. So if you’re working in a store, or you’re working 24/7, 365 days a year, but you still have the family coming into your store at least once a year, just to see how everything’s going, and make sure everyone’s happy, and that everything is running on track. So we really know that what drives our company are our employees on the front line, and of course, our customers.
Chuck Gose: And you had previously mentioned, you talked about Love’s NOW, and [the app] is now one of your primary internal comms channels, and it includes a lot of employee-generated content. You talked about employees today, with the Share the Love efforts, taking selfies and sharing those in there. For some companies, that’s a little bit of a scary thing for them. Why don’t you talk about the governance of how you manage employee-generated content, and what’s some of the great content you get from your employees?
Kyla Turner: You’re right. We kind of waded into unchartered water with this, too. I think, like so many other companies, we really focused on, “How are we gonna get the information to our people?” Of course we want feedback, but everything is done in internal comms. I feel like we plan it. We strategize. We want to measure it. And so, we really kind of hold it closely.
When we launched our new intranet a few years ago, we did enable commenting, and that’s probably the closest we had of any sort of social or user-generated feedback that we could get instantly. That has gone well. I mean, that has been a big eye opener. So, we knew that when we went to a mobile platform and a social platform, that we wanted that interaction. We wanted that user-generated content. We wanted to hear from our employees. We wanted them to feel like they owned it. That it wasn’t just another thing that we were pushing out to them.
So, we really had to look at it differently. We did think about it. Social, of course, does allow you that opportunity to heavily control. If you wanted to ask for user-generated content, but then you wanted to have an approval process before anything posts, you can do that. But we really looked at that and thought we didn’t want to do it, because we didn’t want adoption to suffer, if we had people who were submitting photos that they were proud of, or pictures of themselves or their locations, and then they had to wait and wait for something to get approved, or something that was never approved. So, we really had to kind of flip that script on how we do our communications, and say, “Instead of so tightly controlling all of the details on the front end, we’re gonna open it up and ask for the things that we’re wanting, and being very clear. That way, our employees can share in this process. And then, we heavily monitor on the back end.
So, once we started getting in all that user-generated content, it’s all been fantastic so far. But we have that opportunity, then, if we do see something that we need to archive, we will do it on the back end. That way, it’s still instantaneous. That way, it still works as a social platform for our employees, and still has that community feel. And honestly, there’s not a lot that we’ve had to archive or move off of the feed. We’ve been very clear about what our criteria is. Obviously, we have the same tenets as what we use for our own external social media. Nothing inappropriate, nothing vulgar, nothing threatening. But we haven’t had any of that. Really, our criteria rests in if there are too many pictures from one user of the same thing, we move some of those out, so it doesn’t clog up the content. Or if we have a blurry picture, or if we have an employee who’s taking a selfie, but there’s really no business reason, or anything that it’s showing. That’s more of the stuff that we archive, and our employees have gotten really accustomed to that. So, it’s more open than anything we’ve ever done, and we’ve had all good results so far.
What I love, and what our leaders love, is just the humanity. All of these things that we know were happening in their stores … even just as simple as celebrating a birthday, or celebrating someone’s promotion, or someone was leaving because they were being promoted to another store in a different location … All of those things now are captured. So, we get to see the celebrations that are going on in the field. We just had someone retire, who had been here more than 20 years. He was a great leader, but he was also a great fundraiser for children’s hospitals, and we got to see his entire retirement celebration with some of the family, with our senior leaders. Things like that, that we just never got to see, we now see, and we see the people behind our stores. Our leadership has loved that.
In addition, we see all of the things they’re proud of. I think there is something very strategic in what we did. When we launched this, we really told people, “This is a tool where we’re going to get you information, but this is also gonna give you the opportunity to showcase all the great things that you’re doing.” So, all of this content that we’re getting from our users is very positive, and a lot of it is just people who are proud of their jobs. One of our customer commitments is that we will have safe and clean and well-maintained spaces for our customers to stop. So we will get posts of people who have cleaned the restrooms, just brighter and shinier than you have ever seen, and they will post that picture and say, “See, folks? That’s how you do it.”
So there’s a lot of just that pride, that ownership of their roles, and there’s that idea sharing, too. We’ll get people who say, “Look, this is how I designed our merchandising end cap. You guys should do it this way, also.” So, there’s this kind of front-line information sharing, and then our leaders are just taking this all in, and they’re loving it.
Chuck Gose: No pun intended, of course. With the loving it part, I meant. Now, every communicator struggles. Sometimes there’s these niche audiences that are difficult to reach and really connect with. I know you’ve worked really hard to get your leaders to encourage your drivers to become more active. You mentioned that you guys do serve the truck driving community, but you also have your own internal community of truck drivers, so I imagine this is a very difficult audience. What kind of work have you guys done to get them engaged and active?
Kyla Turner: We do, and this has become one of our most active audiences on Love’s NOW. We, as you said, serve professional truck drivers, but we also have an entire division, because we have truck drivers who are driving those big fuel tankers that you’ll see on the Iinterstate. They’re kind of bright yellow Love’s billboards. We have 1,000 of those employees who are driving trucks every single day, again, 24/7, 365, to keep our locations stocked with fuel. So they were, by nature, by the fact that they’re driving so many hours, one of our most disconnected groups of employees, because they’re mobile. They’re truly mobile. They’re moving every moment of the day. And they’re driving, so they can’t look at a computer, they can’t look at their phones. But they do have federally mandated rest periods, also.
So, we knew that if we had a tool that they felt was easy to use, that they could look at either when they’re not on shift, or when they’re on their rest period, that we could really engage them that way. We actually started pulling numbers from our intranet on this group of drivers. And what we saw surprised us, is that I think everyone kind of thinks, “Well, truck drivers tend to be very independent in their jobs. They drive their truck. They are usually alone, and they rather like it that way.” And you can sometimes get in the mindset of, maybe being connected to the broader company and to everything that’s going on, isn’t as important to this group, because their job takes them all over.
But what we found through our intranet is, even though our intranet was probably the hardest for this group to access, we had some people who were jumping through the hoops, and really logging on from their own home computers to get on the intranet, so that they could read our stories, see the news, and make comments. So they became one of our first groups that we rolled out our Love’s NOW app to, because we knew there was a hunger there. They had been disconnected, and we wanted to bring them in. I can’t think of a better group to do this with. Because we singled them out, and we said, “We want you to be more connected. We want you to be a bigger part of this whole thing that we call Love’s. You’re such an engine for everything that we do.”
And they responded. We pushed it out, we launched the [Love’s NOW] app, and we said, “Show us where you’re driving. Show us what you do in a day’s work. There are so many people who don’t realize what our drivers do.” And we were flooded with just pictures of bright, shiny trucks. Our drivers love it when their trucks are just clean and gleaming and rolling down the road. And then, of course they all kind of got into a competition of who had the most beautiful landscape. By the mountains, in the snow, in the desert. We had everything. So that was a great way to kick it off, and they are still one of our most connected groups.
We have a great vice president there, Brent Bergevin, who has just a big personality. He has this big love for his drivers and his whole logistics team, where he does a weekly video and he tells them, “This is what I’m looking at this week. This is what I want you to remember. Go out there and be safe, and do great.” It’s just something that’s hugely motivating. They are. They’re really probably our most engaged, in terms of video and the photos that they’re sharing, and the information that’s being put out there. So, a huge success story.
Chuck Gose: It was great to see that, when it was launched, and they became part of the platform.You could see the pride that they had in what they did every day, who they represented. They’re out in the community, you said, driving the big fuel trucks around. And it was really cool to see them be able to share that, for others to then engage with them on that platform.
Kyla Turner: It is. I know, from a comms standpoint—and I do see this happening within their division, too—that connection has made for stronger relationships. So, I do say I can credit our Love’s NOW app not only with connecting them to the information that they need to know, and this outlet they have to communicate has actually strengthened the relationship between our drivers and our corporate office, and also our drivers and the logistics team; that’s helping them get the fuel that they need to take to our stores. So, it’s a wonderful case study that I know we need to continue to dig deep into, because it has strengthened the working relationship in that department, and that’s awesome.
Chuck Gose: You once told me, on a phone call: “This app is changing our lives!” Exclamation. You were so excited to share that. It’s a great quote, but explain for others what you mean by that. How is Love’s NOW changing your life?
Kyla Turner: It is. So many of the things that I’ve spoke about so far with you in this conversation, it really has changed the way we look at communications. We know we need to get information into our employees’ hands, in a way that they can consume it and use it to do their jobs better. But we also knew we had this culture that just wasn’t being highlighted enough. You know, our leaders are very focused on operational efficiency, and making sure people have what they need, and making sure that we’re just rolling along smoothly, especially at the pace in which we grow. But what this did … In opening up that user-generated content, the videos people are posting, and just the pride we’re seeing in people’s work … It has opened up everyone’s eyes about how much pride they do have, how much love they have for their jobs and for this company, and it has also changed the way our leaders now look at culture, and making it kind of that number one thing now that we’re always talking about.
Our employees were always number one, but I just don’t know if we formalized it on that top, top level before, and now we are. So, yes. I do credit this app— and our leadership, and a lot of things that have gone very well.Now we are more like a Southwest Airlines, in that our culture drives us and our employees drive us, and our employees who are engaged and happy and showing it..That kind of closes that loop too. Happy employees make for very happy customers.
As communicators, it has really opened us up, too. There’s a lot that happens organically when you have a mobile app, one that functions, because it is a social app. We really had to look at it that way. It’s our one piece that works with that script flip. Again, to where we’ve opened it. We have that trust. We want to see that feedback and that sharing from our employees. We just monitor it from the back end, and keep it flowing.
Chuck Gose: It’s been so great to hear, and personally, I’m proud of what Love’s NOW has become. The effort and dedication that you and the rest of the communicators there at Love’s have put into this, the care you’ve given it, the creativity you’ve provided, giving this outlet to employees. You’ve done a great job talking through the culture and comms activities there at Love’s. But now we’ve got to move on to the next part of the podcast, which is the cocktails part of it. So, I’m curious. You and I were both in Montreal. We spoke together at IBC World Conference last summer, and we ended up at a tiki bar one evening.
Kyla Turner: We did.
Chuck Gose: So I know you do enjoy cocktails. So, what is your favorite cocktail?
Kyla Turner: You’re right. There’s not many cocktails that I don’t enjoy. And you know, I’m not one of those people that has a signature thing that I will order. But I will say, there’s one that’s a favorite, and it can be kind of hard to find. Actually, I’ve only found two people who made this correctly for me. One is my husband. The other is the Arizona Biltmore. But, it’s called an El Diablo. Have you had one?
Chuck Gose: I have not had one. I want to hear more about this.
Kyla Turner: This is a tequila-based drink, so you have to have a nice smooth tequila. It also has Crème de Cassis, so there’s that blackberry flavor in there. And lime, to kind of take away the sweetness, and ginger beer. So, it’s this refreshing concoction that’s not too sweet, but very tasty and wonderful. Again, I always think about the Arizona Biltmore. If you’re out somewhere, it’s sunny and warm, this is a good thing to try. And one of my favorites.
Chuck Gose: Or if you’re in Oklahoma City, you can hit up Kyla’s husband, so he can make you one.
Kyla Turner: Exactly. Just come to our house, and we will make you a perfect Diablo cocktail.
Chuck Gose: Kyla, thanks again for taking the time to do this. Like I said, it’s been great seeing Love’s NOW become what it is, and I’m excited to see it continue to grow and become this cherished channel and platform for Love’s. And again, thanks again for your time, and sharing all of your knowledge, and the work that you and your team have put into this.
Kyla Turner: Thank you, Chuck. You and your team have been instrumental in our success. So, thanks. I’m excited to see where it goes from here.