Company Culture As Your Competitive Edge

company culture, Levi Ayriss, Lance Risser, Dutch Bros Coffee, competitive market, coffee sales


Listen to “39. Company Culture as Your Competitive Edge w/ Dutch Bros. Coffee” on Spreaker.

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Imagine a culture in which the company’s employees find as much joy in the customer experience as as their customers do. For our guests on this episode of The Customer Experience Podcast, that’s an everyday part of how they’re growing their business in a highly competitive industry.

And it’s not part of a go-to-market strategy, engineered process, or business plan. It’s just who they are.

The deeply held, widely shared, and consistently practiced beliefs of the team at Dutch Bros Coffee are at the core of their company culture, which is the competitive edge behind their status as the largest privately owned drive-through coffee business in the U.S. In 2017, they landed on the Forbes list of “Small Giants” (America’s Best Small Companies). And in 2013, CEO and cofounder Travis Boersma was featured on an episode of Undercover Boss on CBS (Season 5, Episode 8).

Headquartered in Grants Pass, Oregon, Dutch Bros Coffee stores are located in Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado. Fun fact: we’ve got a half dozen locations in BombBomb’s hometown of Colorado Springs!

To talk us through how to develop your people, love your customers, and protect your culture, Lance Risser, VP of Southwest Field Operations, and Levi Ayriss, VP of Northwest Field Operations, joined me as the first pair of guests we’ve hosted here on the podcast. Lance has spent the past 10 years with Dutch Bros and Levi – the past 20!


Dutch Bros., Dutch Bros Coffee, Lance Risser, Levi Ayriss


For Levi and Lance, customer experience means finding the opportunity to meet another human at whatever point they are at in life.

The two elaborate in this video clip …


If you get the moments right, the experience takes care of itself. As they note in that clip above, not everyone gets this right every time, but staying mindful of how you can impact another person’s life in that moment is crucial to a great customer experience. It’s a difference people can feel, so the goal is to meet as many customers, wherever they may be in their days and their lives, and create a real connection in that moment.

We’ve got so much to learn from two leaders with decades of experience in a fast-growing company, people-first culture, and highly competitive industry about what it takes to deliver exceptional customer experience.

Among the topics we cover in our conversation …

  • Protecting company culture, especially through fast-growth phases
  • Balancing a high-volume service with meaningful customer connection
  • Focusing on people and relationships as a point of differentiation
  • Hiring, onboarding, and developing talented people
  • Making a difference in our local communities
  • Helping people maintain positivity in their work and personal lives
  • So much more!

Dutch Bros Coffee, Lance Risser, customer love, company culture, customer experience



Company Culture As Your Differentiator and Competitive Edge

To listen to any and every episode of The Customer Experience Podcast, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player …

Each episode is also embedded in its companion blog post.

So, you can also listen to the conversation about company culture with Levi Ayriss and Lance Risser of Dutch Bros Coffee right here …

Listen to “39. Company Culture as Your Competitive Edge w/ Dutch Bros. Coffee” on Spreaker.



A Magnetic Culture As A Differentiator

“If we’re not having fun, how is it going to be attractive for future employees and customers?” asks Levi.

It seems so obvious, but this perspective is so easily lost amidst our day-to-day and week-to-week activities. Company culture must be practiced and modeled, not just thought or taught. And if it’s to be magnetic, it should be positive.

What Dutch Bros. does is more than just serve coffee to the masses, which is a valuable job in and of itself. The mission of the company and every employee that joins the “Mafia” (an affectionate term for their community), is to improve the lives and experiences of each stakeholder they serve and each community they operate in.

The guys both agree, if customers came in and thought the employees weren’t enjoying their day, what does that do for the customer? If the customer isn’t engaged, what does that do for the company?

In this next clip, they talk about the magnetic effect of an engaging, positive culture …


Lance and Levi mention that many of their employees and even franchisors were customers first. When potential hires interview with the company, most of them come in as raving fans. They want to be part of a mission that bolsters communities, improves people’s days, and helps better employees’ lives.

With a mission that puts people first, it’s not hard to understand how the company successfully attracts customers and employees in a highly competitive market.

What makes Dutch Bros Coffee unique? How do they continue to grow in the face of fierce competition? What’s their differentiator?

In short: people and relationships. Levi explains …



Identify, Practice, and Protect the Core of Your Culture


You have to know what “it” is for your company culture. What makes it great? What makes it special? What’s at its core? Protecting and preserving it is the key to long-term success.

Be completely willing to halt growth if it means sacrificing who your company is at its cultural core. Understand what can distract from or what can overcomplicate as an essential practice to growing at the right pace and in the right way.

In one of the best monologues we’ve hosted here on The Customer Experience Podcast, Levi talks about “it” …


Celebrating the unique and often intangible strength of your company can be done by finding peace in the simplicity of your mission. If like Dutch Bros, your company offers a product or service that improves your customer’s day, your mission is improving each customer’s day.

Having such a simple but powerful goal prevents you from feeling like it constantly needs to be reshaped. Focusing on it consistently day in and day out allows you to build on your strengths and build long-term success.

The point of a mission isn’t to bend to the demands of the day or trends of the era, but rather to provide a solid structure and foundation to weather whatever comes your company’s way. Purpose and meaning can anchor us.

Levi Ayriss, Dutch Bros Coffee, company culture, company mission, simplicity, peace


In talking simplicity, focus, and mastery, Levi notes that marketing and analytics are important and valuable tools. But they need to be employed in service of your mission, not as complications to or distractions from it. Similarly, everything you add to the culture must enhance or preserve its core.

So to protect your culture, follow these essential tips:

  • Know what’s core to your company culture.
  • Dedicate to it daily.
  • Guard against distraction.
  • Don’t overcomplicate it or layer in complexity.
  • Watch for threats and listen to your gut.

Levi ends this wise take with simple but meaningful advice: “Don’t give up on what you’re already doing well.”

Dutch Bros Coffee, Levi Ayriss, talent development, talent investment, company culture, business fundamentals


So, would you really halt company growth if your core seems threatened? Does your team have the focus and disciplilne required to make that difficult decision?

Dutch Bros Coffee seems to. They’ve got incredibly ambitious growth goals – hundreds of new locations over the next few years. But Lance says that “it’s not worth sacrificing who we are to grow.”

If you’re playing the long game, you can’t lose sight of who you are and you have to have the right people on board.

In this video clip, Lance talks geographical expansion but only if and only when the fundamentals are in place …



Balancing High-Volume Sales With Meaningful Customer Experiences

As any hospitality industry worker knows, the need for efficiency is always present – especially food and beverage, the industry’s biggest sector. That need, of course, is dramatically heightened during high-volume hours.

Because Dutch Bros is so focused on creating moments, making connections, and building relationships with their customers, I was curious to know how they balance this cultural key and competitive differentiator with the need to keep their drive throughs moving.

What they shared when I asked about these potentially competing priorities is likely useful to anyone in customer service, customer support, or customer success. Here it is …


At Dutch Bros, you’ll pull up and be welcomed by an employee who takes your order. You’ll pull through to the window and meet another employee to pay. Sometimes there’s even a third who brings your order out to you when it’s ready – or even come out to continue a conversation!

This system helps provide the right experience for any given customer.

Lance breaks down their customers into four groups below:

  • Customers who know what they want, and they want it now.
  • Customers who know what they want, but they’re not in a hurry.
  • Customers who don’t know what they want, but they want it now.
  • Customers who don’t know what they want, and they don’t care how long it takes.

The ability to assess the situation and deliver the appropriate experience for each customer is they key to success here. Team members must identify which category a customer might fall into so they know how best to serve them. This allows each customer to consistently receive the experience he or she needs in that moment – and for each customer to be served in a timely manner.

Critical, then, are Dutch Bros hiring, onboarding, training, and development processes. Their culture and competitive edge are about people. This is how both Levi and Lance spend the majority of their time.

Dutch Bros Coffee invests in people. And not just in policies and procedures. They invest in helping make people better thinkers, better leaders, and better decision makers. They work to honor people from different backgrounds and with different lifestyles because “life is a team sport.”

Levi explains in this final video clip …


They have a sense of duty to invest in people because it produces a compounding effect. The conversations they’re having should perhaps have been initiated by parents or mentors but, for a variety of reasons, those conversations never happened. It’s not just about work, either. It’s about being an adaptable, appreciative, and attentive person in service of others.

Dutch Bros retains many great employees and develops them into the leaders they need to keep growing the business. But they also proudly send many great people out into the world to create moments, build relationships, and improve lives.

This is where the effect really compounds and goes far beyond their company. For example, we’ve got a couple of great BombBomb team members who came up in the Dutch Bros culture. Now, our company, our team members, and our customers benefit from those investments.



Optimism As a Company Creed and Cultural Cornerstone

For team members at Dutch Bros Coffee, The Optimist Creed is a point of guidance. It’s a set of principles that can be tapped as necessary and applied in any given moment.

The goal isn’t necessarily to follow them strictly; the points almost read as a description of human perfection. Instead, when someone is dealing with a difficult situation, Levi recommends reading, reflecting on, and sharing one or two lines. This can tremendously affect your perspective in the moment and throughout your life.

Here are its tenets via Optimist International, an organization dedicated to bringing out the best in yourself, our youth, and our communities:

  • “To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
  • To talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person you meet.
  • To make all your friends feel that there is something in them.
  • To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.
  • To think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best.
  • To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.
  • To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
  • To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.
  • To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.
  • To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.”

The guys were kind enough to run through some recommended reading, as well.

Note: The Power of Moments was also recommended by Jordan Olivero on Episode 18: Create Delight To Keep Customers for Life.



This post is based on a conversation with Lance Risser and Levi Ayriss of Dutch Bros Coffee.

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