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Crazy about chocolate, serious about people: meet the Dutch chocolate company that dared to be different

“My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” – Forrest Gump

The origin story of Dutch chocolate company Tony’s Chocolonely is different than most. In 2002, its founder Teun van de Keuken – an investigative reporter – discovered that despite having signed an agreement to end forced child labour, none of the signatory chocolate companies were upholding it.

Fuelled by this injustice, he took matters into his own hands. In 2005, he created Tony’s Chocolonely, with a mission to deal directly with West African cocoa farmers, enabling their families to earn a living wage so that their children could attend school, instead of being forced to work for a living.

Since its humble beginnings, the company has grown, with more than 100 dedicated employees across Europe, West Africa, and the US. With so many people spread across the globe, reliable and efficient communication was a top priority, to ensure that things ran smoothly.

While the Amsterdam-based company grew quickly, its original collaboration apps didn’t support its international expansion or its work-life balance ideals. The solution lay in a backbone built on Microsoft 365, allowing staff to communicate, work together, build relationships and share ideas, via the collaborative power of the cloud.

Bringing people together
When Tony’s Chocolonely came together as a six-person team, its initial collaboration tools struggled with expansion. The team tried third-party messaging apps, but the constant exposure to instant messaging went against the grain of the work-life balance that Tony’s wanted to provide to its employees. The company also tried an online collaboration platform, but it quickly surpassed the trial license limit.

The solution was an upgrade to Windows 10, moving company data to Microsoft SharePoint, and managing devices with Microsoft Intune and mobile device management. Tony’s Chocolonely then rolled out Teams, a part of its Microsoft 365 subscription. Staff members can apply “quiet hours” availability settings in Teams so they’re not inundated with updates at all hours, unlike their experiences with the previous solution.

Angela Ursem, Marketing Communications Manager at Tony’s Chocolonely, is a Movement Maker – a connector of people and messages. “Unlike other companies I’ve worked for, our goal isn’t about maximizing profit for our company,” she says. “Money is just a means to our mission. We’re an impact company, out to not just be profitable, but to change the whole industry. And we do it in a fun way.” This is echoed in the company’s motto: Crazy about chocolate, serious about people.

Money is just a means to our mission. We’re an impact company, out to not just be profitable, but to change the whole industry.

Now, staff can build annual reports with Teams, easily sharing multiple source documents while knowing that team members are always working with the most current versions. As with every other aspect of work life for Tony’s employees, that strategy is carefully aligned with company values. “We use the chat feature in Teams to build the personal relationships we want to encourage,” says Ursem. “Email is more formal, more time-consuming. Chat lends itself to the shared humor and quick check-ins that naturally fit our culture and make us more efficient.”

With Teams, Tony’s team members have an informal, easy way to collaborate on projects with each other and with suppliers by using Teams Rooms. For IT Manager Rick van Doorn, otherwise known as Chocomatic Fanatic, nurturing spirit drives key decisions made by company leadership. “We say that our team comes first,” he explains. “Without the team, there is no company. And keeping that team collaborating optimally is vitally important to everything we do.”

Since implementing Teams, the company has averaged a 10 to 15 percent decrease in its total email volume. Ursem and van Doorn point out that this is happening despite steady company growth. “We’re pushing communication to the channels where it can happen most effectively,” says van Doorn.

A new world of work
The company focuses intently on messaging, both internally and externally. Even the design of its chocolate bars has a message – each bar is divided into unequal pieces, to mirror the inequalities in traditional profit sharing.

Internally, employees mix up workspaces every six months, sharing space with colleagues from different departments to build stronger team relations. That dedication to cultivating teamwork led the company to experiment with various apps purported to propel teamwork forward.

One of the biggest successes to come out of this experimentation was consolidating telephony with Office 365 in April 2019. As a result, employees can now access the company landline through Teams with the Vodafone Calling in Office 365 solution. For customer contact, Teams is extended with the Anywhere365 Contact Center. Because the solution interoperates with Salesforce, incoming calls can be logged in the company’s customer relationship management system for inclusion in the customer database.

“Using Teams with Vodafone Calling in Microsoft Office 365 amplifies the personal and transparent approach we’re known for,” says van Doorn. “We can talk to our chocofans with full knowledge of their prior backgrounds, orders, and feedback.” Incoming calls automatically route to the best person to handle the call, no matter where that person is, and contact information is included for the convenience of the person receiving the call.

A future in the cloud
Ten years ago, the company migrated to the cloud. “We were growing rapidly and needed to be scalable,” recalls van Doorn. “And we also looked at the growing number of relationships we were managing—both customers and suppliers, plus our rapidly expanding staff. We felt that committing to a complicated IT landscape in terms of connections, interfaces, and equipment would have been a risk.”

Cross-functional collaboration also underpins daily and strategic operations at Tony’s Chocolonely. Teamwork fans out from internal teams to a swath of partners that support different aspects of operations, including web developers, product wrapper suppliers, retail stores, and many more.

The company is so committed in fact, that its suppliers also now collaborate in Teams. “We’ve implemented the entire Microsoft 365 suite,” van Doorn. “All of our data is on SharePoint. With this modern working platform, we can easily collaborate with our partners, suppliers, and with each other.” The company also hopes to reduce business travel expenses by 10 percent now that so much collaboration takes place in the cloud.

For the people behind the Tony’s Chocolonely brand, it comes down to relationships. “By growing long-term relationships and paying a higher price—above the market price plus the Fairtrade Premium—to West African farmers, we’re trying to create an equal partnership,” says Ursem. “And if we’re performing well, other companies will be inspired to shoulder this responsibility, too.”

For more information, please visit the Microsoft Customer Stories blog.