Stephen Mutch, a business management, operations and client services professional from Napa, California says this about great customer service: “At the most basic element, great customer service  is (all about) fulfilling promises.  Failure to do that leads to loss of credibility and trust in your company and organizations which have fatal and long-term ramifications.”

Marketing and promotions can be accomplished in many forms and from a number of different mediums.  Some strategies are designed to reach a great number of people, while others focus on targeting and reaching a specific customer demographic.

Regardless, fostering great relationships with your customers are of utmost importance.  It’s often a  challenging task as consumer needs are constantly evolving and must be frequently monitored so as to make the necessary adjustments.  This is why a number of companies are employing “reputation managers” who constantly monitor blogs, social networks and other information sources on the internet to keep up with what people are saying about their brands.

It’s been said here many times before, but the best way to get the information you need to be successful is to establish many contact points with your customers.  And how else to do this effectively, inexpensively and efficiently but through social media!

So this week’s tip:  Take charge of your customer service!

Seattle-based Decho group, a technology development firm, doesn’t wait for customers to contact them with questions, comments or concerns – they seek them out directly by using social media tools.

ITBusiness.ca reports on their strategy: “‘Increasingly, they are choosing to reach out to the online community and ask questions about our products, rather than contact us directly,’ said Dave Robinson, vice-president of marketing at Decho.”

Amazon.com demonstrates pure mastery on this front.  They were featured on the cover of Business Week Magazine earlier this month because of their ability to turn potentially bad publicity into an opportunity to brand themselves as a caring company.  Here’s an exerpt from the article:

“For the most part, Amazon has earned a reputation for strong service by letting customers get what they want without ever talking to an employee. Sales clerks are nonexistent. Orders ship with a few mouse clicks. Packages arrive on doorsteps quickly. It all happens with monotonous regularity even as the number of customers has doubled in the past five years to 88 million. But when things go wrong at Amazon—and they occasionally do—the company’s employees get involved. That may be where Amazon stands out most markedly from other companies, and helps explain how the company earned the No. 1 spot on Business Week’s customer service ranking this year.”

When a business reaches out to their customers and does everything in their power to make them happy, they remember it, sign the company’s praises in their blogs, and tell all their friends.  A gesture which may cost $20 to fix could result in $2000 worth of business from valuable viral word of mouth.  A failure to pony up that same $20 in the event of a mistake could cost $2000 the other way.

For those who are familiar with The Omnivores Dilemma, Michael Pollen’s manifesto of mastication, or Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin’s sugar-less spoonful of medicine, Skinny Bitch, it’s not just about what we eat, but also our food’s journey from pasture to plate, and what is really going on behind the scenes.

It’s remarkable how utterly undiscerning many of us are about what goes into our mouths.  Fortunately, we’ve begun to ask about those nine-syllable additives in our breakfast cereal, and learned the truth about misleading, “hydrogenated,” “natural” and “enriched” labels.

Accountability and transparency are not specific to the food industry, or characteristics of a passing trend.  The internet has leveled the information playing field such that consumers now have all the power.  With blogs in their holsters, average people spread criticism like wildfire.  Staying on the up-and-up has never been more important, or more difficult for businesses and their marketers.  Companies large and small are realizing they better not bite the hand that feeds.

According to Margaret Kime, the director of branding consultant, Fletcher Knight, as reported by MediaPost, “Consumer awareness of and interest in being intimately informed about their food has never been stronger,” says Kime.  “As the organic, fair trade, local and artisan food movements grow and food contamination scares persist, consumers are demanding more detail around the origins of a product and each of its ingredients.  Faceless or ‘orphan’ ingredients will be viewed with increasing suspicion.”

Food labeling in particular has toed the fine line between “ambiguous” and “leagalish” for too long.  In this country, only 51% of a product must be manufactured domestically for it to carry the “Made in Canada” sticker.  Not to mention the “Recommended Serving Sizes” and favourable calorie scales which allow products to appear better for you than they actually are.

According to a 2007 study by the Consumer Reports National Research Centre, 92% of those polled support better labeling for products imported into the United States, as food security issues have risen to what most agree are unacceptable levels.  A GreenerChoice.org article reports that “…nearly 9 out of 10 consumers want natural meat to come from animals that were raised on a diet without drugs, chemicals and other artificial ingredients.  Currently, the natural label on meat only pertains to how the cut of meat was processed and not how animal was raised or what it ate.”

The US Government in 2002 enacted a program called Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) which requires almost all products to carry specific information about where they originated.  Originally passed in 2002, the program was delayed for nearly 7 years (with the exception of seafood) and has seen its first limited implementation just this month.  The COOL initiative hopes to resolve questions surrounding interpretation and definition of product descriptions, but there is still a lot that is not known about this program.

As these changes have created problems for some, it’s presented new opportunities for others.  Products which emphasize local origin, artisan skill, pure, pronounceable ingredients, and responsible procurement have earned the respect of consumers, and gotten many of them talking.  A popular example is Welch’s Grape Juice.  Employing the services of popular food personality, Alton Brown, Welch’s has made a splash touting the benefits of its anti-oxidant-rich product, and also brings you right to the farm to have a close look at who is producing its fruit. While it’s not cynical to point out that cute little farmers hauling baskets of grapes onto a beat-up truck is not representative of the manufacturing process as a whole, it does use an everyman, human marketing strategy on which companies in other industries, including Ford and Microsoft, have started using as well.

As of now it’s still relatively easy to mislead consumers about product origin and ingredients, as regulatory oversight is still being established.  But businesses must be more truthful with their offerings, because if any evidence to the contrary (real or implied, the bloggers don’t care) could spell disaster for your brand.  So if you’re trying to carve out a niche in your market, and lend some credibility to your product, it might not be a bad idea for you to bet the farm.

Don’t Forget the Kids!

March 17, 2009

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Restaurants have for years focused marketing campaigns towards kids, but this demographic will play an increasingly important role, especially when it comes to healthy offerings, according to a survey from the National Restaurant Association, as reported by Marketing Daily.

It’s often hard for the parents to say no when the kids are hounding them about a Happy Meal. Marketers understand that to get to the parents, it’s sometimes just as effective going through the children.

Denny’s has a well-publicized Kids Eat Free Tuesday, which has been widely successful. IHOP and numerous other establishments use the same techniques.

While this promotion may not fit well with your brand, it’s important to accommodate this important demographic in your restaurant. Used in conjunction with healthy and local eating options, this idea can score points with both young and old.

For ideas on creative promotions, visit Coupon Divas to see a listing on how some of the big names cater to the kids.

 

 

Greetings From IB,To begin, we at Industry Blender would like to wish everyone a happy and prosperous New Year, and much continued success in 2009. Despite the difficult economic conditions we face, this year will provide new business opportunities for our industry, and we will continue developing new methods for achieving success. This is the time to explore fresh ideas and approaches, and grow and change with the spirit of the times.
We’re excited to lead this transition by announcing that a new and improved Industry Blender website is on the horizon.
We’ve worked tirelessly to improve how we serve our member’s needs, and look forward to presenting the most usable, effective and efficient resource for the 21st century business environment.
This month we’re focusing on information and insight that is crucial for your business, while continuing to provide informative articles which keep you up to date on exciting new businesses and restaurants. And visit the site for more information about industry events, new job opportunities and classifieds, and to see who is blending in Vancouver.

BC FOODSERVICE EXPO AT BC PLACE STADIUM

Kitchen.jpg   BC Foodservice Expo 2009 was held at BC Place this week, which showed that the future for green initiatives and technology in the food and beverage industries look bright…(read the full article here).

 

CHUTNEY VILLA: A PLACE TO STUMBLE UPON

Chutney Villa.jpg   Chutney Villa is a popular South Indian restaurant in East Vancouver, but as Ed Dugas finds, it could be in need of an identity…(read the full article here).

 

GREEN EARTH ORGANICS DELIVERS GOOD FOOD IN A GREAT WAY

green earth organics.jpg   Grocery delivery businesses have become increasingly popular in Vancouver, especially those offering organic produce…(read the full article here).

 

FORUM: BUSINESS TO BUSINESS NETWORKING ONLINE

computer.jpg   Thanks to the internet and social media, every day is a trade show for your business. Here are 10 basic strategies to create awareness of your business using social networks…(read the full article here).

 

MARKETING TIP(S) OF THE WEEK: SO YOU’RE IN A RECESSION

wine glass.jpg   It is proven that in times of hardship, successful companies do not abandon their marketing strategies: they adapt them. Here is a quick guide outlining strategies you can employ to make sure your business survives the recession…(read the full article here)