July 22, 2024

Connecting With Clients Through the Power of Tech

Then Ms. Milos founded Culinary Twist in early 2010 with her husband, Eric Martel, to make and sell three exotic sauces called Bora Bora, Baja and Maya Bay. Selling through a distributor and West Coast food stores and specialty stores, Ms. Milos found the sudden disconnection with her customers disconcerting. In-store product tastings helped, but she knew she could not afford them or the personal time commitment on a continuing basis, which is why she was excited to learn of the high-tech offerings of a feedback-management company, OpinionLab.

“My heart was pounding through my shirt,” Ms. Milos said, recalling the briefing she received. OpinionLab’s software is now in the early stages of enabling Culinary Twist, which is based in Foster City, Calif., to interact remotely with smartphone-toting shoppers — even while they are still in the store.

Nothing is old school about this or a wave of other high-tech customer service initiatives being adopted by a vanguard of small businesses.

In some instances, such as at Zingerman’s, a delicatessen, restaurant, mail-order food seller and business seminar host based in Ann Arbor, Mich., the digitally driven service enhancements remain internal and invisible to customers.

For the last dozen years, Zingerman’s has captured customer comments as either code red (complaints) or code green (compliments), but until recently they were captured on paper forms.

Storing comments digitally makes it much easier to analyze them, said Maggie Bayless, managing partner of ZingTrain, the business seminar division.

“We can now sort by types of complaints, customer name or period of time,” Ms. Bayless said. “For example, as we go into the holidays, it’s possible to pull the data for the holiday season a year ago and see what problems we were having and identify: What do we need to remind people to watch for this year?”

By contrast, the highly visible brand of high-tech customer service offered by Culinary Twist is activated by so-called Q.R. codes on its product labels. Short for Quick Response, these bar code cousins, when photographed by an app-enabled smartphone, offer a wealth of service opportunities.

Potential buyers can view a recipe, say, for pork ribs in Baja sauce when they are steps from the meat counter. Soon, Ms. Milos said, they will be able to call up on their hand-held devices a discount coupon that can be scanned at checkout. And with help from OpinionLab’s back-shop capabilities, Ms. Milos can also receive recipe suggestions, insights or even notification of a problem at a particular store — be it a missing favorite or filthy display shelves.

She expects more of the kind of helpful feedback received in an early store demo that led to a relabeling of the Bora Bora sauce.

“We had so many people say they didn’t know what tamarind was, or dates, that we decided to take those words out of the subscript and change it to more about the flavor and how the product was used,” Ms. Milos said. “It now says ‘Sweet Spice Grilling Sauce.’ That’s another piece to the Q.R. code and serving the customer — just listening to them.”

The Q.R. code enhancements to the labels cost about 15 cents a bottle. Rand Nickerson, OpinionLab’s chief executive, puts additional costs for his company’s services at pennies per consumer comment.

“It’s not true anymore that only the Procter Gambles of the world can afford to do this,” he said. “You don’t have to run a wave of $100,000 focus groups across the country to learn things anymore. The most successful companies in the future, I believe, will be those who become progressively more and more customer-driven.”

That is the intention at Great Clips, the nationwide chain of hair salons. “The No. 1 reason we lose customers is because we make them wait,” said Tim Lawless, who owns Great Clips franchises in Indiana and southern Michigan. “That’s also the No. 2 and No. 3 reason.”

The online check-in option now being introduced at the Great Clips Web site, which allows customers to enter their ZIP codes through a computer or smartphone, checks the current wait times at nearby Great Clips outlets and lets customers choose the optimum location.

“It’s playing in Peoria,” said David Hands, who with his wife, Tanja, owns seven Great Clips locations in Peoria and the Bloomington/Normal area of Illinois, where walk-in customers have typically waited eight to 15 minutes for a cut. A recent cyber check-in, “a young guy on the go,” walked through the door, sat down and told Mr. Hands, “Thanks for giving me 10 minutes back to my life.” Only two months after introduction, Mr. Hands said, he is averaging 10 remote check-ins per outlet a day — about 10 percent of his business.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=2c763f06906808de026909774fc2bc7f

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