Increasingly health-conscious consumers have helped cultivate demand in recent years for a bumper crop of organic foods. According to a study by the Organic Trade Association, U.S. sales of organic food and nonfood products reached $24.6 billion in 2008, 17.1 percent above 2007 levels.
Planted right in the middle of this frenzy is Organic Valley, a leading brand that represents the nation’s largest cooperative of organic farmers. Kim Rundle, the La Farge, Wis.–based organization’s consumer relations manager, recalls a time when the consumer relations department comprised just two people handling 30,000 contacts per year via email, phone, letters, Web inquiries, and even a few walk-ins. “We field many questions about product ingredients…[the] organic industry overall, and how we fit into the mold,” she says.
Organic Valley formerly used Sage SalesLogix, and Rundle recalls struggling to get real-time information for both quality and reporting purposes. “We wanted to have an alert when we received three complaints on a particular product or date code so we could send a heads-up to the plant in question, check what the issue was, and get products off the shelf before it became a big incident,” she says. “We also wanted our agents to be able to enter information as they were getting it. We found that the cumbersome nature of the [existing] system left us two weeks to a month behind.”
Rundle says a new solution was needed to provide customers a viable self-service option as well as to bolster the company’s knowledge base and reporting capabilities. Due to budget constraints, any selection also had to be quick to deploy and cost-effective. It was mid-2008 when Rundle turned to RightNow Technologies, a vendor of on-demand solutions.
After two months of set-up and another month of testing, Organic Valley went live on RightNow in September 2008. While the speed to implement and the cost were right, there was one problem: Rundle and her colleagues had no technical experience. “We really stressed over it, but we followed the process that RightNow prescribed, and…we were able to make it happen without a hitch,” she recalls. Rundle says Organic Valley’s Web site now provides more information for consumers, leading to an email deflection rate of 45 percent, an efficiency gain that eliminated the need for two additional full-time workers.
Rundle says the information available to customers has improved not only in breadth, but in depth. The company, she says, is more transparent and has “cut through the fluff” from marketing to deliver compelling online material on its frequently asked questions and the knowledge portion of the site. “As one of the largest cooperatives and [because we’re] organic, people look to us to be a leader,” she adds. “It’s important for us to be transparent, and give our customers the nuts and bolts.”
What has surprised her, she says, is the sustained number of customer contacts, and the sophistication of those interactions. Fortunately, her agents are more empowered to handle both the volume and the complexity. “Customers aren’t afraid to ask a question about what’s in our different products, because they’re taking ownership of their health,” Rundle says. “RightNow has allowed us to stay on top of the latest trends.”
Rundle’s team generates reports based on customer insight to identify potential hot-button issues. With SalesLogix, that was a manual task requiring between two hours and three hours; with RightNow the task takes just five minutes. What’s more, the reporting efforts can now go on the offensive—tracking suggestions and requests and acting upon them—encouraging consumers to share more. Before RightNow, 10 suggestions came in per month. Now, the company receives between 200 and 300.
Moving forward, Rundle says, Organic Valley plans to upgrade to RightNow’s just-launched CX solution, with a particular eye toward the new product’s chat and social media capabilities. “Our Web team is really paying attention to social right now, but the way [the site] currently captures the information is much more manual in nature,” she says. “Managing that consumer and public relations piece of it is important because it does go viral so quickly—it can be one person’s opinion. People tend to believe everything they see rather than getting the facts. If we can meet that head-on, that would be a fantastic opportunity for us.”
With RightNow Technologies to help handle customer contacts effectively, Organic Valley:
- has deflected 45 percent of email inquiries;
- has avoided hiring two additional full-time employees;
- can pull reports in five minutes instead of two to three hours;
- fields 200 to 300 customer suggestions and requests per month instead of 10; and
- is now more transparent with regard to publicly disclosed information.