• July 1, 2013
  • By Brent Leary, cofounder and partner, CRM Essentials

Screaming for a Good, Fundamental Customer Experience

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Customer experience (CX) feels like "the next big thing." In many cases, it's a term companies are using in reaction to the growing power consumers have due to their affinity for devices and social networks—and their desire to operate more of their lives through them.

However, this next big thing has been here a while. And just as social media breathed new life into CRM, it has done the same with CX. But we always seem to get into this cycle of throwing new stuff at old problems without focusing on the fundamentals.

According to Frank Eliason, global director of social media for Citibank, it's not social customer service that people want. It's quick resolution to their issues. And while the lion's share of attention goes to customer experience examples featuring the fun, shiny objects that are gadgets and viral content, it's getting the fundamentals right that grabs the attention of customers. Which is what led a St. Louis–based dairy company to take action.

Oberweis Dairy has a network of retail stores located throughout the Midwest that sell fresh fountain ice cream treats, cones, milk shakes, sundaes, and a wide range of other products. And if you can't make it to a store, the company's second line of business is a home delivery service that enables you to have all the grocery items sold in its retail locations delivered to your doorstep on a weekly standing order basis.

The company also has a wholesale business, selling products to the likes of Costco, Target, and other outlets. But what caught my attention was what it did for customers coming into its stores to get a scoop of ice cream, among other things.

Bruce Bedford, Oberweis' vice president of marketing and customer insights, told me that, as you would expect, when the weather gets hot, the ice cream business heats up, and very long lines start forming. What Oberweis realized is that people might stand in line for quite a while, but generally they are stuck behind a person looking at the menu boards, trying to determine what appeals to them. He realized that wait times were exacerbated by having a menu board layout that wasn't as efficient as Oberweis (and its customers) might have liked.

So Oberweis began a study to see if there was a better layout they could produce with a goal of minimizing wait times in line, particularly those associated with the decision and ordering process. They determined that reordering the process flow would be beneficial to decreasing wait times. Oberweis redesigned all the menu boards for the locations throughout the Midwest and St. Louis, and over a period of time, it saw a significant decrease in wait times—and happier customers.

And although the main objective of shorter lines (and thus better customer experiences) was achieved, another benefit was accomplished as well.

Oberweis tested a variety of designs for the menu boards and determined that there was one design that solved two issues; primarily they were able to measure a decrease in wait times, but they were also able to determine that people were selecting items that increased the revenue per order, buying items with somewhat higher profit margins. In fact, one item that was not a large mover in the past actually saw an increase in sales of more than 80 percent.

Overall, Oberweis was able to shift the product mix to increase revenues per in-store transaction, while decreasing wait times, which was the company's main objective. But it's also a great example of focusing on the meat and potatoes of customer experience development.

This isn't the stuff that gets the headlines, but it definitely gets (and keeps) the customer.

Eventually Oberweis might do something with the shiny objects, but nailing down the basics first puts the company in a better position to do so if the time comes. And when you scream or I scream or we all scream for ice cream, we know where we can get it fast on a hot summer day. And that's the kind of experience I want.

Don't you agree?

Brent Leary is cofounder of CRM Essentials, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm focused on small and midsized businesses. He is also the author of Barack 2.0: Social Media Lessons for Small Businesses.

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