Connecting with customers is more than enabling a click…

By: Kim Harris-Busdieker, Director of 84.51° / Kroger Word of Mouth Platform, the MyMagazine Sharing Network

Your grandparents likely knew their butcher by name, and the seller at the produce stand and the cashier at their local Kroger. It wasn’t that long ago that retailing was a person-to-person business relying on socialization and personal contact to succeed. Today with the shift toward online purchasing, many of those interactions are gone, but the need for humans to connect with each other remains.

Some believe retailers in grocery, clothing or furniture haven’t earned the “right” or the credibility to bring customers together for anything but a purchase. They not only have the right, but the responsibility to bring their customers together in ways that meet basic and now often unmet needs for connection and interaction.

There are some truisms about people that will never change and that retailers can benefit from remembering:

  1. Feeling connected to others important
  2. People want to be heard and helpful
  3. Small gestures matter

Consider this example: A grocery retailer is looking to expand its line of sushi and wants to know from customers what new options they would like. The question is posed in an online-forum, without incentive, and thousands of responses pour in. The feedback is invaluable to the retailer and allows the retailer to potentially make changes to its merchandise mix.

Even more valuable though in this online scenario is what happens between the customers: they start to connect with each other. Vegetarians chime in with advice on special ordering; moms give examples of healthy snacks for kids, people comment on each other’s new ideas and say they can’t wait to try that one. It may take 30 seconds for them to type “That sounds amazing, trying that tomorrow!” but the impact of that interaction can fulfill many basic needs for both parties.

So why would people would want to comment on a grocery retailer’s sushi post or any other retailer-driven online forum? It all stems from losing that personal connection in our day to day lives. Nothing has really changed from the days we knew the corner butcher except for the way we choose which brands to embrace and engage with and which to discard.

The example is a simple forum post about sushi, yet an unintended opportunity for the retailer emerges. With little investment, the retailer can join that colorful dialogue and add information while also acknowledging the customer’s contribution and thoughts. It becomes a two-way dialogue that can amplify customer’s advocacy for their brand and their support for each other, while meeting the greater need for personal interactions and connections. These customer needs will likely never change and retailers can do a better job of enabling and joining the conversation to meet them.

About Kim Harris Busdieker

Ms. Kim Harris Busdieker has been partnering with The Kroger Co. on the customercentric loyalty journey since 2004. In her current role, she develops personalization strategies and solutions to better meet the needs of Krogers diverse and growing customer population.