Update – February 17th – I have written a blog post to give steps on solving negative complaints generated online – 5 Problems Generated by Negative Social Media and the Solutions

Update February 29 – Nisa Buller, Retail Operations Manager for SBCC called and talked with me. She also submitted this email.

My name is Nisa Buller and I am the Retail Operations Manager for The South Bend Chocolate Company. I oversee all 13 of our corporately owned stores and want to personally apologize for the bad experience you had at our downtown Indianapolis location and with the miscommunication of how it was handled at our corporate office along with the unproffesional blog posts of our manager at this particular location. We take pride not only with serving a great product but have very high standards and expectations for our managers & employees to deliver exceptional customer service! Our motto is that our customers ALWAYS come first and without them we would not be able to continue to grow and build a stronger company. With that in mind I appreciate you taking the time to express your complaint and concerns regarding the incidents that took place so we as a company can address the problems or areas of concern that need improvement. Although I wish I could have gotten involved sooner to avoid the miscommunication and broadcast of a negative experience I respect you taking the time to point out areas in which you felt we failed to deliver the high standard of service that we expect all our customers to receive at The South Bend Chocolate Company. Unfortunatley there are times in business when you can learn the most from negative feedback to address the areas of where the system has broke down or why policies & procedures are not being implemented to company standards. The last thing that we want to hear or read about is a customer having a negative experience or for us to lose a new or loyal customer because we did not handle or correct the problem in a proffesional manner. I am personally taking the necessary actions to improve upon all areas of our retail locations regarding service, managment, staffing, cleanliness and communication so an experience like yours is not repeated with new,current or future customers. Also want you to know that we are in the process of updating our website and looking into other areas of technology that we can improve communication and networking for our company…so yes we aware we are behind but are working on it! :)

 Our compnay has been in business for 21 years and with the loyalty of our customers, relationships built with new ones, and the hard work and dedication of our employees we have been able to produce great products for many years in which we want to keep striving for the opportunities to create more and to better satisfy our customers…for they are what keeps our operation going and what we value so greatly!!!

Again I apologize for what happend, thank you for your comments and hope we have not lost you as a customer! The next time I’m in Indy I would love to be able to meet you in person and take you to lunch. Really enjoyed our phone conversation and hopes this can help shed a better light on the situation. Please feel free to contact me directly at any time if needed and I look forward to meeting you!

Sincerely,

Nisa Buller
Retail Operations Manager
269-519-8973 cell

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Let me preface this post and say that this is meant to be constructive criticism. I am absolutely obsessed with customer communication and when an entity fails… I write it up. It is very rare that I am brought to the point of extreme frustration where I write a blog post about a local company. However… it happened yesterday.

I work downtown and I usually walk down to a local restaurants to grab a quick lunch in between meetings. We have Au Bon Pain, Qdoba, Jimmy Johns, and many delicious options within walking distance of our office (competition). I decided to try the South Bend Chocolate Company because I had a meeting there earlier that morning and had noticed the lunch “side” of the store.

Needless to say, it was an epic failure in regards to staffing and customer service. There was one employee staffing the lunch side at 12:30pm on a Monday. One employee!! There were five people in line and I left in frustration after ten minutes on one salad for a large order. I didn’t have the time.

I proceeded to spend money at another restaurant and wanted to at least be helpful and tweet or email SBCC. I searched the Internet for a contact form, Twitter account (the Indianapolis account does have a Twitter account – @SBCCindy , or an email to send the corporate office. No such tool existed. I finally found the contact page on the 1993 website and they only had a phone number and mailing address.

I called the phone number and was directed to a corporate manager. Here is how the conversation.

Kyle – Hey Corporate Manager, I had a really bad experience at your store in Indianapolis. It was terrible.

Corporate Manager – Oh really? That’s not good. What happened?

Kyle – Well… you only have one person staffing the lunch side at 12:30pm.

Corporate Manager – Oh that’s weird! I have 4 managers down there!

Kyle – I left after 10 minutes because it was so slow. You really should check this out. It was really bad.

Corporate Manager – Well… I guess you wont be coming back for lunch.

Kyle – Umm.. (nervous chuckle) You know that people are talking about the experience on Twitter and Foursquare right?

Corporate Manager – We don’t have a Twitter account and what is Fourspot?

Kyle – Oh… Well I just wanted to let you know

Corporate Manager – Thanks for calling.

Where do I begin? I freaking love the coffee at SBCC but the experience has been ruined. They had an advocate that was top tip on Foursquare (16) which read “Best Coffee on the Circle” and then I added “Terrible Customer service yesterday. Called the corporate office and they failed as well. Terrible.” We will get to that in a second.

The corporate manager failed to save the customer. She failed to save face. She had a worthy advocate calling her because I love the company! I wanted to let her know that her managers are failing in Indianapolis. I wanted to help a local business.

She didn’t ask for a name. She didn’t “really” apologize. As much as I want to believe that she was sorry… I don’t.

They have a total of 1140 check-ins with 655 total people on Foursquare. Many are probably customer advocates but there are people like me who post something great and then the experience is ruined because of a lack of customer service direction, management, and online engagement.

To their credit, SBCC has many positive reviews on Foursquare and Google Reviews but they also have some bad reviews. The problem? They are completely incapable of engaging the customer in the online environment. They are not listening to the customer feedback online… the real time feedback driving the majority of consumers in this nation.

A co-worker of mine was also in line at SBCC and had the same experience but even worse. She found a wire in her food. Here is what she said:

“I occasionally like to pop into the South Bend Chocolate Company for a quick lunch.  Customer service is typically sub-par, but I’ve dealt with it just for the sake of convenience.  Today’s experience has left me with no choice but to never eat here again.  I ordered a buffalo chicken wrap with blue cheese dressing on the side.  I ended up a chicken Caesar wrap that included a special ingredient in my first bite: a piece of wire!   I returned to get a refund and make management aware of the issue.  She explained that piece of wire is probably from the grill brush, as if that should make it ok. I should add they were nice, apologetic and gave me a full refund with no hassle.  However, it was not enough to retain me as a returning customer.”

This is a great example of a company failing to evolve with the changing world of digital communication. It is also a good guide on how to direct customer service and the development of customer advocacy. The employee in the store gave my co-worker a full refund and yet “corporate” failed miserably to bring me back…. and win me over.

Let’s talk about another company, Starbucks. This is a global… massive… huge coffee company! They have two stores on Monument circle. When I walk in every morning at 6 am guess what happens?

“Hey Kyle. Do you want your grande Pike with room this morning? Any food today?”

Where do you think I will take my business in the future?

What are the lessons here?

1. Listening is one of the more important things you can do in the world of business.

2. Listen to your customer both in the online and offline environment.

3. Be aware that you have an extremely large interactive marketing company right above your store.

4. Don’t offer free Wifi and not keep your other technology (marketing) up-t0-date. You are giving customer’s the ability to post from your store and you are not giving direct feedback.

5. Create training classes for management on customer service and development. You have the ability to turn a digital native (like me) to a raving fan.

6. Follow @brewhouse and learn from the master of customer communication in the food & beverage industry.

7. You can talk all you want about amazing chocolate and coffee but the customer experience is what sells your brand.

8. “What I do care about is that you conclude that your company needs to change the way you deal with the customer now, because the customer has already changed the way they deal with you.” – Paul Greenburg

I will be printing out this blog post and mailing it to the SBCC corporate offices. Why? I’m not sure they will ever know this blog post exists without using the US Postal service. Hopefully this will help them in the future and build more credibility throughout the city.