Fowl out

A popular and successful scheme to drive traffic to Giant Eagle stores has been to offer a free turkey as a reward to customers who spend a certain amount during a defined period before Thanksgiving.

The company knew, through information gathered about shopping habits from its affinity card program, that there was a group of customers which consistently spent enough to earn a free bird. Instead of sending vouchers to them, it decided to notify those who qualified that they would not be charged for their turkey when they checked it out at the register.

No lost vouchers, one less piece of mail to go out and a welcome convenience for a valued group of regular customers, right?

One would think so, but some customers missed the message, didn’t realize they got a free bird automatically and questioned why they never received their voucher for a free turkey, even though they were convinced that they had spent enough to qualify. A well-intentioned effort to reduce hassles created an unintended wrinkle.

The exception rather than the rule, such missteps highlight how fragile customer relationships can be.

The capability to gather reams of valuable information about your customers is greater than ever, yet the need to be careful about how you use it in your business is critical. Developing intimacy with your customers requires a relationship between a customer and a solution provider, says Rebecca Kane, director of customer relationship marketing for Giant Eagle.

Creating customer intimacy is a process, not a one-time event, says Kane. It requires ongoing interactions between the two parties and a shared vision and common goal of the optimal customer experience.

“A lot of people believe that you can build customer intimacy by sending a direct mail piece one time,” says Kane.

For those who believe that conducting market research and gathering customer data are expensive endeavors and for only large companies, Kane points out that there are a number of relatively inexpensive methods that can produce effective results.

“It amazes me how people believe you have to spend a lot of money to do market research,” says Kane.

Kane suggests that advisory boards of key customers, Web surveys and chat rooms can yield valuable information that can increase understanding of your customers.

All the bells and whistles will have little value, however, if you don’t meet customers’ minimum expectations. Grocery store customers expect clean stores, well-stocked, high-quality perishables and friendly service. The rest is gravy. HOW TO REACH: Giant Eagle Inc.,