Increase Sales with Exemplary Customer Service

customer serviceRECIPE TO RETAIL: Part 16…

When consumers take the time to complain about your product, thank them!

Why? It creates countless opportunities for your business. Here’s how:

  • You have a chance to retain a customer. Acquiring new customers costs significantly more than holding on to existing ones.
  • Identifying potential food safety and quality issues before they escalate can mitigate risks of product recalls.
  • It provides a potential gold mine of information and valuable insights about consumers.
  • Leverage it to promote your brand by expanding your customer database. But be sure to get the customers’ permission, to comply with anti-spam legislation. Then keep in touch by sending relevant content that your customers value.
  • When consumers ask, “Where can I buy your product?” it identifies market gaps and distribution issues.
Putting brands to the test

When I have a product quality complaint, apart from not liking the flavour, I contact the company. My hope is that the problem will be fixed, renewing my trust in the brand. My ulterior motive is to test how brands respond. I contacted three brands with a complaint and received the following responses:

Brand A sent a polite letter acknowledging there was a problem and their intent to correct it, with estimated timing. That was exactly what I wanted to hear. I also received several coupons for free product. That’s what I call exemplary customer service! I spread the word about my positive experience and continue to be loyal to the brand.

Brand B replied that a package I purchased with half its contents missing “should in no way affect its net weight”. They basically rebuffed my complaint, but offered a coupon for the same product. Fearing the same issue may occur with my next purchase, I lost trust in the brand and haven’t bought their product since.

Brand C responded with total silence. Needless to say, I won’t be buying their product again.

10 secrets to Exemplary Customer Service

#1.  Prepare policies and procedures for responding to inquiries and investigating complaints.

#2.  Make it easy for customers to contact you through various means and have a live person answer the phone.

#3.  Respond with a sense of urgency. These days everyone expects instant gratification.

#4.  Consult quality assurance to get the facts straight and seek advice from a lawyer for personal injury complaints.

#5.  Draft carefully worded form letters for a variety of queries. How will you respond to quality complaints and questions about food safety, ingredients, claims, promotions, donations, social missions, environmental sustainability and product availability? Responses should have a positive and sincere tone and be customized for every situation. Also ensure that brand messaging is consistent with the brand strategy.

#6.  Today’s consumers expect total transparency and ask probing questions about their food. Be prepared to answer those questions by developing a library of nonproprietary product information that is shareable.

#7.  Listen carefully to what the customer is saying and reply accordingly.

#8.  Manage customer expectations through clear communication.

#9.  Whatever you call it – customer care or consumer relations – ensure employees are trained to deal with the public diplomatically in difficult circumstances. A misstep, particularly in social media, can cause an explosive situation.

#10.  Find a way to reimburse customers for poor product performance.

In the end, the secret to exemplary customer service is simple. Next time you receive a complaint, put yourself in the customer’s shoes. How would you expect to be treated?

As a packaged foods specialist, Birgit Blain transforms food into retail-ready products. Her experience includes 17 years with Loblaw Brands and President’s Choice®. Contact her at or learn more at

© Birgit Blain

This article appeared in Food in Canada magazine.

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