The horse meat scandal and customer service
With the discovery of horse meat within a number of processed foods, it is no exaggeration to say that the European food industry is facing one of its biggest challenges since the BSE epidemic. While horse meat itself is safe to eat (unless the horse had been treated with particular drugs), consumers believed they were buying beef-based ready meals and burgers from reputable suppliers and supermarkets, meaning they are understandably annoyed and upset.
Investigations by food standards agencies across Europe are continuing but the immediate need is for suppliers (who include big brands such as Findus) to deal with the customer service crisis they face and reassure consumers.
Like every organisation, food suppliers need to have a complete crisis management plan in place and be able to answer customer questions quickly and comprehensively across every channel. Technology can help when reassuring consumers in four key ways:
1 Online – with web self-service
Those involved in the scandal have been quick to update their websites with prominent apologies and details of which products are affected. However they also need to make sure they are letting customers ask questions through web self-service systems that provide instant, accurate answers. This avoids customers having to call or email the overstretched contact centre and increases reassurance.
2 Over the phone – with consistent answers
Many food companies already provide freephone customer carelines and for many consumers this will be their channel to find out more information. Staff need to be providing consistent, accurate answers to this growing volume of calls. By installing a centralised knowledgebase that can accessed by all contact centre agents (and made available on the web and social media) companies can be sure they are giving the latest information to worried consumers and that staff are supported in efficiently doing their jobs.
3 On social media – with ongoing responses
When crises strike, social media is now the first port of call for customers to both complain and ask questions. Make it easy for them to find answers by linking your web self-service to your Facebook page so that they ask questions there, using the same knowledgebase as the web and contact centre. Monitor and respond to tweets and Facebook posts quickly and professionally, pointing consumers towards further information and providing personal answers where necessary.
4 In-store – with trained staff
For many food companies it is difficult to reach consumers directly in-store as they physically can’t send representatives to every supermarket in the country. But use the information from your knowledgebase to create posters and briefing materials for supermarket staff so that they have the full facts to reassure consumers at the point of purchase.
Crises, such as the horse meat scandal, spread quickly and can do major damage to both individual brands and whole industries. While delivering fast, consistent answers to customer questions isn’t going to turn the situation around immediately, it will start the process of rebuilding trust and safeguarding reputations moving forward.