In brand we trust: How recalls at Trader Joe’s, Costco, can enhance customer engagement

Bryan Pearson writes in Business 2 Community that several major grocery retailers were recently given 358 ways to protect their consumers, and how they respond could determine whether shoppers will have a taste for them in the future.

trust.brandTrader Joe’s, Safeway and Costco are among the chains affected by a recall of 358 frozen food products under 42 fruit and vegetable brands. And while most headlines address the dangers of food contamination, the recall also serves as one more reminder of the highly effective role retailers and their loyalty programs could play in preventing illness.

Many people are alerted to these recalls through the news, but customer data can serve a more targeted and immediate function in notifying the public to and answering questions about such health scares.

The challenge is enabling the consumer to see that such notifications are an added benefit of loyalty program membership, not an intrusion. How to accomplish this? I can say that retailers that make customer trust a cornerstone of their strategic marketing have a superior edge, while those that do not risk getting lost in that trust shadow.

Following are four methods for responsibly alerting consumers to potential health scares, and in the process gaining trust.

  • Activate the database:Loyalty program data provides unique identifiers that enable retailers to determine which customers purchased certain items, including those on recall. Immediate notices can be sent to the loyalty members via their preferred methods of communication. Kroger Co., for example, has used its Plus rewards program data to aid in foodborne illness investigations and recalls.
  • Keep the database current:With that said, it is essential for retailers that use their loyalty data as a source of customer contact information to provide those customers good reason to keep their information current. If these names and addresses are wrong or out of date, then the retailer will be out of luck when it comes to tracking down affected individuals.
  • Reinforce trust:Regardless of how quickly they alert customers, retailers should be poised for questions about brand reliability. By offering a hotline through which questions can be answered, as well as the numbers of agencies that can provide information, the retailer can restore its foundation of customer trust. Practice sessions with customer-facing staff can ensure the company is prepared to answer questions quickly and consistently. It’s a good idea to assign a trusted team leader.
  • Get in front, but not affront:Outside of staff, all company communications should be direct, thorough and easy to access. Sending vague or hard-to-interpret messages will only dial up the concern, or panic (consider if the consumer is a new mother). In 2011, when Publix Super Markets recalled store-branded ice cream due to undeclared almond allergens, it added a red “Retail Alert” button to its website that directed visitors to a press release, product images and an explanation of the issue, with an apology (in English and Spanish).

Lastly, empathy will help guide the appropriate ways to respond to a recall. In the consumers‘ eyes, the retailer will be part of the circumstance, regardless of whether it is at fault. After-the-fact coupons won’t change that fact.