Merchant: Philz Coffee
Location: California and Washington, DC
Size: 30+ stores
Bottom Line: Mobile messaging technology can help businesses connect individually with customers and resolve disputes before they turn to Yelp reviews.
Loyalty is everything in the coffeehouse industry, where major players like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts dominate the landscape. Rather than attempting to compete on price or spend big on large-scale advertising campaigns, smaller upstarts are taking a closer look at other factors that consumers consider when deciding where to get their morning fix. For Philz Coffee, a “third-wave” coffee chain with a focus on drip coffee, that differentiating factor has become customer service.
For more than three years, Philz has been working with a hyperlocal vendor called OwnerListens to collect valuable feedback from customers. The OwnerListens platform serves as an alternative to popular review sites like Yelp, giving consumers a way to connect with businesses privately, via SMS or instant messaging, before heading online and posting their opinions for the world to see.
According to Young Han, director of marketing for Philz Coffee, the decision to start collecting feedback with OwnerListens came as the coffee chain was looking for ways to enhance its customer experience. Using a platform that would give customers a way to privately message the business through their mobile devices seemed like a natural way to expand on Philz’s core values, which include delivering a great customer experience and valuing individuality.
“We’re always looking for ways to enhance our customer experience and looking for new ways to engage our customers in the channels that they use,” he says.
To accomplish those goals, Philz has had to educate its store managers and employees on how the platform works and how to respond to questions or complaints in a way that feels authentic and genuine.
When customers have feedback, thoughts, or opinions they’d like to share — for example, “The coffee is great, but I wish you had larger sizes” or “The line was moving a little slow today” — they text a number on their mobile phones as if they were chatting with a friend. Customers can also start conversations using the instant messaging feature within the OwnerListens mobile app. Messages are routed directly to “store leaders” at their local Philz coffee shops, allowing management to respond to questions and resolve disputes in real-time — often before the customer gets around to posting negatively on social media or review sites like Yelp.
“They directly respond to the customer comment so that we can create an authentic and personal relationship and ensure that we’re delivering the best customer service,” Han says.
Philz shares both positive and negative reviews internally with employees and managers at its local stores, however it doesn’t post them publicly on testimonial pages or push positive reviews to onto social media.
“We veer away from posting positive reviews externally, as we want to keep our brand humble and genuine. In our belief, it is more important to do the right thing whether its positive or negative feedback, and act on it, treating each customer like a friend, than utilizing the information for validity,” Han says. “We have found great success in this fashion and love building that real relationship with our customers.”
Although OwnerListens recently expanded its integration with Facebook Messenger, with new automation capabilities like bots for Messenger, Philz is taking a cautious approach as it explores new ways to engage with customers through social media.
“We aim to be where our customers are,” he says. “At this point we’re still exploring adding the messenger integration, but hope that it allows for our store leaders to have text and Facebook messages to go into one dashboard for quicker responses.”
In determining the value of a hyperlocal program like OwnerListens, Han says he looks closely at the quantity of use and the feedback categories of comments coming in from customers through the platform.
“Overall the feedback has been great and we capture those customers looking to engage with us through a text message,” he says. “It adds another layer of feedback that gets incorporated into our overall pulse of how we’re doing in measuring our service levels.”
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.