Have you ever perused through your Facebook of Twitter feeds and caught a post from a brand you follow, and think: “I wonder who wrote that?” Or have you ever found yourself following a news article right to Twitter handle of a company to view how it is engaging with its users? A week ago, I answered ‘yes’ to both of these questions and it wondered how I might be able to craft this curiosity into a blog post.
The brand I was looking into at the time was Chipotle, and it is one that I have been fascinated with for some time. Its quick rise to prominence over the last decade, its brief investment relationship with McDonald’s, along with its ability to help lead the charge in reversing the often negative stigma of “fast-food” are only a few reasons why Chipotle is so intriguing. It was the most recent news, regarding the E.coli outbreak at a handful of Chipotle restaurants in the Pacific Northwest, that drew me to Chipotle’s Twitter page. There, I found countless responses to everything from “Thanks for loving the BOO-rito” to “We like to hear that” , and of course (in the instance of a food illness tweet) “Can you please email us directly so that we can hear a little more.” Each of these responses was responded to incredibly quickly and each signed the same way “—Joe”.
I wanted to know more, so I simply asked! I reached out to “Joe” to see if maybe he might answer a few questions and as luck would have it, Joe Stupp, Social Media Manager for Chipotle (and high school friend of CEO Steve Ells) kindly responded to my tweet and direct messaged me his email information. Joe has been with Chipotle for “18 years off and on” and is one of six full-time employees that monitors and responds to many social media platforms Chipolte utilizes. When I asked about the company’s view of social, Joe pointed out that it is “…a necessary component of our overall advertising and customer relations/communication.” Specifically the brand maintains a presence on all the major sites: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Youtube, and Pinterest. It also has a snaphat (ChipotleSnaps). The first three are the most important, however in different ways: “…they are all powerful for their own particular reasons,” Joe noted. “But probably our biggest 3 would be FB, Twitter, and IG. FB for audience targeting and driving traffic, Twitter for customer service and immediacy of communication, Instagram for great pictures and visual story-telling.”
In reading through the comment and reply sections one particular quality stuck out: speed. The ability to respond quickly and candidly to posters’ comments is very impressive, with some responses made within minutes. I asked Joe about the level of autonomy that team members have when it comes to responding to customers: “…our team is fully autonomous with our responses. Only rarely do we need to follow an official stance.” This strategic approach is an incredibly powerful tool for Chipotle as it fits nicely with the quality of direct and speedy service that exists within its restaurants. It also adds a personal and sometimes quirky touch that some customers truly appreciate.
Similarly, I was curious about how Chipotle takes advantage of these customer engagement mediums to conduct brand customer service. Brands regularly rely on social media to enhance or extend traditional customer service channels as it better presents a more transparent and immediate experience. Chipotle is no different. It leverages social to further engage with its customer base, but still receives a large amount of traffic to the brand’s website. What’s interesting here is whether or not the successful usage of social media can really act as a driver or inhibitor of customer interactions with a brand. I would argue that opening up a channel that is based on frequent push and pull communications would absolutely increase that number, however one must look at all the factors. “Customer interactions with our corporate team have increased in general, Joe said. “…[I]t’s hard to say whether it was caused by social or just a result of our overall growth and popularity, or all of that.” This raises an interesting question, which requires more research, (for a later post, perhaps) as to whether or not an increase of customer interactions can be tied to specific social channels.
This past October, some customers in Washington and Oregon became ill after eating at Chipotle, where E. coli bacteria had contaminated some produce. What followed was the brand voluntarily closing 43 total restaurants in the Seattle and Portland markets, though only 11 were positively linked to the outbreak. To support the investigation of this outbreak, any user on social media that reported becoming ill was asked to reach out directly by email, the more traditional customer service channel. The brand still maintained its fast responsiveness on its platforms, but it is clear that the severity of the situation required a bit more direct correspondence. By taking the conversation off of social it would enable the brand to better manage and control the conversation. It also helps sift through any illegitimate claims, rumors, or trolling that may arise. “We can’t always determine [real customers vs. trolls],” Joe said. “[S]ometimes it’s a common sense thing for us, built over years of practice. But we also keep track of profiles [of users] that have trolled us before.” The method that Chipotle utilized here, in my opinion, is incredibly responsible. At no point did it deter from its normal approach to responding customers, rather changed the desired outcome by simply adding a new touchpoint. Instead of answering claims right on the platform for the user and all the world to see, it asked the user to explain a little more. As of yesterday, the brand announced that it would be reopening all of its closed stores in the coming weeks and of course used its social platforms to help push that messaging.
1) Connect with Chipotle! Truly a great brand to learn from!
Go ahead and friend, follow, add, subscribe, etc…
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Youtube, and Pinterest.
2) Some brands Joe mentioned are wisely leveraging social in their own ways:
1. Southwest Airlines
2. Shake Shack
3) Here’s an excellent video with some really great insight on the rise of Chipotle and its ability to empower its employees. It’s produced by Bloomberg Television.
Behind the Counter: Inside Chipotle