Chipotle and its Social Engaging of Customers

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”.

gladyoulikedit tweet

credit: @chipotletweets

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credit: @chipotletweets

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.Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 8.10.37 AM  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.”

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credit: @chipotletweets

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.

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 8.18.26 AMSimilarly, 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.

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from Facebook

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from Google+

Extras:

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. Sweetgreen
4. Redbull
5. Starbucks

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

10 comments

  1. I love that Joe mentioned Sweetgreen as a winner on social – that ties in well with the post @lakyaks wrote last week!

    I also think this post is a good follow-up to Professor Ransbotham’s lecture a few weeks ago. Instead of complaining to a manager when something goes wrong at a restaurant, customers now turn to social media. I think you did a great job of capturing the fact that Chipotle has embraced this trend, rather than trying to fight it. I also liked that Joe did reference the problems created by trolls on social media – unfortunately, it seems that trolls just come with the territory in social media, so it’s nice to see that Chipotle has a strategy on how to deal with the problem. Ultimately, companies have a lot to learn from Joe and his team at Chipotle!

  2. After ready @emchaidez‘s post about Taco Bell, it was only appropriate to read your’s on Chipotle. It’s ironic that I don’t eat Taco Bell yet I follow them on Twitter, and Chipotle is one of my main food groups and I wasn’t even aware they had a social media presence. I wonder what Taco Bell is doing differently that makes them more well know on social media platforms? Unless it’s just me that thinks that. I love that social media manager, Joe, signs all of his tweets personally. I think this is definitely great CRM and builds a stronger connection with customers. Aside from replying to tweets, I wonder how their social media presence is. I wonder if they do anything on their end to begin the conversation and generate more consumer engagement. Just something to think about, nice job!

  3. This is a great post, Sean. I’ve also been curious about who writes posts for brands. We tend to forget that there is a person behind these social media accounts. Most of the time, a company’s posts are anonymous, but when companies like Chipotle have a name at the end of their responses, it makes it more personal. Chipotle is an interesting brand with a huge following, due in large part to the simplicity of their product. I’m glad you got the opportunity to talk with their social media manager, as he provided interesting insights. I also looked at Chipotle’s Twitter page after hearing about the outbreak. They seem to be very responsive and honest with customers. Brands like Chipotle and Sweetgreen do a great job engaging with customers and correcting mistakes, which helps build brand loyalty.

  4. Fabulous post! This class has been very interview-conscious this year, and I think it has led to a remarkably strong group of blog posts. Thanks for doing it!

  5. Great post! I similarly wrote about Taco Bell’s social engagement with customers as I have always been aware of their social media presence. However I had no idea Chipotle (possibly my favorite food group) also had a strong social media presence. I think it’s amazing how several brands, specifically restaurant chains, are utilizing social media to further enhance consumers’ experience. Whether it be maintaining a loyal fan base by humorously responding to individual tweets or taking the time to personally address consumer’s bad experiences, Chipotle is definitely utilizing social media to their full potential.

  6. It’s nice to hear about a company that’s truly getting it right when it comes to social media. As @emchaidez said, companies need to utilize social media to enhance the customer experience. This means creating an active dialogue, in as close to real-time as possible, to further solidify relationships and turn customers into brand advocates. I was surprised to hear that Chipotle has a team of 6 full time employees that monitors & responds to their social accounts, but it’s a necessity as presence (if done correctly) on all six major social networks is demanding. As for Chipotle itself, great burritos, but they’re too darn big. Just like Joe responded to a tweet above … the last time I had Chipotle I felt like I needed a nap.

  7. ashleighpopera · ·

    It’s great to see that Chipotle seems to take pride in their customer service skills and really makes an effort in this area on social media. The “-Joe” addition to their tweets is a nice, small yet effective touch that I think really enhances their replies to customers. This is a great example of how the small things companies do to enhance their relationship with customers can go a very long way in the eyes of consumers. I also agree with the brands Joe mentioned that are leveraging social media in creative ways, they all do a great job!

  8. ariellebudney · ·

    Awesome post! Chipotle seems to be doing a great job on social, especially how they tailor their strategy for different formats. I never see Chipotle advertising on any traditional forms of media, so their social strategy is crucial. I think one of the most notable things here is the way they handle customer service on Twitter. The autonomy the employees are given to customize their posts is really important, and I think it helps them to navigate difficult situations like the E. coli outbreak. The personalization of the tweets make the customer feel like they are being heard, and validates their complaints. Target is coming under fire on social media for their “OCD” Christmas sweater. Their responses on social media to users who were offended by the sweater were all almost exactly the same. The tweets came off as cold and insensitive because it was the same apology tweet sent to everyone. Chipotle’s strategy seems like a much more sustainable strategy that will build better relationships with customers in the future. Great job!

  9. Excellent post – the interviews add another interesting dimension :) Like @apopera said, I like that he signs his tweets. Makes them much more personable and relatable. They don’t have as great an overall level of service, but another brand that does this is Delta. They have support “office hour shifts” and they name the person that will be helping out customers at the beginning of the shift. On a side note, I liked how Joe pointed out why they use different accounts for. Very in line with what we have discussed in class. Thanks for interviewing him!

  10. rebeccajin06 · ·

    How interesting! First of all, the fact that this man Joe was willing to speak to you at all speaks volumes to Chipotle’s social media strategy. Comparatively, our class and those reading our blog are a very small group of Chipotle’s audience and with no guaranteed benefits for Chipotle, Joe was willing to speak with you. I also believe that in regards to customer engagement, it’s very important to have someone actually signing off on tweets with a name rather than just having a corporate logo as the avatar. Chipotle has done an admirable job with their social media presence and especially with the recent health scare, social media is a way to (at least attempt to) calm down angry customers. Thanks so much for sharing this blog post!

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