In July of 2008, we published a customer survey. We also offered it on our website and paper copies in the store. Thank you to the 816 people who completed it; surveys always help us to focus on areas where we need to make improvement. Here are some of the changes we are making due to the survey responses.
We cannot wait to publish an article about the facts surrounding and our distaste for the National Animal Identification System—thanks for the prodding!
If you’re able to log on to our website, we’ve added Action Alerts to our options for owners who want access to time-sensitive and groundbreaking agriculture information that they can do something about. Normally, these Action Alerts contain further information and links to letters of protest or areas for owners to express their support for those issues.
Regarding the concerns about plastic water bottles, we will continue to offer our Owners information about them (particularly about the BPA content and the issues with recycling and disposal), but as long as Owners continue to wish to buy them, we will continue to offer them.
It was distressing to hear one respondent state that they found fish/seafood in the Seafood Center’s fish case that is not recommended by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. The Seafood Center has, to its and our knowledge, been following those guidelines; we’re researching this concern further.
The Grocery department has recognized and responded to three main issues addressed in the survey: improve gluten-free offerings, increase local products, and expand meat department. Some examples of recent gluten-free additions to our shelves include Glutino breads in the freezer set, and Namaste baking mixes in Aisle 4. Local products have been a focus as well. Some of our new local products added since the survey ended on July 31st are Tomato Mountain salsas and pasta sauce, Blue Marble milk, and Gail Ambrosius chocolate. In the Meat department we have added a brand new four-foot cooler, which allowed us to bring in Black Earth meats and Niman Ranch, and just last month we brought back Willow Creek, an Owner favorite.
We have scheduled a meeting with staff to go over survey responses, in particular those dealing with customer service and product knowledge. In each employee evaluation there will be specific goals and timelines to achieve certain levels of product knowledge, as well as a quick tutorial on customer service expectations in the Deli.
Regarding products, we are working on three main areas: new product development (priorities will be variety and flavor); more selections for our case (rice dishes are included in this process); and recipes that will come in under $5.99/pound. There have been as many comments claiming we have too much vegan/vegetarian, as well as many saying there is not enough—we’ll do our best to maintain a balance.
Individual servings of cream cheese are available at the Juice Bar.
In the Willy Street Co-op Production Kitchen, we are planning both large and small changes in response to what we’ve seen inthe customer survey. In both bakery- and deli-related requests, we saw several calls for more traditional food items to balance out the vegetarian and vegan offerings, and we intend to follow up on that.
As we see in the survey, but also evidenced in several recent customer comments, sodium content is an ongoing matter of concern to many of our diners and so we intend to develop a series of low-sodium items that will be identified as such for those who need to quickly shop and adhere to that diet.
Along with that, many diners who enjoy our food have observed that the “heat index” needs to be made transparent for those with sensitive palates and/or digestive systems. We are near completion on a labeling system that uses a chili pepper graphic to indicate the presence of five ingredients that really kick up a dish: cayenne, jalapeño, chipotle, hot sauce and crushed red pepper. One ingredient gets one pepper, two gets two and three or more gets three. This should really help those who need to steer clear avoid unpleasant surprises.
Lastly, we got feedback that the marketing and display for our bakery items needs a facelift—and, at the same time, feedback that we should re-examine our packaging decisions to achieve a higher standard of “green” packaging. We hope to do both by merchandising more bulk bakery in 2009 that needs little or no packaging as well as getting in more corn-based biodegradable packaging from our new purveyor.
We have been making a concerted effort to research, find and use affordable green packaging and other supplies. One of the changes that you may have noticed is that we are now using FDA-approved 100% post consumer recycled content multi-pack cookie bags. These bags are manufactured from Chlorine-Free Pulp. They have a greener footprint through their manufacturing process and they are compostable and 100% biodegradable. The plastic bags that we offer in Produce are now also made from 100% post consumer recycled content.
We have also made the switch to using SmartCycle packaging for our dips, grab-and-go food and Deli case food. SmartCycle products are made from at least 50% recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. Not only does their manufacturing process save energy, but it spurs the collection of plastics that may have otherwise ended up in a landfill.
The city of Madison does not currently accept plastic Deli containers of any kind or number for recycling. They have stated that it is too cost-prohibitive for them to invest in dealing with recycling these containers. I urge you to contact your state Senator to support the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants that were authorized by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. These grants could allocate money towards bettering recycling programs throughout our communities.
And we are not done yet! Even as I write this, Willy Street Co-op is continuing to do daily research and implement new packaging and supplies as part of our Green Packaging Initiative.
The Produce department has been using our intranet as a means of communicating product information to the staff. Each week, the Produce buyers post a product update for staff to view. Staff have the ability to educate themselves about nutrition, usage, handling, and seasonality, as well as easily access resources and information for customers.
We are currently working on updating our local sourcing systems in the Produce department. We have created a “local database” to help us manage seasonal information for each of the growers work with. Product lists, costs, delivery schedules, and other services are all stored in one area! The localized management of this information will allow for consistent seasonal supply to the Co-op, and increased support to the growers.
Because a number of respondents commented about prices, we’ve begun to showcase ways to eat less expensively but just as healthfully. The $16 Squares program will offer at least two balanced menus each month, both of which will feed four people for under $16. We are also offering more classes about economizing and cooking to stretch your food dollar.
Because nutrition and food safety scored very highly as topics of interest, we will write more newsletter articles about each.
The Board has been doing more outreach—Board members have participated in Co-op events, there is now an Owner Forum before each Board meeting, and there is a sidebar beside each Board Report in the newsletter that details what the Board is working on.
Respondents indicated that they were not aware of the opportunity for Owners to win free tickets to community events. Just write your name on a slip of paper and drop it into a box on the ticket tower, and you are entered to win!
There were some good ideas on ways to improve the wording on the survey; look for the next survey, coming out in July, to be a bit more clear.
I had several comments about poor customer service. We’re changing our new hire orientation and training right now, and developing an evaluation process to make sure that the things that staff is trained on, like providing good customer service, are really implemented.
There were some comments about hiring older staff, which we have been actively focused on recruiting.
We are improving the training we give new cashiers, including spending more time on how to bag groceries, talking more about natural foods so they can better answer customer questions and some “common customer service pitfalls” to prevent bad habits from developing (like talking to other cashiers when ringing).
At each of our monthly meetings we discuss different aspects of the customer service that we provide. For example, one month the topic may be efficient ringing, another may be advanced bagging, common CS pitfalls, etc. The goal is to make customer service an ongoing conversation and have an opportunity to discuss improvements.
We are revising our response to complaints that are made. If a customer complains about the Front End, in addition to handling the complaint over the phone, we are also going to send a letter thanking them for their feedback. We are also discussing the possibility of following up with them 4-6 weeks later to see if their issue has been addressed. We are still finalizing this process (Heidi Stanton and I), but I also think this may be a process that we could use as an organization.
We have been working with CS staff to try to improve the impression of the CS desk. Heidi has started required staff to answer the phones and give their names, focusing on looking at customers coming in the door and offering a greeting. We are also planning a project to revamp the desk so it doesn’t look so cluttered and unapproachable.
You may or may not realize that in addition to our Cooperative Advantage Program (CAP) promotions, the promotional pricing that we offer is most often set and given to us by either the distributor, manufacturer or the broker. Most often these deals require us to buy a large amount of product in order to qualify for the deal. In the past four months we have re-arranged our backstock areas in order to take advantage of some of these deals. We still can’t fit several pallets like some of our competitors, but we now have some space just for these opportunities. A good example would be the recent Weleda Skin Food and Everon product promotions. It is likely that you did not see this high quality line offered at lower prices anywhere but here.
I was given a long list of survey results and, while the suggestions were many, I’mhappiest to report that work has begun to review and refine the Co-op’s pricing to ensure that we’re in line with our goals but as competitively priced as can be managed to remain solvent. The group working on this is already knee-deep in research and we expect that they’ll be developing a system to stay on top of pricing.
Due to the wide range of concerns expressed and the number, we are committed to addressing each as effectively as we can. Thank you for contributing to the survey—this is a vital function of our commitment to two-way communication with Owners.
Click here to download a pdf of the survey results