King Arthur Flour Has Human Customer Support Specialists

I believe that in order to have killer customer service these days, you need to be slightly north of suck. For those that think social media is the answer, it can be, but not if your company/brand/product/service/event sucks. Oh, and social media isn’t for everyone. I’ve written my fair share of both the good and bad (well, mostly bad) customer service experiences I’ve had – many of them related to the airline industry. Read a few of them here.

Customer Service Closet | Flickr - pswansenEven my mom, back in November of 2009, had a terrible experience with Time Warner Cable. It would seem that they put their Customer Service team in a closet, far away from actual customers.

I have good news to report. I’ve found a company that asks for and values feedback. I’ve found a Customer Support Specialist who actually is a specialist. Someone who is human. Someone who cares. Someones who practices empathy and common sense and listens to what the customer is saying.

Say hello to Brandon from King Arthur Flour.

King Arthur Flour Asks For Feedback

My mom recently purchased Fiori di scilia (Don’t worry. I had never heard of it either) and some cookie cutters from King Arthur Flour. Unfortunately, she was not thrilled with the size of the cookie cutters nor the exorbitant shipping charges. The good news is that shortly after the items arrived, she saw this email from King Arthur Flour.

*Side note: As an email marketing guy, there is so much to love about this email. However, for the purpose of this blog post, I’m just going to focus on the few points below related to customer service and feedback.

King Arthur Flour Email

Notice how many times they ask for feedback. First, the subject line of this email was “Give us a piece of your mind, please.” That’s one. Next, look at the preheader area (#1): “We’d love feedback on your recent purchase.” That’s two. Then they reinforce the subject line by repeating the text (#2). That’s three. They make it easy by using dynamic content, personalizing the email with my mom’s two purchases (#3). That’s three. For some reason this area reads “No rows found”; however, per my mom the products were in that section. Finally, in the footer they write:

WE GUARANTEE your satisfaction. We’re proud of the baking knowledge we share, the products we sell, and the friendly service we offer. Return any merchandise to us at any time, or tell us if our service is less than 100% satisfactory. Your very best baking is our top priority. Call us toll-free at 800.827.6836, or email us a c[email protected], and tell us how we can help.

That’s four. This email from King Arthur Flour asks for feedback 4 times. You can click on the images to write a review, call them toll-free, or email. My bet is you can even reply to the email directly.

All that said, we all have received these emails before. I bet some of you have responded with feedback. Usually, in my experience at least, that’s where it ends. Often you get an automated reply with something like, “Thanks for your feedback. We value you as a customer and appreciate your business.” That’s it.

That’s not the case with King Arthur Flour. They have actual humans reading and responding to emails sent to [email protected].

How do I know this? My mom took them up on their offer for feedback.

Meet Brandon, Customer Care Specialist at King Arthur Flour

It started with the following email:

On Tue Jun 14, 2011 at 8:41AM, Sharon Dobkin wrote:

I love the Fiori di scilia, but was disappointed in how small the cookie cutters are. Maybe I should have checked, but I cannot use anything that small. Also, the shipping was exhorbitant. I probably won’t order again from you if the shipping charge is so high. I checked on line a few days later and can get the same product cheaper when I figure in shipping.

Sharon Dobkin

Notice a few things about this email. She starts off by praising the Fiori de scilia yet voicing her disappointment about the size of the cookie cutters. She takes some blame for not checking thoroughly first. She then mentions the exorbitant shipping costs and shares that she’ll likely not order from King Arthur Flour again if the shipping remains so high.

Pretty clear that she’s an unhappy customer, right? Not mad, just not satisfied.

Again, this is usually where it ends. Company asks for feedback. Customer provides honest, valuable feedback. An automated email is triggered thanking them and expressing how valuable they are as a customer and that “feedback like yours helps us improve the customer experience.” Blah blah blah.

Not if you a Customer Support Specialist at King Arthur Flour. Check out this response from Brandon.

On Tue Jun 14, 2011 at 2:58PM, CustomerCare wrote:

Hi Sharon,

Thanks for providing the feedback. First, please send us your order number and we’ll refund the cookie cutters. If you don’t like them, we want you to have your money back.

Now, for shipping, it’s a tough balancing act. We currently charge by price level because it causes way less criticism (and though our customers are great, some of them can be really mean about some things) than what we used to do–charge by weight and distance. We still pay by weight and distance, and we usually end up subsidizing the cost of shipping. Still we realize that this system isn’t perfect, and sometimes it causes what seem like outrageous shipping prices for certain orders. We are not at all above reviewing this on a case by case basis. I’ll also take a look at this when you send along your order number and may be able to offer a discount here.

We’ll wait for your reply.

Thanks for contacting us.

Brandon
Customer Support Specialist
King Arthur Flour
Baker’s Catalogue, Inc.
800-827-6836
[email protected]

First, he personalizes the email using my mom’s first name. It’s possible that this was automatically filled in, but unlikely. Next, Brandon says thank you. All fairly standard. Then it gets human. It’s clear that Brandon read the email, listened to the feedback and provided a one-off response, tailored specifically to my mom and her customer experience. Phrases like “we’ll refund the cookie cutters” and “If you don’t like them, we want you to have your money back.” set the tone for the rest of the email. Notice that my mom did not ask for a refund; she simply provided feedback.

Then Brandon addresses the shipping. Notice how he speaks human with phrases like “it’s a tough balancing act” and “it causes way less criticism (and though our customers are great, some of them can be really mean about some things).” How’s that for honest? Brandon admitted what we all know – some customers can be mean! Brandon then offers to review the case and hints at a possible discount. Well done, Brandon. Well done.

But it does not end there. My mom replies.

On Tue, Jun 14, 2011 at 5:04 PM, Sharon Dobkin wrote:

Dear Brandon,

First of all, thank you for both your prompt and thoughtful response. You really are a “customer support specialist”– a rarity these days.

When I received the cookie cutters, I was disappointed, but would not have emailed you if you had not asked for feedback. Even then, I really did not expect such a thoughtful response. As to the shipping cost, I knew that when I clicked on purchase, but I was not happy about the added expense– nearly the cost of the order itself (which as you know, weighed almost nothing.)

Whatever you can do will be greatly appreciated. My husband owns a restaurant and uses your products. The food is almost exclusively home made and good ingredients are important to both of us.

I am also forwarded your response to my son who is a social media and email marketing “expert”. He will be interested in your response and might even blog about it (favorably, I am sure.) You can check him out at socialbutterflyguy.com. The lack of customer service is something people talk and blog about a lot these days. You seem to be the exception.

Again, thank you.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Sharon Dobkin

Now I realize that most people would not continue the conversation like this. Only my mom … well, and me. I am her son.

A few things that my mom does here that are interesting (& effective). She thanks Brandon. Amazing how powerful a simple thank you is, huh? She then compliments Brandon on his response and “anoints” him a true “customer service specialist.” Then, she tosses in the fact that her husband owns a restaurant and stresses the importance of good ingredients – something King Arthur Flour prides itself on.

I love that my mom called me an expert in email marketing and social media. Then again, she put expert in quotes. Ha! (A great post her from Sonia Simone of Copyblogger about Social Media Experts). Finally, as only a mother could do, she “URL-drops” my blog and says that I may write about this. She knows me well.

And we continue.

On Tue, Jun 14, 2011 at 5:57 PM, CustomerCare wrote:

Hi again Sharon,

First and foremost, thanks for the kind words. When I pulled up the order I see that someone has already processed a complete refund of your original shipping cost. So, you’ll get free shipping. It looks like the $10 was refunded middle of last month. I’ve also now refunded the cost of the cookie cutters, you’ll see that returned to your credit card in a day or two.

Concerning your husband, you may also want to look into our Wholesale program for certain specialty items that are not available from professional flour sales. You might be able to get some vital products at a decent discount. For information on this, please call us 800-827-6836 and ask to speak to Wholesale, they’ll be able to give you the details.

Lastly, I guess we’ll keep an eye on the socialbutterflyguy.com, no pressure, of course. ;-)

Thanks, again, for contacting us and please let us know if there is anything else we can do.

Brandon
Customer Support Specialist
King Arthur Flour
Baker’s Catalogue, Inc.
800-827-6836
[email protected]

Notice that Brandon again leads off with a formal, yet personal touch – “Hi again Sharon.” I’m not sure I understand why the someone had already issues a complete refund for the shipping, but I’m sure my mom was happy about that. Above and beyond! The cookie cutter cost was refunded too – before my mom even shipped it back.

The next paragraph is brilliant. Brilliant. Once again, not only did Brandon read my mom’s previous email mentioned her husband, but he jumped on the opportunity to be helpful. It turns out that being helpful is also good for King Arthur Flour. I think Charlie Sheen calls that “winning.”

Finally, Brandon mentions this blog. A nice subtle reminder for my mom.

But we are still not done…

On Tue, Jun 14, 2011 at 7:05PM, Sharon Dobkin wrote:

Hi Brandon,

Again, I am amazed. I certainly wasn’t looking for a refund or free cookie cutters! I simply took advantage of your request for feedback. Obviously, it was genuine.

Thanks also for the information on your Wholesale program. I will pass that info along to my husband. Is there anyone (a supervisor, maybe) that I could tell how pleased I am by the customer support at King Arthur?

Thank you again. If you are ever in Buffalo, you will get “customer appreciation” at Buffalo Tap Room & Grill.

Sharon

My mom expresses her gratitude again. She offers to share her appreciation with Brandon’s supervision and even returns the favor by offering special care if Brandon even makes it to Buffalo.

The next reply does not come from Brandon, but instead Matthew (Customer Service Assistant Manager) – who would appear to be Brandon’s boss.

On Wed, Jun 15, 2011 at 12:11PM CustomerCare [email protected]> wrote:

Hi there, Sharon,

Thank you for taking the time to get back to us so quickly. I certainly appreciate your kind words and it makes me very happy to see that Brandon was able to assist you. I will make sure to pass along your feedback to him! At King Arthur Flour, we strive to offer not only the highest quality baking products, but also wish to give the best customer service possible. We feel that pairing superior customer service with quality products is the best way to share our passion for baking with our customers. This has philosophy has served us well for the last 220 years and we do not plan on changing any time soon!

Thank you, again, for your email. Please let me know if you have any additional questions or require further assistance. You should see your refund hit your account by the end of business today. Have a great day!

Sincerely,

Matthew
Customer Service Assistant Manager

I think this last email speaks for itself. The loop has been closed. My mom is happy. Brandon is happy. Matthew is happy. King Arthur Flour turned a negative customer experience into a success story. They took a customer who was unhappy and unlikely to ever buy from them again, to someone who is not only a happy customer, but someone who will buy again and likely spend even more money in their Wholesale program.

Well done, Brandon. Well done, King Arthur Flour. Now that’s how you do customer service. Be honest. Be human. Be helpful.

Image: Flickr – pswansen

DJ Waldow
@djwaldow

12 comments
Ally
Ally

As someone who teaches client service -- this is a GREAT example.  I have had the opportunity to meet some of the folks that work at King Arthur Flour and they were all "just like Brandon".  Love it! 

Nancie
Nancie

I too am a happy KAF customer. Coincidentally, Brandon is currently helping me with a recent order I placed and my experience is similar to your mom's: Quick, friendly and helpful response to my question. I order about once a month or so from KAF and have never had a bad experience.

Matthew Nolet
Matthew Nolet

Thanks so much for the recognition! We at King Arthur Flour really believe that our recipe for success is found in the combination of quality baking products and exceptional customer service. This philosophy is woven into every level of our employee-owned company and its through recognition like this that we find our greatest success.

Thank you, again, and let Sharon know that if she needs anything else that she knows where to go!

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Thanks Ally! Nothing like "catching awesome", huh? CS must be baked into the KAF culture, kinda like Zappos. Love it!

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

What a great comment. Sounds like Brandon needs a raise. Thanks for sharing that Nancie.

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

"recipe for success" <--no pun intended. Ha!

Love that you'd take the time to read this post and comment. Safe to assume you are the same Matthew from the post? Tell Brandon we said hi. Check out the comment from Nancie. Sounds like she's working with him now. Love it.

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

I'd bet that KAF and Ibex are very very similar in that way.

Matthew Nolet
Matthew Nolet

Brandon will definitely get the message! It'll be hard to miss... We just shared your blog post company-wide in our "Tablespoon" newsletter this morning! Thanks, again, for the enthusiasm! It's great to find people as passionate about superior customer service as we are! 

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Awesome that you joined the conversation here Brandon. Keep kicking ass. Thanks!

The Brandon ;-)
The Brandon ;-)

Yup, got the message.  Wasn't in yesterday and actually received an e-mail from someone about it before I really knew what was going on.  Truly thanks you for the awesome write up.  You and your mother are truly great people.  It's been a few years since I've visited Buffalo, but if I make my way back out there, there's definitely a certain restaurant that's on the itinerary!

DJ Waldow
DJ Waldow

Sweet. Thanks so much Matthew!