This guest post is written by Jan Fura is a co-founder of S4RB and a highly experienced senior IT professional and business analyst. He has developed award-winning software solutions for a wide range of retailers during a 25-year career. Fura’s leadership has enabled the S4RB team to help retailers succeed with a wide range of initiatives, from new product development and product quality surveillance to engaging with suppliers in efforts to drive increased accuracy and efficiency. Fura is a passionate advocate for supplier engagement and underscores the importance of collaboration as a key ingredient for the success of any private brand initiative.

As I discussed in my previous blogs on this subject, we commissioned a study of top US and UK retailers to assess their Unified Brand Experience (UBX) performance; focusing on their private brand customer care and website reviews of their products. We wanted to know how well these key areas of retailer activity were connected to their overall brand strategy and processes.

The study benchmarked the quality of customer care and product knowledge at Call Centres and online, alongside retailers’ willingness to receive and indeed encourage feedback. And the results were extremely interesting. Over recent weeks, in a series of blogs, I looked at a group of retailers that we nicknamed ‘The Happy Ostriches’ and a second group ‘The Accepted Norm’ as we considered private brand practices and approach to customer engagement. In this final Blog of the series, we will look at the performance of the best in class examples that were discovered, including our Private Brand Engagement Centre model which is in operation today. The third group.

Introducing “Engagement Centers”!

Let’s take a few seconds to think about the people calling into the private brand call centers. These consumers want to be heard and what we have found is that they are waiting for the opportunity to maintain or be converted into an advocate by responding with true engagement. It’s important to not forget that these consumers are calling for one reason or another because they care about the product and the associated retailer and their private brand.

To properly engage with a consumer requires more than just first level empathy, it requires not only subject knowledge but also the time and commitment to see the issue through to a satisfactory conclusion. For a true brand advocate satisfaction in this context doesn’t always just mean a friendly voice and a voucher! At S4RB we have worked with a number of our retail clients in turning this on its head and seeing each call as an opportunity to create or advance an advocate of their brand.

To do this requires agents that are champions for your private brand team and always look to complete any engagement with the priority of a completely satisfied private brand fan but also gain actionable insights for the private brand team and the manufacturers to work with.

So, for example in the case of a poorly tasting product-

Let’s understand:

  • Is this a regular consumer?
  • If it is a regular consumer, is this a one-off?
  • If not a regular consumer, what product are they comparing the taste too?
  • Do they have any suggestions on what might be missing?
  • Can we suggest other products that they might prefer given their comments?
  • Would they like to hear back from the manufacturing team on this complaint or even be involved in trialing any new products that are being developed within the brand?

Brand advocates want a conversation; they want dialogue, not monologue.

In the case of a query around the ingredients it’s important to give the consumer the depth of answer they are searching for, i.e. if the query was regarding the type of cheese on a luxury family sized lasagne then this could mean contacting the manufacturer to inquire on the region of Spain that the cheese is sourced.

The overall result is private brands that properly compete with the national brand equivalents with their own brand advocates. Once engaged properly, they have a virtually untapped and self-motivated sales force for the brand. Brand advocates spread the word about the brand and products via word of mouth online and offline. The impact on store sales, of course, is multiplied making any advocate massively more significant.

That is why the private brands we work with find themselves looking beyond this call center model for further ways to retain engagement with those consumers calling in that are identified as high advocates. Advocates who will become more engaged with membership or loyalty schemes.  Advocates who will become active panelist for trialing of new product development through to more involved loyalty clubs that reward that advocacy

What surprises most is that the manufacturers typically have the resources available to respond, gain insight and develop an interest in their products, but are often not involved in the conversation. With private brand teams that are always short on resources to involve the suppliers, to support the engagement center and improve the customer experience.  This delivers a ‘WIN WIN’ situation!  The supplier and the customer both become more engaged around the private brand, with efficiency benefits for the private brand team. At S4RB we call this the virtuous circle of private brands development. Happy consumers, great feedback, better products, greater sales!

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Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.