(From USA Today via Kevin Coupe)
There was an interesting story in USA Today the other day, passed on to me by an MorningNewsBeat user, that I thought illustrated some of the central challenges of modern retailing.
The story was all about Sarah Gilbert, a 35-year-old, environment-minded freelance writer and mother of three in Portland, Oregon, who mostly eschews the use of a car in favor of a custom-made stretch bicycle that fits all of her kids.
She recently stopped at her local Burgerville – an environment-minded company, as it happens – and attempted to go through the drive-through on her bicycle. And was refused service, by employees who said you can't go through the drive-through unless you are behind the wheel of a car.
That was a bad move, because the action was inconsistent with the company’s broader message and philosophy. It was made worse by the fact that Sarah Gilbert is an active blogger and contributor to Twitter…and she made her annoyance known almost immediately.
Within 24 hours, Burgerville apologized, said that it would develop a new bicycle-friendly drive-through program, and even asked Gilbert to help come up with recommendations.
There are all sorts of lessons in this incident.
One is the importance of knowing your customers. As it happens, in Portland, Oregon – which is Burgerville’s home market - 4.2 percent of workers commute to work via bike, vs. 0.47 nationally. That’s probably something that Burgerville should have factored into its thinking.
Second, the importance of social networking. Sarah Gilbert got change because she made noise…and in 2009, it isn’t hard to do so. Blogs and social networking tools like Twitter are a megaphone that can't be ignored. To some extent, their influence has to be factored into every decision a company makes.
Third, there is the importance of a well-timed apology. Burgerville didn’t delay, didn’t dither…the CEO knew it made a mistake, and moved fast to resolve the problem. Other companies should learn the lesson.
I love this story. I love it because it is great when one customer can make a difference. I love it when a company that I have often expressed admiration for, Burgerville, ultimately does the right thing and does not disappoint. And I love it because once again, it reminds me of why I love the Pacific Northwest, which is my definition of God’s country.