Out Food and Drinks
Service Moves Upscale
Complaints By Email
OUT FOOD AND DRINKS
Biff! Bang! Bursts! A new line of pop-out, clip-on, dip-in and suck-up
beverages from Topps Corp. suggests a SuperBowl of Slurps that erase
the lines between food, candy, and beverages and make as much traditional
sense as cars falling from trees and men running with squirrels. The
Push Pops from Topps are packaged in flame-glo eye grabbers that raise
the visual impact to the level of an ambulance screech. The products
are targeted at a youth market, but just as the senior market is spreading
from 50 to 100, the youth market seems to be moving up toward fifty.
Chunky Monkey is old hat by now, and the food IS fun market for consumers
of all ages knows no bounds.
Just this week The
New York Times Magazine reported on Coke's new Drink Think Tank in New
York. Coke will use the think tank to search for more exciting new products
that take it beyond new reasons to mix milk with Coke under banners
like "Milkables" and "Mixables." And we dialoged
with a cross section of our panelists about Ice Cream Blends, a line
of alcohol-containing ice creams with names like Grasshopper and Pink
Squirrel recently introduced by The Ice Cream Shop in the Chicago market.
Many of our panelists responded with strong feelings for and against
the concept, but the enthusiasm for appealing new flavors is widespread
and intense enough to overcome concern about a new form of alcohol that
could appeal to children.
- I cannot wait
until I taste this new ice cream.
- I would love
some crème de mint ice cream right now.
- The liquor ice
cream, yum, sounds scrumptious.
shoppers actually seemed to divide themselves into four distinct groups
over the ice cream blends concept:
1-Taste and fun first
2-Avoid alcohol temptation at all costs
3-Adults must put kids first
4-Find a workable solution
Group 1 (taste
first) thinks that concerns about tempting kids with adult flavors are
overblown for many reasons, starting with the common mother-knowledge
that little kids like the plainest flavors and bigger kids want "oooey
- Someone gave
us a jar of Fudge Body Paint with a brush for Christmas. It was great
- To people
who get upset over things like ice cream with liquor I say Get a life!
- I think the
flavored ice creams are OK.
- The beer manufacturers
are already selling Lemonade that has alcohol and there are other
fruit drinks that are not wines that have alcohol so what's new about
- Those who
object to alcohol being part of the product shouldn't buy it or let
their kids buy it.
- I don't imagine
that the amount of liquor would be significant or encourage kids to
drink. People overact.
- The chance
of someone getting high on Pink Squirrel or Grasshopper ice cream
is pretty remote.
- People who
get upset about this product should lighten up - there are much bigger
issues regarding our youth than this.
- I have no
objection to foods targeted to adults. The responsibility for monitoring
what foods children eat is largely that of parents.
- I'm sure that
Haagen Dax Rum Raisin has real rum in it - it's not for kids and kids
don't like it.
- It's simply
amazing that some people would be upset about alcohol-flavored products.
These people should immediately lock themselves in a dark, soundproof
room so that they won't be effected by all these bad influences. Oh,
and they should lock their children away too. Poor souls. You never
know what might cause them or their children to "go bad."
Group 2 (avoid
alcohol temptation at all costs) has the strongest feelings:
- Showing kids
that we have "mood modifiers" for dessert too is horrendous!
- Liquor in
ice cream isn't too far from cocaine in lollipops.
- Really really
bad idea to mix liquor into ice cream. Sends wrong message to kids.
- Look what
happened when kids started playing with realistic guns.
- Making liquor
ice creams available at grocery stores would be ludicrous. What's
next? Kaluha Kit Bars? STOP the cycle of liquor to minors where we
- Don't do this!
We can all see the trouble it will cause coming down the road!
Group 3 (Put
Kids First) focused on the need for adult restraint, kids' education,
and how, when and where we should protect versus educate our kids. Some
believe that judicious exposure to wine and alcohol flavored products
should be part of kids education to keep them from going wild when they
enter their teens.
- Too bad the alcohol
might tempt kids. It sounds so good!!!
- With kids getting
fatter and fatter, we have to stop putting temptations out there.
are the solution seekers.
- Liquor ice
creams okay if they are only sold in liquor stores.
- Food products
like this should be rated like movies are rated.
- Develop more
kid-appeal flavors like ROMrasberry, FAXafruit, or NETnut-vanilla
- an updated version of butter almond that sounded pretty good to
We will remain editorially
neutral on the yeas and nays of Grasshopper ice cream but suggest that
the increasing time that today's kids are spending alone heightens the
temptation problem and joins fast food in contributing to the increases
in weight and diabetes as well. A new sociological study revealed that
comparing the lives of today's kids with the lives of 70s kids shows
that today's kids are spending two more hours alone daily than 70's
kids - and I suspect an even greater difference from kids in the 50s
when most moms were really home all day and kids could trust most grown
ups who didn't offer them candy and were allowed out to keep busy with
friends and neighbors. We suspect that kids who are alone eat more of
everything that's there to be eaten - which suggests to us that socially
responsible food processors should be looking for low fat, ooey-gooey
popcorn and carrot toppings.
light on the growing girth of American consumers, Warnaco CEO Linda
Wachner told reporters that "Everything is big and loose and people
want that. You have to adapt to that. You have to look and see what
do people want. What are they asking for. Our best selling size in a
bra was a 34 B 10 years ago. Today it is clearly a 36 C. In Chaps, where
the best selling men's casual pant was 32, now it's 34 or 36."
All of this leads
us back to Coke's Drink Think and their contribution to our national
(and soon to be international) weight problem.
- Adults need
fun foods just as much or more than kids do
- The best
adult fun foods taste great without calories
The new Joy
of Pepsi commercials are fully in tune with what many of our consumers
hope for - a hope which may turn work its way through the new product
system to become a solid or slurp formulation lovingly called Diet Coke
En route to a breakfast meeting at 7:40AM during the third week of the
current January, this researcher saw a young mom carrying a toddler
in her left arm and a 30 gallon trash bag filled with to-be-cleaned
clothing in her right arm. Intrigued with her balancing act, I waited
to see her emerge from the cleaners with what turned out to be a first
armload of clean clothing on hangers draped over the toddler-free arm.
She used a remote with a free finger to open the rear door of the SUV
and laid in the first load of cleaned and pressed clothing, then returned
to the cleaners, toddler still in her left arm, for a second load of
filled hangers. Placing this load in the van required setting the toddler
down for a few nervous seconds while arranging the hangers, then scooping
him up and arranging him in the rear car seat for the trip to day care
after which she headed to her own job. Expressing my awe at her multi-tasking
efficiency, the young mother shrugged and said "you do what you
have to do." She had already fixed a sort-of breakfast, dressed
the toddler for daycare, and herself for work. She said that she works
a full day after the drop-off and alternates with her husband picking
up the toddler on the way home before doing something about dinner,
baths and bedtimes. Remembering that many single as well as married
and multi-child mothers are living their days at this activity level
gives this writer a fresh appreciation of the markets for work-saving,
one-handed, easier to use, and more portable products and packages and
easier and quicker ways to shop.
Shortly after combining
the young mom's "you do what you have to do" comment with
what the young parents on our panel are telling us, I had the opportunity
to swim and work out in a health club frequented mostly by twenty- and
thirty-somethings. The contrast with the easy-going spa facility that
I'm used to was dramatic - and not because the bodies were more beautiful
(although many of them were) but because the young work-outs were so
aggressive and intense. The effort that goes into looking like one has
to look today is awesome. Akin to competitive sports training, the magnitude
of the effort required helps to explain why so many give in and give
up. If it takes agony to look really fit and tempting food is at every
corner, it's no wonder that the divide between fit and overweight is
growing even faster than the divide between rich versus poor.
SERVICE MOVES UPSCALE
In our service-poorer and rich-get-richer society, it has long seemed
that money buys better service as well as better quality products. Now
we are hearing service complaints from our most upscale consumers as
well as those with more modest incomes and lifestyles. One reason is
that the affluent are growing in numbers. Another is that they are increasingly
shopping in the same discount and drug stores as their dollar stretching
cousins. Another is the shortage of personnel at all levels. And another
is the "massification" of first class travel and carriage
- I am finding
rudeness everywhere these days - from first class airline seats to
drug stores and supermarkets. And chain restaurants like Bennigan's
- The Kroger
Supermarket where I usually shop has people in the Deli department
that are so bad that I finally told the manager that I won't ever
buy anything from the Deli again. He knows that I'm not a person to
complain for no good reason but I suspect there's nothing he can do
- Frequent flier
miles have a perverse way of assuring loyalty. Our loyalty once was
based on superior service. Today, we fly primarily first class, whose
quality American has lowered to just barely above coach class. Yes,
the seats are more roomy, and the food and wine is still better than
coach but we have experienced some execrable service from first class
flight attendants. One of the problems with nearly full employment,
of course, is finding and keeping competent staff. As American's Platinum
Class fliers, we have an easier time getting our complaints heard.
But it is a sad irony that, to get to Platinum status, we must put
up with large numbers of pretty bad flights. American is not alone,
of course. We have tried United and Delta first class, and have not
been very impressed.'
COMPLAINTS BY EMAIL
As the First Class flyer noted above, it's easier to be heard when you
are a major customer. That's one of the reasons that consumers are increasingly
comfortable with email as their complaint route. It's casual, fast,
cost effective, and frequently productive. If it sometimes misses the
mark and they get no response at all, some consumers will shrug off
the failure with less anger than they feel about an unanswered letter
or a phone call that never made it all the way through the electronic
Why Email Is Better
- Avoids phone
- Avoids interrogation
- Approaches real-time
Few companies are
actively promoting email -- they are still more likely to provide an
800 phone number or a website than an email address. It is difficult
to obtain the E-mail or www address of a company while often the address
of the firm is on their product. So it's not surprising that some consumers
actually feel one-up when they have found or gotten an email address
that may produce the information or response they are looking for without
the hassle of a trip through the mail maze.
- I prefer email
because it is easier, quicker and there's no postage.
- I think that
email is the best thing since "sliced bread" when it comes
to communicating with a company. I can't stand the call director things
on company phones and email is just an electronic letter! I like it
because I can take my time, I can do it whenever I want, and I can
re-write until it sounds good to me. I also don't have to deal with
getting an "attitude" because my call happens to get to
someone who's having a "bad hair day"! I think it's great
and I use it all the time.
- I prefer to
email rather than to phone unless things are urgent. With email, you
don't have to sit through voice mail and Muzak and general "on-hold"
- I have had
success with e-mailing companies. The response time has been reasonable.
It sure beats hanging on to the phone waiting for an answer, or dialing
over and over to get a ringing line instead of a busy signal.
- Forget the
phone. You can't find the right person, if you can even get through
the *push this or that button* routine. The mail works, but it requires
envelopes, stamps, etc. I will write in the mail if I can't find an
- Email has
been wonderful--immediate response and even if person was unable to
resolve I was able to get necessary info to solve problem
- I've emailed
several companies with problems. I usually received prompt replies,
as well as coupons for my trouble. Once I emailed Drypers, complaining
that their diapers gave my baby a rash. Within ten days I received
a $5 check (refunding the purchase price), and a coupon for a free
bag of Drypers. They also sent an apology, and asked me to try their
product again, and included a questionnaire for me to send in after
trying the diapers. I was impressed!
- Prefer Email
to telephone and the need for an interrogation before, if successful,
getting to the right person. Also prefer Email to letter writing because
of faster response.
- Yes, I have
contacted several companies and have found all of them responded in
the next day's email. They were helpful and kind in their responses.
I would rather use email because it is faster and more convenient
- I have sent
emails to companies and received good responses for the most part.
I think it's easier and more convenient than phone calls or letters
but think there will still be occasions where a phone call or letter
is in order. I don't think email communication should, or will ever,
take the place of other forms of communication but it has given us
another means of communicating
- I frequently
e-mail companies with both compliments and complaints as well as inquiries
if and when I can locate them on the internet or obtain an e-mail
address elsewhere. Most of the time the responses have been both timely
and positive. Sometimes they are personal sometimes an automated response
but usually helpful anyway. Communicating via e-mail is much more
convenient and quick.
When and How Email
- Unanswered emails
- Slow responses
expectations are hard to meet (may be unrealistic as volume grows)
- Some companies
take email communications less seriously than calls or letters
- Grass roots outpourings
are losing impact
Given the increasing
costs of staffing and training customer relations personnel, few companies
are giving a bright green light to customer email, or using it to actually
enhance their customer relationships.
- I would say
that email is good for quick, initial contact with companies but for
anything that is very detailed or that has to be documented for strict
legal reasons, letters are better. Email is getting better in that
regard with the use of digital signatures, but for now, letters are
- We've emailed
companies with questions, requests, and complaints dozens of times.
We find that a letter, particularly to the CEO, is the most effective
consumer tool and almost always gets attention. Phone calls come in
second in our experience. Emails, although the easiest and quickest
form of communication, rank last as they are sometimes not acknowledged
or acted upon.
- I've emailed
complaints and questions to companies about both products and services.
I did get replies but many were untimely, taking as long as if I had
written a letter and mailed it and waited for a response. Responses
with 3-4 days are rare - they are usually much longer, as much as
two weeks. I think I get better results by calling and as far a faxing
a letter to companies, I have received no responses to those inquiries.
- I have tried
to Email companies so many times. One out of twenty gives an answer.
When they answer, it is very good, but most of the time, it is a waste
- I have had
good results and bad. I emailed Nordstrom about a pair of shoes, got
an initial response that they would forward my request to a personal
shopper and then never heard back again. I think less of Nordstrom
as a result.
The Email Explosion
Many consumers find phoning too time consuming and consider letters
old fashioned and outdated. Many who have not yet emailed a complaint
or inquiry expect to do so soon. Some of those we asked were surprised
at themselves because they hadn't thought of it. And many had emailed
inquiries or complaints only to companies like Amazon that they think
are in the email business.
- I have not
filed a complaint by E-mail to any firm, but at this point in time
I think my next complaint will by via E-mail.
- Since we
don't purchase by e-mail, we have never sent a complaint by email.
Until you asked, I never though of emailing a business about a product
I bought in a store.
The Danger of
Companies that respond well enhance their customers' bonding. Those
that fail to respond or refuse to hear groundswells of emails seriously
endanger their reputations as well as their customer bases. Consumers
who feel dissed take their business elsewhere - whether the culprit
is Nordstrom or Nestle. are playing pay attention
The Dialog Opportunity
To manage their customer relationships efficiently, most corporate
managers discourage actual dialog with their emailing customers - many
of whom enjoy the email communication process and would be more than
willing to keep it going. Here at The Consumer Network, we have found
email to be an invaluable tool for enhanced dialog with consumers. It
has helped us to learn more about their lives, to more fully understand
consumer experiences, to better understand the problems they face, and
to speed up the search for solutions. Similar opportunities are available
to almost any company that's willing to learn how to dialog.
- It's easier
to type out your thoughts, especially when extremely negative, than
to voice them orally and risk alienating the phone answerer!
- Taco Bell.....called
their 1-800 number to complain about horrible service at their fast
food place near my town. They assured me that they would "check"
it out. Results.....new manager......better service.....and I'm a
return customer. A Win/win SITUATION......for all concerned. No free
anything.....better service was the reward!
- I e-mailed
my response to a service evaluation request at 11:30 at night. I found
that I was able to express more to them in an e-mail letter than in
the two small spaces allotted on their form.
Even as providers
of mystery shopping services, we recognize the potential value of customer
emails as more valid feedback than any mystery shopping service can
provide if the company on the receiving end has the means, the foresight
and the knowhow to listen..