As we transition into fall, let’s bid a fond farewell to summer 2013 by looking at how Benson’s Homemade Ice Cream, an independent seasonal ice cream parlor in the idyllic community of Boxford, Mass., uses Facebook in ways that larger retailers may want to emulate.
Real information in real time
Benson’s takes the concept of offering real-time, in-depth product information to a new level. The retailer is best known for its offerings of gourmet fruit-flavored ice cream made with locally grown fresh produce. Facebook fans receive updates on when a new flavor, such as Fresh Native Blueberry, is on its way, when it has arrived, when supplies are running low, and when it is gone.
Benson’s also uses Facebook to inform patrons of changes in recipes, with an explanation of why a favorite flavor has been tinkered with (for example, supply of a particular type of chocolate was unavailable).
Ask and we’ll answer, quickly and honestly
The Benson’s Facebook page is highly interactive and features honest, personal answers to consumer comments, questions and complaints. At 10:30 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 26, a customer posted a complaint about the peach ice cream tasting strongly of almond extract.
At 10:31 a.m., Benson’s replied with an apology stating the first batch of peach ice cream had in fact been mixed with too much almond extract but the problem had been fixed in subsequent batches. Five minutes later, the customer replied to say thanks and that she would be back to sample the improved product.
Turning mistakes into opportunities
Every retailer occasionally makes errors in the products they stock. Benson’s uses Facebook to turn those mistakes into opportunities for business and loyalty-building. Earlier this year, the retailer mistakenly made a batch of vanilla grapenut ice cream. Benson’s offered a one-day special offer for Facebook fans to purchase half-gallons of the concoction for more than half off, enabling it to quickly dump the unwanted inventory for at least some return and also creating goodwill by giving Facebook fans a special treat, so to speak.
The difference is in the magnitude and openness
Lots of retailers use Facebook for providing product and inventory information, answering customer queries and offering exclusive deals. The Benson’s difference is in the magnitude of the effort. Few retailers provide the kind of up-to-the-minute inventory information, including advance notifications and warnings of impending out-of-stocks, which Benson’s does. And a blatant admission of a mistake one minute after a customer complaint is not common, either. This openness extends to Benson’s freely advertising it had mistakenly whipped up a batch of vanilla grapenut and was now trying to offload it at a discount to Facebook fans.
Benson’s small size makes it easier for the retailer to get this personal and open with customers, and a small assortment of perhaps two dozen flavors of ice cream and frozen yogurt better lends itself to constant real-time status updates than an inventory of thousands of disparate products. But large retailers also have access to resources, like social media experts and automated social tracking software, which a small local shop does not. Adopting a little of the deeply responsive and open spirit of Benson’s Facebook page can help turn the Facebook pages of chain retailers into tasty treats that will engage their customers not just in the summer, but all year long.