Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Customer Service 

I made comments a while back on here (and unfortunately, Blogger is still not presenting the nice format that allows me to browse my archives as I'm posting, so I can't retrieve exactly what I said) about our stance on customer service. Well, The Small Business Blog had a mention on it, with a link to SME Tools , covering pretty much what we'd said and thought about it.

One of the things that will make or break the success of the Cracked Cauldron is how people like us. That means we have to provide superior customer service. There are other good bakeries in Oklahoma City. We even shop there and buy their breads and stuff. But, they serve recipes different from ours. Good as their breads and things are, they aren't using the recipes we've inherited and developed. There's room for diversity.

And I think there's a huge group of people out there in the Greater Oklahoma City area that want the sort of bakery we will provide. We've done studies, and test marketing. We've talked to people - shop-owners as well as potential customers. We've asked what they want, and we've told our dreams to them.

I'd like to say it was unanimous that everyone liked our ideas and were 100% supportive of what we plan. That's not true - But a huge proportion of the people we've talked to think it's a great idea, and are supportive. Some are so supportive they've already begun buying our products.

OK, let me give you one of the real benchmarks on this progress: Manager's father.

He's a tightwad of the first order. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but he won't spend money unless he really, really needs something. Example: He has a blacksmith's booth at the OU Medieval Faire every year, Elm Tree Forge. Yep, the guy with the brown kilt. He loves chocolate dipped bananas. And his booth is usually close to a food booth selling them. Does he buy one? No, he can make them cheaper at home.

That's the way he is.

We made him try our Bacon Bread recipe.


He never even asked for the recipe (something he's often done in the past). Nope. He forks over not only the money to make the bread every two weeks, he also provides the bacon for it. Good thing, too, because I hate the brand of bacon he likes. It doesn't crisp evenly and it has a higher salt content, so I have to adjust the recipe each time.

Now, that was a telling moment, when he asks to buy our bread. As Manager's father, we'd have just given it to him.

And the bread has proven popular with everyone who's sampled it.

Sure, there will be those who won't like it. After all, almost an entire pound of bacon goes into a loaf. It would make PETA shudder, and vegans turn pale. But Atkins, South Beach, Zone and related types of dieters love the stuff. With its high protein and comparatively low carbohydrate content, it fits their diets and has the super added plus of tasting great.

A few have felt we might be over-reaching ourselves in our aims for this bakery. We have scaled it back a lot from the beginning rush of enthusiasm, but the ultimate goals remain in place, just on a different time scale. We've adjusted and adapted dream to reality, and are proceeding with goals that we feel are imminently achievable. Instead of thousands of different kinds of bread, we'll start with a dozen, and rotate to see which prove the most popular. And we plan to bake small batches of special request breads, so if a loaf sells, but not well, the people who liked it won't be deprived of it.

I know, from casual conversation and talks on emailing lists, that people develope a loyalty to a particular flavor or product, and it really hurts when they can't get it anymore. One of the links, A Quarter of... , specializes in locating candies that have become hard to find, and have even been instrumental in a revival of some candies. And look what happened when Coca Cola changed the original cola recipe - they lost me as a customer. We want our customers to be happy, and we want to provide their favorite baked goodies. We'll take our lessons from both A Quarter Of... and Cocoa Cola.

Manager and I spent quite a bit of time discussing customer loyalty and the training we plan to give our employees. The article linked from The Small Business Blog only confirmed our own feelings and beliefs.

It's nice to get that sort of professional validation.

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