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Hy-Vee in Command From Social Media War Room

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There’s one fact every retailer knows about social media: that everyone seems to be doing it differently.

One of the more interesting approaches is taking shape in a vibrant operation at Hy-Vee headquarters in West Des Moines, Iowa.

A handful of associates are running a new corporate effort out of a modest-size room I visited recently. The appearance is much like a war room, because employees track wall monitors that project Hy-Vee’s social media accounts, website and intranet; national cable news channels; and even Google analytics. They also watch activity of competitors. But it’s not just about monitoring; this crew rapidly responds to customer comments across numerous platforms. The operation, called the “Customer Care Center,” is all the more impressive because the same group handles customer service through email and phone.

Associates monitor activity from Hy-Vee's Customer Care Center“The goal is to integrate social media and customer service, because they are closely linked,” said Larry Ballard, the company’s customer service and social media coordinator.

Larry Ballard, Hy-Vee's customer service and social media coordinator.Ballard (right), who has a newspaper journalism background, calls this “real-time customer service” because of how rapidly it can play out over mobile media, even while a customer is still in the store. “Someone will tweet from an aisle of a store that they can’t find cake mix,” he said. “We’ve actually engaged that customer in some cases before he or she leaves the store. We’ve said, ‘We’ll get a hold of the store director for you.’”

Hy-Vee is known for giving autonomy to individual stores, and that practice follows through into social media. Stores are encouraged to run their own social media accounts to tailor local messages. Typically the corporate accounts focus on telling “the story of Hy-Vee,” such as community service, while the individual outlets might focus more on price, item and deals.

Ballard spends a lot of time mulling how quickly the social media landscape is changing so Hy-Vee can stay a step ahead. He said Facebook was initially the retailer’s focus, but Twitter is now growing in importance, while Foursquare could be the next big thing.

One aspect that won’t change is connecting to customers in a way that heads off potential problems. A fast response to an angry, complaining consumer mollifies that person and can lead to a friendship.

This may be a retailer’s war room, but Ballard points out the goal is to avoid the war.

Read more: Hy-Vee Wins Retail Excellence Award

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David Orgel

David Orgel is executive director, content & user engagement, of Supermarket News (SN) and its website, SupermarketNews.com. Orgel delivers his opinions on industry trends through a bi-weekly...

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Jon Springer has been writing about food, food retailers and food retailing for more than 10 years, and is in his second tour of duty with Supermarket News. His prior experience includes covering the...
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