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Check-In & Unlock a New Way To Connect With Customers

Just as I do every year, I wait until the last minute to do my holiday shopping.  Each year I vow to buy everything online, yet for some reason it never seems to work out.  Tonight I found myself all over town trying to make gift selections for those dearest to me. As I fought the crowds I kept myself entertained reading the colorful tweets prior to tonights contraversal football game featuring the typical Brett Favre shenanigans, that seem to be never ending (retire already).  Blazing a trail through the newly fallen snow, I also was certain to check-in via foursquare as I visited various retailers hoping to unlock a great special or a new badge.  Mission accomplished, as I unlocked “the bookworm” badge upon my check-in at Barnes & Noble tonight!

New badge earned and in a better mood now, I carried on with the shopping bonanza and ventured across town to a favorite retailer of mine, REI. Getting out of my car and walking to the door I check-in, nothing to unlock here but at least I know i’ll enjoy the time I spend while in this store. My ten plus years in the outdoor industry has spoiled me when it comes to high end sporting goods. I enter the front door and then I see it. A very large sign encouraging customers to “check-in” on facebook places with their smart phones.  For every check-in REI was going to donate $50 to the Ice Age Trail for maintenance.

I sat there thinking to myself, now in the mobile phone industry and a social media junkie, wow this is awesome! I was so geeked that REI was using location based social media to not only bring more visibility to their business, but also to create a deeper connection with their customers! These donations for simply visiting and checking in truly go a long way in building those all important connections to the communities in which retailers do business. I proudly checked in, and am looking forward to my next hike on the Ice Age Trail, knowing that REI helped to maintain it using social media as a catalyst.

Albeit tiny in scope, this is a great example of the power of social media in action and at its best. You know darn well I tweeted about this right away with the hopes to draw even more people into REI.  It also shows a simple way location based social media applications can be used to drive increased brand awareness, connect with your target customers, increase sales, and lead to brand evangelists.

Tonight was a pretty outstanding evening for me from a social media perspective. New badge unlocked and $50 donated to a local trail, all by simply checking-in.  My passion for customer service and the social media space causes me to stop think about how retailers are doing business and connecting with their customers quite often; tonight was a good night to reflect on that.

For those of you wondering, I still didn’t finish my holiday shopping. Four days left.

Jimmy John’s Wins With The Customer Experience

Over the past year or so I have gradually made a shift in my loyalty to local sandwich shop type eateries. I used to frequent Cousins, after all they have the “better bread” right? Well for me just having the “bread” doesn’t create a satisfied or a repeat customer.  For me it takes a few key items (better bread aside) to keep me coming back to your business to spend money, eat, and tell others about you.  Enter Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches. Jimmy John’s has figured out how to not only convert me to become loyal, but create a cult like following of sub sandwich  aficionados that frequent Jimmy Johns restaurants as much as their own kitchens.

I have frequented Jimmy John’s in several states.  In fact, I hold several Foursquare mayorships of Jimmy John’s locations around town where I live and work, so I’ve had ample opportunity to observe the differentiators.  So how does Jimmy John’s do it different from the other guys?  I have this narrowed down to three factors that have become very evident and solidified for me over time. After all I eat there a lot.

First and foremost is speed. Jimmy John’s pride themselves on being fast.  Not just fast but “freaky fast”. This is crystal clear when you enter the restaurant as the sense of urgency of the staff is always very high. The employees work as a team, which allows them to create your sandwich in a prompt manner, many times before the cashier is even able to ring you up. I also like that they call out what they are making for you, after you have ordered. This let’s you know they were listening, and creates less room for errors. Starbucks has also used this approach of calling out what was ordered after the customer placed it.

This is a great way to show your customers that you heard them and their order was important. Important enough to get right the first time. One more thing that Jimmy John’s has going for them that adds to the speed is the simplicity of the menu. Many competitors have added soups, salads, and other menu choices, which cause more time to be spent on preparing those items increasing customer wait times. Jimmy John’s has stuck to the basics, sandwiches, and it works. Even the longest line of customers is handled quickly.

Second, consistency is a differentiator between Jimmy John’s and the other guys. I have seen this consistency come in two distinct ways. First off food quality; keeping the menu simple helps Jimmy John’s to ensure the focus on creating highest quality sandwiches for their customers. They have even found a way to work the name “gourmet” into their name. Aside from great tasting food, the employees are also consistent between locations.  As stated before, I have frequented several Jimmy John’s and also been to some out of state, and have always seen the employees of the restaurant excited to be there.  They are happy to serve you this is evident in their attitude. I have not seen this type of attitude displayed by the employees of Cousins or Subway or insert you competitor sandwich shop of choice here, at least on a consistent basis. Jimmy John’s seems to have more than just unmotivated high school kids preparing your food.

Lastly but certainly not least, Jimmy John’s has a unique culture.  This is the most important differentiator between Jimmy John’s and their competitors.  For many fast food or chain restaurants the idea of culture is clearly not important or even understood. Let me take a minute to dive in to what I mean here. The Jimmy John’s culture is based around having fun, both as a team and with your customers. This is evident from the restaurant walls adorned with funny signs, to the upbeat music that is played, often at a high volume, in every one of their locations.    More importantly than the signs or music at Jimmy John’s, are the people.  Jimmy John’s employees all have a unique energy about them. It is entertaining to watch them work together to prepare orders, often throwing completed sandwiches through the air to the cashier so they can give you your order.

To me this resembles the famous Seattle Fish Market where workers draw a crowd as they throw fish across the market to get them to the customers at the counter.  Additionally customers are always greeted at Jimmy John’s as they enter the restaurant, many times from the entire staff, as they all yell out some form of welcoming remark as you enter.  The same is true when you leave, in that you are thanked every time for coming.  Their employees, in all locations, understand the importance of recognizing customers for their patronage.  Creating a strong culture based on fun with employees and customers is something that Jimmy John’s has mastered within their restaurants.

I know I covered a lot of ground here in this posting.  You might be asking yourself how you can pull out all of these observations and conclusions about a simple sandwich shop.  Take some time to sit back and watch the dynamics unfold the next time you eat at a Jimmy John’s.  You will clearly see the three areas discussed in this post of speed, consistency, and culture displayed for you every time. For me it is these three areas that allow Jimmy John’s to not only win in the sandwich arena, but more importantly create loyal customers by creating a best in class customer experience.

I wonder what I’ll have for lunch today.

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