By adaptive - March 19th, 2015

Putting on the super social media cape and engaging with customers is all in a day’s Whole Foods work

Social customer service is the new handshake and “how do you do?” that transforms customers into brand advocates and loyal shoppers. Whole Foods, a leading natural and organic food store across the United States, has got social media customer service so right that the company is repeatedly hailed as one of the ones to watch in the online space.

The popular store has over 400 stores in the USA with a social media presence on seven different social channels and well over 800 social media accounts. Yes, you read that right, over 800 social media accounts. This is according to Nikki Newman, Social Media Community Moderator and Associate Team Leader at Whole Foods HQ.

Go to Where Your Customers Are

“When social media first started out it was more of a one-sided conversation. Now, as more and more brands are finding out, customers are on social media and they are talking about our products and our business. Social media is where our customers are and we need to be responding to them and engaging with them. Helping them. I think it is essential for brands to be on social and providing customer service.”

The core of any brand’s customer interaction is engagement, regardless of platform – online or off. However, organizations need a structure that is capable of adapting to the shifting sands of social.


“We are decentralized, so I handle the brand channels and work at the global support office and we then have 12 regional offices around the country. Each of these essentially acts as a corporate office and oversees stores in their area. These regions are autonomous so when we first started out with social we shared tips and tricks and suggested ways to improve engagement with our customers rather than enforced a set rule book. It has been a grass roots effort from us at global.”

For any organization, messaging has to remain consistent and cohesive throughout. Whole Foods has had a unique issue to overcome in that a lot of the stores and regions had already established their social media accounts.

“We came in and helped them here and there, suggesting different ways of approaching certain things. Now I think we have over 800 social media channels, I lose count every once in a while, which has made this somewhat tricky. We’ve grown the program by hiring a social or digital point at the regional offices that forms a liaison between us as a global support office and the regional offices.”

Find Best Practice and Engage

“We have worked very hard to share best practices on how to respond in certain ways and situations, how not to respond to someone, and how to reach out to our customers directly. Response is huge for us as a company – one of our core values is satisfying and delighting our customers, and we want the digital face to represent that as well.”

Responsiveness on social is vital for any brand looking to build a solid reputation of customer care. Unfortunately, research by Simply Measured found that only 10% of companies online bothered to reply to their customers within the hour, and that the average response time is 5.1 hours. This is not the strategy for Whole Foods, however (Nor should it be yours).

“Speed is of the essence, especially for social. It depends what platform you’re on, but if a week and a half goes by, then the customer will be beyond irate and never talk to you again. And this is after they’ve talked to X number of friends and the word of their horrible experience has traveled fast. Timeliness is key; getting in there and engaging with the customer and making sure you can find a resolution as quickly as possible.”

Customer service is a two-way conversation and social channels allow for brands to have a more human face and to be personable on these platforms. 

“A lot of marketing teams butt head with social teams, but I think the whole point of customer service is to find a resolution. The customer may just want to vent, so you need to be there, listening. If they want something fixed – if they bought something bad – then you need to help them change it. I think the three most important aspects of social customer service are timeliness, being human, and finding a resolution for the customer.”

Create a Team that Can

“If you are going to implement social customer service for your brand you must make sure you have the people behind it to make it work. Set yourself up for success – if you create a social account that’s customer service heavy, then get someone there who has their eyes on it all the time because otherwise it’s a waste.”

A rich team that’s trained and prepared and watching the streams will ensure that responses are real and personable, rather than templated with a note of corporate rigidity embedded within.

“For our brand we just don’t use templated responses – we may use some in a crisis, but we are a fun brand with a fun tone, and I don’t want my moderators using template-driven responses if they don’t have to. A lot of brands are highly regulated, however, so we’re lucky that we get to talk about food all day.”

The social media teams need to put themselves into the shoes of the customers and be able to talk to them about issues that are important to them, not the brand.


“Make sure what you’re putting out there is what your customers want, don’t use your brand channel as a tool for your benefit. Make sure that the information is what your customers want, not what you think they want.”

The result of really reaching out to the customer and placing them at the core of a social customer service strategy can be clearly seen in the Whole Foods social success story. The brand’s reputation on social is sterling, and customers know that they are of value to the business. The praise is effusive and the results speak for themselves.

“We would not exist without our customers and we have definitely seen an increase in engagement since we embarked on a cohesive social customer service strategy. It also doesn’t have to be negative, it can also be fun and we are out there talking with people and humanizing the brand.”

Read the next installment here:

The Corporate Social Media Awards

June 2015, New York

The Useful Social Media Awards sets the standard of corporate social media excellence. The #CSMAwards recognize those in social media who are driving social business forwards

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