Jen Reddy, SVP of Global Marketing at Communispace, chats with Communispace client Amy Kleppinger, Community Manager for The Heinz Consumer and Customer Insights team to learn more about how Heinz collaborates with their Let’s Dish community, an online community of foodservice decision makers.
Jen: Every company faces unique challenges when attempting to connect with customers. What are some of the hurdles you faced while trying to understand the minds and behavior of foodservice professionals? Are they difficult to reach?
Amy: Learning about the world of foodservice professionals can be challenging! Understanding what chefs want in their kitchens, what constraints they face, and what will really add value to their businesses is the top priority of the Heinz research team. Unless you’ve worked in a kitchen, however, it takes a lot of exploration and learning to understand a day in the life of a restaurant professional.
Restaurant operators are also difficult to reach. They are busy and often work very long, unpredictable hours. It’s not uncommon to have research interviews canceled because of an unexpectedly busy day for an operator whom we are trying to connect with. This is one of the reasons our Communispace operator community has been so valuable to us—operators can participate and give us feedback on their schedules, when they have time.
Jen: Your work with online communities of foodservice professionals has received a good amount of attention lately. What did you initially expect to learn and take away from this community? Did your expectations change as the community evolved?
Amy: When we first launched the Operator Community, I think the Heinz Foodservice business thought of it as a research panel to be used primarily to field surveys and get direct feedback on our initiatives. What we’ve learned, however, is that a tremendous part of the value of having a community of operators is listening to what they discuss organically, without our guidance. This helps us understand them as businesspeople with a variety of daily challenges beyond the menu.
Jen: If you didn’t launch the Let’s Dish community, how would you have gone about collecting meaningful insights from foodservice pros? What would you have done without it?
Amy: If we didn’t have the Let’s Dish community, we would have to rely on a lot more ad hoc research projects, which can be both costly and time-consuming. Having the ability to have a two-way, ongoing dialogue has really changed the way we approach and understand our customer in Foodservice.
Jen: I know you can’t share all the insights and innovations that have come out of the Let’s Dish community. But can you share one really valuable insight that surprised you and changed the way you do business?
Amy: The biggest a-ha for us has been that foodservice operators don’t have a one-stop-shop for foodservice information. This was the inspiration for the relaunch of HeinzFoodservice.com, which focuses on facilitating conversation among operators on the topics that are important to them. Through our Communispace Let’s Dish community, we learned that this group of professionals is very collaborative and interested in sharing and learning with each other. This gave us the go-ahead to model this type of sharing in our own website with the goal of being the first stop for operators seeking foodservice information.
Jen: Collaborating with online customer communities can be an exciting, imaginative and creative process. At times, customer suggestions must surprise you. What’s the most unique suggestion or idea a community member has shared with you?
Amy: I can’t think of one suggestion because there have really been so many surprising contributions. I think what’s the most surprising overall is how creative and engaged our operators are. They’re so willing to share videos, pictures, customer feedback and even their taste buds! We’re often surprised by how willing the members of our community are to share their experiences and thoughts with us.
The range of interesting suggestions we get from our operators is reflective of the diversity of operators in the foodservice world—from elementary school cafeterias to upscale dining. It’s a really good reminder of the range of needs that our customers have and helps keep us focused on unique solutions and strategies.