As social media continues to become an increasingly critical brand touch point, many organizations are finding value in implementing a social media command center for listening and responding to customers’ needs. One such company is grocery chain Hy-Vee. Recently Larry Ballard, Hy-Vee’s customer care and social media coordinator, took a few moments to tell us about their new command center at their corporate headquarters in West Des Moines and the impact it’s had on their brand. 

At this point, most businesses have invested something in social media marketing but with a social media command center Hy-Vee is taking things to a whole new level. What drew you to this approach?
I’m not sure we’re doing anything revolutionary, but what we have done is replicate social media’s immediacy in our customer service approach. We try to engage Facebook and Twitter comments and complaints in real time, sometimes to the utter surprise of the customer.

Once you decided on building a command center, where did you start in terms of planning and executing how this would work? Did you have outside assistance?
Once we decided to open and furnish the area, we asked Lava Row, a local consulting company, to put our representatives through a social media “boot camp” to show them how we could approach our real-time goal, but also to educate them through case studies about the pitfalls and potential for damage from badly researched and poorly executed responses.

What business objectives were most important to Hy-Vee as part of this process?
Saving customers who have bad experiences; forging closer ties with those who express satisfaction.

Can you give us some detail on the tools and technology used in Hy-Vee’s social media command center?
We use Engage 1-2-1 software to scour the web for mentions and to gauge overall sentiment. The rest is elbow grease.

How does staffing the command center work?
We staff it just like our former customer service office. An employee opens up at 7 a.m., we layer on extra hands throughout the day, and close up with one person at 10 p.m.

A command center centralizes social media conversation to a degree yet Hy-Vee has 235 stores across 8 states in the Midwest. How do you find the right balance of central control and local customization when it comes to social media engagement? Are there brand guidelines or trainings?
We find that customers engage primarily with the corporate Facebook page and Twitter account, even though our stores operate independently and are free to set up and administer their own.

How has the command center worked so far? Are there any customer stories you can share?
A gentleman had been sent to the store by his wife to buy cake mix. He was standing in the aisle, apparently a bit confused, and tweeted that we must be out of the particular mix. We engaged him immediately, asked him to hold on, contacted the store director, and the customer was taken care of before he left the store.

What’s next for Hy-Vee when it comes to social media?
The question, I think, is “What’s next for social media?” Whatever it is, we will adapt. There’s no other choice. Social media is bound to change; that’s a given. Good customer service never changes.

Thanks, Larry!

What do you think of the command center approach to social media management and customer care?