SOCAP International

SOCAP Member Spotlight: Detectives in Our Midst

Happy customers tell a few friends … unhappy customers tell everyone.

The Ajinomoto Windsor consumer affairs team, which includes Willis Hwang, Laura Genova and Sharonda Harris have 30 years of combined experience. Based in Hayward, Calif., this team may not be detectives in the conventional sense, but using their experience and innovative technology they act as “street detectives” in the consumer packaged goods and food service arena. They uncover customer issues as well as discover emerging trends. Another responsibility of the team is to screen and forward potential business leads.

How did this team get started?

The department started in an era of handwritten notes and snail mail. It now uses an advanced web-based consumer response system, which helps us identify trends quickly—as well as share information cross-departmentally with its integrated email capability.

It’s really a sophisticated tool that helps us listen to consumers, to understand their issues and provide real and innovative solutions that are amicable to all parties. We see it as a business-critical feedback loop.


Can you give us an example?

A client was having an issue with its burritos and chimichangas; customers were complaining about the meat being tough and hard to chew. We documented the complaints and saw that a pattern emerged. It had to do with the connective tissue in the meat that the company was using causing it to be overly tough. We communicated the issue to our client, and management took action to reduce the issue.

On the other side of the coin, we can help marketing and sales teams identify potential new business opportunities or innovative ideas when we identify multiple compliments on a new item or repeated requests for discontinued items. For example, several of our loyal customers have indicated that they love our products but recommended larger family sizes. We shared this with our marketing and R&D teams. Shortly after the company began to offer alterative sizes to help satisfy our customers’ needs.


What is the strangest thing you have come across in your detective work?

This may not be the strangest thing that we encountered but it was funny. As part of the discovery process, we often ask for information about the purchased product. One such important piece of the puzzle is the UPC bar code. When asked for the bar code we had one customer simply replied “Fat bar … skinny bar … skinny bar … fat bar …

What about the most gratifying?

This last holiday season we received a call from a lady looking for our pasta products. She told us how her family had enjoyed them since their early childhood. Her younger brother had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. One of his wishes was to once again enjoy the pasta that the family had for their dinners when they were growing up. She just wanted to know where she could find them. This story touched all of us, so we set up a little surprise for her and her brother. We sent a variety of these products for them to enjoy. When she got the package she reached out to thank us and was speechless. We were just happy to help rekindle a few happy lasting memories.

What inspires your work?

Happy customers tell a few friends that they like a product; unhappy customers tend to tell everyone about a bad experience—even more so now with social media.


Any parting wisdom?

The most important goal is to provide top-notch customer service. For us, it doesn’t matter how big or small a company is, excellent customer service is fundamental to long term success!

(left to right) Sharonda Harris, Willis Hwang, Laura Genova

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