Jason’s Deli Started a Zombie Apocalypse to Earn My Loyalty (And You Can, Too!)

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Jason’s Deli–a nationwide “fast-casual” dining chain–has recently won my favor and converted me from an occasional visitor to an avid fan and loyal customer by going above and beyond the call of duty on social media. In my opinion, they put on a clinic as to the kind of strategy and execution employers and social media recruiters should be targeting. The best part of all is: you could do it, too.

Differentiating Your Brand From the Crowd with Social

A casual dining restaurant isn’t usually the kind of thing you’d expect to get particularly excited about. The food, while consistently good, isn’t necessarily a mind-blowing experience. The dining experience is similarly fine but unremarkable. Prices are reasonable. At first glance Jason’s Deli isn’t all that different from similar soup/salad/sandwich restaurants (though I don’t know anyone else who does complimentary soft-serve). I certainly never thought I’d ever feel any kind of “passion” about it.

And yet here I am, neck deep in this post, all because of a few tweets.

I initiated our conversation in early November, when I realized that the restaurant was “ruining” its salad bar quinoa by adding mango to it. As someone who loves quinoa in their salad but not fruit (and especially mango), I figured I would share my opinion on the subject:

This was the speedy reply from @jasonsdeli:

I’m not a heavy social media user, but I do occasionally tweet at brands with a question or comment. Usually I get silence, though sometimes I’ll get some kind of token acknowledgement. Never had I been actively engaged in a conversation, which even my generally introverted attitude found remarkable and satisfying.

Our discussion went on, and they even put up with my bad jokes and weak hashtagging game. As someone responsible for a lot of MarketPro’s social activity and who works alongside some very good social media recruiters and staffing experts, I can certainly appreciate when a brand distinguishes itself on Twitter.

About a month later I returned, both as a reward for such a pleasant conversation as well as to check on the status of the quinoa. I wasn’t excited by what I saw:

But I loved how they handled it:

Not only had the social media team remembered our earlier interactions from nearly a month earlier; it had also caught on to my dry sense of humor and was able to keep up some light banter while staying on-brand. The team went so far as to imply they were genetically engineering some agri-culinary abomination…and perhaps accidentally kicking off a zombie apocalypse:

But it’s what happened next that really caught me off guard and made Jason’s Deli my first choice for a fast lunch in my area.

Making a Memorable, Personal Connection

I’d assumed when I left the restaurant that that would be the end of things. I didn’t anticipate Jason’s Deli taking our conversation a step further. Shortly after lunch, I received a Direct Message from Madison Boozer, Media Relations at the restaurant’s corporate headquarters and one of the primary managers of their social media accounts.

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Even though I was actually in a good mood and was playfully poking at the company, they decided not to take chances. Madison broke the bad news to me: the mango is here to stay for quite a while. But her lengthy, apologetic message more than made up for it.

Concerned that my experience was suboptimal, she went the extra mile and dug up their recipe in case I wanted to make a mango-free variant on my own. The Direct Message through Twitter was so genuine and thorough, I was instantly compelled not only to continue dining there but also to share my positive experience with others.

What Your Brand Can Learn from Jason’s Deli

After her Direct Message, Madison was kind enough to talk to me a little about the strategy and approach Jason’s takes to social media. She’s been with the company nine years now, starting as a delivery driver and working her way up through the ranks. Her comments and answers were very enlightening, and could serve as a roadmap for any corporate entity.

The Importance of Talent over Tech

There are myriad automation and analytics tools available to make social more effective as a marketing and customer service asset, and there’s certainly no shortage of fresh college graduates with “Facebook Expert” on their resume. But no amount of flashy tech or armies of inexperienced “social media interns” can replace a solid strategy executed by authentic people who truly understand the brand.

Madison says:

“We run lean on the corporate side. My manager, Brandy Nowlin (Director of Marketing), and I make up the sum total of our social media team. We believe a clear strategy is more important than having a large team or expensive software.”

The Power of One-to-One Communication

Out of the thousands of people to visit Jason’s Delis across the country every day, I’m just one customer. Even so, it’s usually worth it for brands (especially larger ones) to invest in the manpower and strategy needed to engage consumers on a one-to-one basis.

My personal lifetime value (LTV) certainly multiplied many times thanks to this interaction–I’ll be considering Jason’s much more frequently for the indefinite future. Moreover, I’m already serving as a “brand evangelist,” sharing my positive experience with friends and writing about it on this blog. Additionally, most of our conversation on Twitter was public and could leave a positive impression on any users in our networks who encountered it.

Madison says:

“Our mission is ‘Make Every Customer Happy.’ We keep our core values in mind as a company (you can see them listed in my email signature). One of them, “Out of this World Hospitality,” plays an important part in our approach to social media.”

“Our mission and core values guide our strategy and our day-to-day interactions with our guests and our internal stakeholders (e.g., hourly employees, managers, executives, vendor partners, corporate staff, etc.).”

Dealing with a Cranky Customer

I’ll be the first to admit that some of my initial Tweets were unnecessarily acerbic. It was a Monday, and I really dislike mango. Like many people, I turned to social media to vent my first-world frustrations.

The company could have responded with a sterile, canned apology. It could have ignored me altogether. Instead, I got custom-crafted “kill ’em with kindness” replies at each turn. I quickly went from being mildly annoyed to feeling a little guilty about whining over something so insignificant. I even tried to make amends with a gracefully-received compliment:

Madison says:

“On social, I always do my best to put myself in the shoes of the person who’s not happy, imagine how they feel and respond the way I would want to be responded to if I had had the same experience. Our exchange is a great example of that.”

“There you were, hating on mango (by the way, I also dislike mango, so I totally get you), but being good-natured and funny about it. When you visited and tweeted us a second time about the mango, I knew a more thorough explanation was in order. You were obviously open to humorous exchanges, but I feared that too much of that would leave you thinking we didn’t take your feedback seriously, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Improving Internal Integration

This experience is a perfect case study on the power of a well-integrated company where all parts of the organization that impact the customer are working together.

Too often in business, especially in larger companies, one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing, and vice-versa. So I was pleasantly surprised to hear that my complaint on Twitter was quickly and efficiently presented to the company’s Research and Development branch, which I’m sure rarely interacts with the Marketing and Communications teams otherwise.

This free flow of information made itself even more apparent when Madison followed up with the recipe and recommendations. Quinoa-mango salad isn’t exactly the most complicated dish out there, but it was still impressive that she was able to retrieve such exact product information and have the authority to share it with a customer, even though a recipe for a popular food item could potentially be considered proprietary.

Madison says:

“Our internal documents are organized and accessible, which is helpful when looking for information. An effective social team is well-versed in company procedures, documents, important internal contacts and sources, etc. They know what can be shared publicly and what’s proprietary. Myriad topics can end up on a brand’s social page(s), so it’s well-advised to be nimble and ready to answer anything.”

You Could Do It

One of the remarkable things about this entire experience is that everything that happened is well within the realm of possibility for nearly any brand. Jason’s Deli didn’t employ any incredibly complex tactics here, or launch some massive campaign, or offer an incredible deal. They just treated me like a human being.

It all comes down to having the right people in place as the face of your organization online, and equipping them with the resources they need to provide a cohesive customer experience. Though not easy, this should be well within the realm of possibility for any well-run business. Exceptional digital marketing leadership and strategy, coupled with talented social media staffing, is enough to go a long way even without an elaborate infrastructure to back it up.

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