Heather Mitchell, mobile and social media specialist
Heather Mitchell, mobile and social media specialist

The problem:

Hy-Vee is a company that puts a premium on customer service, said Ryan Neville, director of Internet and new media. The company saw industry trends calling for mobile apps to better keep up with what customers wanted.

The innovation:

Hy-Vee launched a mobile app, to which it continues to add features. To manage its social media campaign, it installed a customer care center “war room,” where employees respond to customer tweets, Facebook posts, emails and phone calls to provide as much real-time service as possible.

How they did it:

It almost sounds too simple.

A grocery store has customers. Those customers want to have a positive shopping experience. For most of Hy-Vee’s 80 years in business, it has focused on store employees helping customers - the “helpful smile in every aisle.”

Technology now provides another way to help customers.

“When we think innovation, I think a lot of people think of it as creating the next iPad or something,” Neville said. “A lot of our digital initiatives, it’s not really something completely new. It’s taking something that we’ve done for years and years and doing it just a little bit different or doing it a little bit better.”

In 2011, Hy-Vee corporate leaders saw a mobile app as a necessity. With Heather Mitchell, mobile and social media specialist, leading the way, the company launched a basic app and has continued to add features to it.

The app can locate a product in any one of the company’s stores, make shopping lists, and refill pharmacy prescriptions. Soon, Hy-Vee app users will be able to coordinate their shopping list between their desktop computers, smartphones and tablets.

“People are on the go,” said Mitchell. “They have their mobile devices with them all the time, so it’s just kind of fitting a need. That’s where (our customers) are at, and that’s where we need to be too.”

At the same time, Hy-Vee has put an extra emphasis on customer service through social media.

The company’s West Des Moines corporate office features the customer care center, sometimes referred to as the “war room,” with eight television monitors mounted on the wall and the day’s headlines scrolling on a news ticker. The room has representatives taking phone calls, checking emails, and monitoring social media websites to deal with customer service issues.

The goal is to be able to have store representatives answer customer social media complaints on the spot. They aren’t quite there, but they’re getting there, Neville said.

The payoff:

The mobile app has gained more than 150,000 users with little marketing effort. It recently won a Prometheus Award from the Technology Association of Iowa for the best mobile application. Employees in the customer care center respond to about 150 emails and 1,500 social media mentions a week.