branding and customer service

Thrifty Foods: Good Response to a Bad Situation

I see customer service as how a company engages with its customers, and I think we can agree that branding plays an integral role in that. Branding isn’t what you say about your company, it’s what your customers believe about your company (not sure who said that but if you know, let me know). So these two things go hand in hand. Nic Hume contacted me recently to guest blog about the recent incidents regarding a Letter to the Editor in a local island newspaper and the actions taken by one of it’s online advertisers. Here’s his story, in his words: 

Some time on March 27, 2013 the Nanaimo Daily News (NDN) published a letter from a reader containing some extremely hateful commentary about Canadian First Nations people. The specifics of that letter aren’t important right now, but what happened afterwards is.

By around 9 or 10 PM that evening, the social media networks around Southern Vancouver Island were on FIRE with commentary. A protest group attracted 500 people in 45 minutes. By the next morning it was at 1,500. Literally thousands of people began conversing, sharing, commenting, and more importantly, pressuring NDN to take responsibility for what they had published.

Somewhere along the way, someone suggested that contacting the newspapers advertisers would be a good way to exert more pressure. After all, angry readers from the Internet are one thing. Angry advertisers who cancel their advertising is something else entirely.

(Disclaimer: I certainly championed the idea of contacting advertisers myself, though I can’t be sure if I was the first to suggest it, or if someone else beat me to the punch.)

One of the most prominent advertisers on the NDN website is local grocery chain Thrifty Foods, who have been well known over the years for having an incredibly high level of community involvement, including providing support for charities, sports teams, locally important causes, and anything else that is generally a good thing. They’re team players, and community-minded, and they’ve made a point in making that part of their brand.

By 10 PM people started emailing, tweeting, and posting to Thrifty’s Facebook page to express their disgust at NDN’s publication, and asking Thrifty’s to stop supporting them. By 7 AM the next morning, Thrifty’s was responding on social media, and letting their customers know that they would be pulling all of their online advertising from NDN “as soon as possible.”

Now, I can’t fault Thrifty’s at all for not having someone monitoring their twitter feed and email accounts 24/7. They’re a grocery store, and hardly accustomed to highly politicized social-media warfare, which is basically what this whole incident is/was. Most of the social media furor happened after 10 PM on a Wednesday night.

What really impressed me here was not only the fact that they did the right thing (Thank You, Thrifty Foods!) but that they individually tweeted back to every single person who had complained to them, informing them that they were pulling their NDN ads. Not only that, but they did it at SEVEN IN THE MORNING. I’m pretty sure that means that someone with executive power was hauled out of bed quite early in the morning to make that decision.

Well done Thrifty’s. You’ve solidified your reputation in the community as a company that cares about it’s customers, has a code of ethics that you stand behind when it matters, and that you listen and respond in an incredibly timely manner. You’ve always had my business, and you’ll continue to get it for a long time.

For those interested in watching, relevant hashtags and twitter IDs include:




Thanks for the recap and sharing your kudos of Thrifty’s, Nic. So was this great customer service? A branding exercise? Or managing crisis communications? Hell, maybe it’s all three. A good take away is that as a company, you need to be flexible, engaged and responsive when you can least expect to be. Thrifty Foods was challenged and has a better reputation with its customers because of it…or at least with Nic. 


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