In this edition of the Voice of the Customer, we welcome a special guest, Darren Mahaffy, Chief Marketing Officer from Silver Hills Bakery. We asked Darren to participate in our interview series to leverage his knowledge and best-practices with all his peers out there and educate others that are new to the topic of customer-centricity.
Silver Hills is a thriving family-owned, family-run, three-brand business, committed to making the best tasting, most nourishing, plant-powerful products possible. Darren leads a passionate team of marketers to bring the benefits of sprouted grains to consumers across the US and Canada. He leads the team’s efforts to grow awareness of the Silver Hills Sprouted Bakery brand, the gluten-free Little Northern Bakehouse brand, and the traceable One Degree Organics brand.
Bram Weerts, Chief Customer Officer of Wonderflow: Thank you so much for being with us today. Let’s begin with the big questions – how do you define customer-centricity for Silver Hills Bakery? And how important is the input from your customers to the decisions you make as a company?
Darren: Customer-centricity for us is all about delivering products and innovation that exceeds the expectations of our loyal and future shoppers. We are constantly looking for new product ideas to enhance our offerings and to improve our consumer messaging on the benefits of sprouted grains so more people can understand why they should trade up to better nutrition in their bakery products. This information is always valuable to keep our business focused on the highest potential value ideas or projects that will be seen with joy from our shoppers.
Bram: What are key challenges that you face when building a customer-centric culture? And the same thing for maintenance – what do you do to maintain this attitude and culture, especially in times of difficulty, through changes in organization, through internal expansion and growth?
Darren: Our biggest challenge, often, is that we have so many smart people in our organization, creative people who come up with great ideas. That presents as a challenge because we need to ensure that these great ideas get run through the gauntlet of consumer acceptance before we bring them to market. To maintain this attitude, we spend considerable effort to keep the voice of the consumer in the lead on decision-making across the organization. This includes summaries of monthly consumer response, consumer research and other learning from across the organization.
Bram: In terms of ways of working, how do you collect and analyze feedback from customers (which sources, how many, how did you spot opportunities to improve your products?)
Darren: We use two primary sources and one indirect source. For our primary research, we first analyze retail data to see where our products are succeeding or struggling. Then, we use that information to mine our consumer response information to determine if any consumer feedback can be utilized to take action on product improvement. For our indirect learning, we place consumer research directly to understand consumer interest in new product concepts to determine consumer interest and high potential ideas.
Bram: How has your way of working changed over the years?
Darren: We’ve certainly tried to automate as much of the analysis as we can without losing the personal contact consumers expect when they are directly interacting with the brand. I remember having to gather books of data each month from our data suppliers to sift through the information, so we have already come a long way.
Bram: This leads to a good follow-up question – what types of trends do you see in the market for companies in building, scaling and maintaining a customer-centric culture?
Darren: The use of AI to analyze and quickly summarize data will allow the marketing team to focus more on learning from the information and sharing it across the business to increase customer-centricity in all functions.
Bram: What do you see as essential capabilities for companies and professionals to develop in the future, to continue becoming more customer-centric?
Darren: The most important capability that I see is being open to the learning rather than assuming that you know the answer. Let the consumer tell you what you need to know. You may need to interpret the data and relate it back to the capabilities of the organization but when you assume that you already know what you need to know you could miss the big idea.
Bram: Amazing, thanks for that. A topic we cannot avoid; how do you see COVID (permanently) changing the ways of interacting with customers, and customer preferences and expectations?
Darren: Well, certainly in the bread industry, we think the move for consumers to improve their nutrition standards is something we see staying. More generally we have to be aware that Black Swan events like COVID have the potential to change consumer attitudes, habits and practices continually over the coming months. Smart brands will be open to listening and understanding that consumer learning that was true in February 2020 might never be true again and you can’t hang on to that information if the consumer is telling something new.
Bram: Thank you so much. Incredibly kind of you to have this conversation with us, and I can’t stress enough how valuable this will be for the readers!