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Jul 19, 2004
How To

How Krispy Kreme Uses 7,000 Monthly Customer Stories to Whip Up Internal Brand Enthusiasm

SUMMARY: How can you turn fan letters, online posts, and phone calls into a valuable marketing resource? Learn how Krispy Kreme collects, sorts through, and uses 7,000 fan stories each month to create new ad campaigns, raise employee morale, and maintain brand messaging across all departments.
Krispy Kreme customers feel passionate about the doughnuts and the Krispy Kreme experience -- so passionate, in fact, that they go out of their way to tell people, not simply about the product, but about their feelings.

"We get in the neighborhood of 7,000 unsolicited stories sent to us a month," says Steve Anderson, VP Community Building/Story Master for Krispy Kreme.

Just over two years ago, Anderson recognized that those stories could help employees understand why the Krispy Kreme brand is important, and why every role within the company supports the brand. "You're not chopping rocks, you're building a cathedral," he explains.

Here, Anderson shares how companies with passionate customers can harness the power of stories in an operational way.

-> Define "story"

While Krispy Kreme receives about 18,000 contacts (through the call center or online) a month from customers, only those that go beyond a complaint or compliment are considered a story.

A "story," as described by Anderson, is a narrative that shows an event or moment where something turns out different for the protagonist than they thought was going to happen.

It becomes interesting when the teller also paints a picture of how it felt to be a part of this surprise. "I thought I was going for doughnuts but ended up sharing Krispy Kreme stories with my sister, recalling when our dad first took us for Krispy Kremes, we feltů" he explains.

"Essentially what they're doing is telling us not only what happened but how it made them feel. The Krispy Kreme experience for many of our customers is not complete until they tell someone about it."

-> Build an archive of customer stories

Anderson works with the representatives at the call center to set guidelines categorizing and archiving all calls that come in.

Stories go into a single archive with about 15 subcategories, such as customer service, leadership (stories that tell how leadership within the store affected the customer experience, even if the customer didn't say it directly), and "doing things well." Beyond simply, "hey, your doughnuts are good," these stories are a combination of, "hey, your doughnuts are good and this is how sharing the experience with others makes me feelů"

Anderson keeps up an ongoing conversation with the call center to come up with the most appropriate categories. "We've been categorizing and subcategorizing for two years," he says. "It's an ongoing process."

-> Other story sources

Stories come from more than customers. "Shareholders want to write our stories, analysts want to write our stories, but we're very enamored of this company writing our own story," says Anderson. "It's the people willing to write their own stories, take risks, who will help the company reach its full potential."

Employees in a new personal development program are encouraged to understand their own story and the stories of others. "It's a process for self-discovery and application," he says. Helping employees to understand their gifts and talents and become the author of their own story at work is the goal of the development program.

Archiving employee stories is his next step, Anderson says.

Potential employees, too, may be asked to tell their own story. The applicant might be asked to tell a story of a good customer service experience, including what happened and how it felt.

"We plant the seed with the new folks early on about why Krispy Kreme even thinks about stories, that it's those kinds of stories that help us understand where we stand in this world."

-> Distribute stories

Krispy Kreme uses four channels to put the best stories in front of employees:

--Channel #1. Bi-weekly print newsletters

Krispy Kreme publishes a two-sided newsletter every two weeks and sends it to all corporate and field employees. Franchises receive enough copies for every employee, with extras to post in the break room or on bulletin boards.

One side of the newsletter contains 5-7 customer stories that reinforce the behaviors corporate wants to see at the stores (mainly customer service stories). If an employee is mentioned, the name is in bold type.

The other side features local store marketing successes. "We don't advertise, it's all local PR," Anderson says. Those stories might be about a franchise that invited a radio station to broadcast from the roof of the store for a fundraising event, for example.

--Channel #2. Quarterly internal newsletter

More of a magazine, 75% of the features tell employee stories. "We'll feature a particular market or store and go out and interview employees and let them tell their stories about why they came to Krispy Kreme."

--Channel #3. Videos

"We've gotten stories that are so compelling, we send a video crew to go interview the person and get the story on camera," Anderson says. "Our employees are very visual and like hearing and seeing the pictures told by the actual person."

The videos are used for training and at corporate events.

For example:
Last year at the company's leadership conference, "we honored our first Humanitarian of the Year," Anderson says.

"We interviewed the organizations he impacted. So rather than introducing him at the conference in a usual way, we had a film of people telling his stories, edited into a 10-minute narrative. It was extremely compelling; you just absorb it and go, 'What a story.'"

--Channel #4. Meetings at corporate

Employees at corporate headquarters come to Anderson for stories when they want to emphasize a point, he says.

"So if a manager wants to talk about the importance of management at a store, I'd call the call center and give them keywords, tell them what I'm looking for, they'd send over 10 stories, and I'd pick one."

-> Stay away from "storytelling"

"We don't say 'storytelling,' because it sounds like something for children. You can't just walk around saying that we're going to tell a bunch of stories, because they say, 'What for?'"

Instead, Anderson says, you must be very deliberate on how you conceptualize, craft, and execute on a story, positioning it as a tool: "What can we do with it to help everyone who works here, who wants to work here, who's franchising or wants to franchise?" he asks.

"As cumbersome a communication tool as it is, we believe that there's no more effective way to translate an organization's culture and brand internally than through story. It's the power of emotions we're able to uncover."
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