February 02, 2012
Case Study

Reputation Management: How Dairy Queen handles customer service using social media

SUMMARY: Reputation management, customer service and protecting the brand are all tied together. Finding new customers is a crucial part of consumer marketing, but retaining existing customers is also very important.

This case study looks at how Dairy Queen balances the challenge of handling customer issues while not being in total control of the entire process due to its individual franchises. We look at Dairy Queen’s process, and offer actionable items on being proactive, highlighting how customer comments can improve product development.
by David Kirkpatrick, Reporter


Arguably, the number one goal in consumer marketing is to reach new customers for your product or service. But, unless you are selling one-way tickets to the moon, running a close second would be retaining those customers once you reach them.

One of the best ways to retain customers is to provide solid customer service that resolves customer problems and answers questions in a timely and effective manner. You can be certain if you hear about something from one customer, many more are likely dealing with the same issue or question.

At International Dairy Queen, this marketing pain point has one more level of complexity than usually faced by consumer marketers. All of their stores and restaurants for Dairy Queen, are franchises -- so the corporate office has limited ability to see customer service issues all the way to resolution.

Even faced with this challenge, the company has developed a system that tracks, and responds to, customer issues in a timely and effective manner.

This article looks at the procedure and process Dairy Queen has put into place to ensure its customers remain satisfied and engaged with the brand, even after a negative experience in one of the franchise locations.

Read on to find out how Dairy Queen receives and monitors customer reactions across a variety of channels, and how understanding customers’ concerns can help drive product development decisions.


Ten years ago, customer service was not a formal part of Dairy Queen’s corporate office. All customer contacts were handled by the franchisees with varying degrees of success, and all messages to the corporate office were printed and then mailed or faxed in.

Carolyn Kidder, Senior Consumer Relations Manager, International Dairy Queen, explained, “So, you can imagine, we were making customers even angrier when they couldn’t send us their comments.”

The old process could take weeks through photocopying, mailing and faxing customer comments to the corporate office.

The revamped procedure allows for Dairy Queen customers to directly contact the corporate office, and for franchise owners to share consumer comments with the office within two days. The company also monitors social media for any mentions of the brand.

Dairy Queen’s Customer Service Process

Customers can reach Dairy Queen’s corporate office a number of ways:
  • Toll-free number on the product bags

  • Website form

  • Post on the company Facebook page

  • Write back via the company blog

The team also monitors media mentions, including television, radio, print and social channels.

Kidder said, "Technically, all consumer contacts go into a pot my team and I call a holding tank where someone from the call center, or my team, reads every single comment from every single customer, or types up any call that we receive."

From there, the team decides how to respond to the consumer’s complaint or request.

If it is clear this is the first contact the customer has made regarding their concerns, and the concerns are something simple like just being unhappy with a particular product, or the customer’s experience was "just unpleasant this time," the team may send out a gift card to get that customer back into the store to make another purchase. This falls under our First Contact Resolution process.

When the gift card is sent, an email alert goes out to the corporate staff, the franchise owner and anyone the franchise owner’s team highlighted for notifications.

The team does ask the franchise owners to reach out to the customer and "close the loop."

Because each store is an independent franchise, if the problem is rude employees or a refusal to refund money, the corporate team at Dairy Queen relies on each individual store to handle these issues.

Kidder said these complaints are sent back to the store for resolution, and she added that most franchise owners take care of the problem immediately, sometimes without informing the corporate office.

This is also an area where Kidder’s team has to balance dealing with independent owner/operators and the Dairy Queen brand.

"Our team will sometimes send something to a customer asking them to remain a patron of the brand, because the franchise owner and the customer cannot come to a resolution," Kidder said.

She added, "So, we have to balance all of that -- the consumer and franchisee relationships. Our team strives to save the customer for the brand, and strives to save the relationship between the franchise owner and their customers because that is where it all starts."

When the issue gets to the point where the team has no choice but to send it back to the store for further resolution, the team does respond to the customer to let them know their concerns were sent to the franchise owners.

If things cannot be resolved between a franchise owner and customer directly, and the team has worked with the Operations Team and the Franchise owner, the resolution will often be to recommend another nearby store. And, if there are no other close options, the customer is asked to patronize other Dairy Queen locations when they travel to help protect the brand name. Depending upon the situation, the team may send out a gift card to maintain that relationship with the consumer.

The overall goal is to handle any customer issue within a couple of days, and ideally within a couple of hours.

Tactic #1. Don’t wait for the unhappy customer to contact you

Part of the customer service process at Dairy Queen is having the team monitor traditional media, such as television, radio and print, and also social media with a particular focus on the company’s Facebook page, Twitter feed and comments on the corporate blog.

When an unhappy customer is voicing their concern in a public forum, like the Facebook page or on Twitter, the team reaches out as soon as possible and directs them to the website contact form so as Kidder put it, "we can vacuum out everything."

She explained, "We had a girl the other day who was pretty upset on Facebook and had brought up concerns about a location, and we said, ‘Oh my goodness, what you are bringing to our attention is really serious. Would you please contact us at our website so that we can begin our investigation and follow up?’"

Kidder continued, "So then I was able to follow up with her shortly after I saw her comments come into our holding tank, and we were able to have personal contact with a private conversation."

The goal is to get the customer offline as soon as possible for reputation management, and also to give the team a way to keep track of all issues in one location.

Tactic #2. Listen to your customer for product development and placement

What might sound like a complaint could actually be more honest feedback than you can gain from a focus group or other market research.

Dairy Queen provides one great example.

In 2010, the company did not have the "Candy Cane Chill Blizzard" in December for the "Blizzard of the Month." Instead, a new flavor, "Reindeer Bites," was introduced.

"We had hundreds of customers let us know they didn’t like the change," stated Kidder.

She continued, "They wrote to us on our Facebook page, on our blog, through our contact us pages on our site -- people contacted us via every avenue they could find. We listened and in December 2010, we again had the ‘Candy Cane Chill Blizzard,’ and we heard from many customers telling us how pleased they are that it was back.”

Kidder said combining the customer comments her team was getting in Marketing with comments coming directly from franchise owners has helped the company reevaluate Dairy Queen’s seasonal products.


Unlike many marketing efforts, Dairy Queen does not track key performance indicators with its customer service program. It does, however, provide a number of areas where the entire process can inform, and improve, business performance.

Number one is looking at day-to-day business KPIs such as volume of sales at particular stores as compared to complaints or other comments relating to that location and how that changes month over month and even year over year.

Kidder said she works very closely with her operations group to compare notes and see if there might be a "correlation between A and B."

And as covered in Tactic #2 above, the product development team also works with Kidder’s team to track product trends.

Kidder provided one example on how the product development group would utilize the customer service team to gather data points.

She said, "Two years ago, we were using peanut ‘A.’ Now we are using peanut ‘B.’ We rolled it out over last year."

For this, the product development team would ask, “So, what kind of comments did we receive over the last year? What kind of volume is there? Can you show me a timeline?”

Another place customer comments can help franchise owners is when they hire seasonal staff and the corporate office begins getting input on rude employee behavior. Kidder said when this occurs, her team offers advice on coaching and training new employees to try to avoid the ramp-up of complaints.

Probably the key result of Dairy Queen’s improved customer service program is that it is geared toward being proactive and not simply band-aiding customer issues.

Dairy Queen’s social media statistics include:
  • 3,700,000 Facebook fans

  • 3,600,000 fans in the Blizzard Fan Club

  • 458,600 fans in the Facebook Blizzard Fan Club

  • 310,000 fans in the OJ Quench Club

  • 28,900 Twitter followers

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples:
  1. Dairy Queen’s social media statistics

  2. Gift Card category trend chart

  3. Blizzard Fan Club category trend chart

  4. Cleanliness category trend chart

International Dairy Queen

Market Force -- Dairy Queen’s customer intelligence vendor

Reputation Marketing: 7 tactics to manage and protect your brand

Establish a Social Media Code of Conduct: 5 Actions to Protect Your Company’s Reputation

New Chart: Best Social Media Use -- Boosting Brand Reputation, Awareness

Crisis Communication: The first 48 hours of 9/11 from inside American Airlines headquarters

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