Girl Scouts Offer Sweet Lesson in CRM

From 'Customer Loyalty' Badges to a Cookie Locator App, Organization Shows It Cares, One Thin Mint at a Time

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A few weeks ago, Amanda Hamaker, the national manager for product sales of the Girl Scouts of the USA, received a phone call from a 5-year-old Daisy Scout. The little girl told Ms. Hamaker that she'd received a client list from her older sister, who had graduated from high school last year. The clients on that list were lifetime customers who could be counted on to buy cookies, as long as someone got in touch with them when cookie season rolled around. The ambitious young scout was just making sure that someone was her.

That's customer care for you.

As the Daisy Scout knew even at the tender age of 5, the biggest challenge for cookie sales isn't a lack of customers; it's hungry people who don't know where to find cookies. To that end, the Girl Scouts doubled its 2012 investment in "cookie support" -- national PSA's and billboards that direct you to to help you get your cookie fix -- after the company saw a 7% sales increase in markets that received the support last year.

Along with the website, a mobile initiative was launched late last year to help people stalk down the cookies: The Girl Scout Cookie Locator app tracks your location and sends alerts as to where and how cookies are being sold nearby.

While the cookie program is already a success -- it netted $760 million in gross profit last year -- the organization is in the process of implementing a national-level plan that emphasizes data collection and use.  

Ms. Hamaker calls it "modernizing cookie technology," and the idea is to ultimately have a national cookie-customer registry, so even if girls move councils multiple times over the course of their Scouting career, they will be able to stay in touch with their customers.

The Scouts' new Customer Loyalty badge
The Scouts' new Customer Loyalty badge

The next step for that , of course, is online selling, something the Scouts have been hesitant to get into due to a plethora of safety and privacy issues. But it's on the agenda, according to Ms. Hamaker. "It's a very seriously considered body of work and it is going to take time to be implemented," she said.

Starting last year, certain councils also began exploring mobile-payment options. To date, councils in 23 states have partnered with Mountain View, Calif.-based Intuit and McLean, Va.-based Sage Payment Solutions to process cookie payments using credit cards and mobile devices. 

The Scouts know the importance of a motivated sales staff when it comes to successful customer-relationship management. In October, the organization revamped its badges -- insignia presented to Scouts after they fulfill certain requirements -- and for the first time included customer-loyalty achievements. Two badges, one for Brownies and one for Seniors, can be earned, each signifying achievements such as building a customer-appreciation program and keeping the customer connection all year long.

For younger Scouts that can't get on Facebook or Twitter to try and lure customers, there is Cookie Club, a social-media tool that can be used to connect younger girls to existing and potential buyers. It also acts as an email-marketing client and can shoot automated mass messages to any girl's client list, plus it stores pledge records and buying habits.

On the council level, CRM tactics are a little more fragmented. For example, at the Girl Scouts of the Heart of Central California, the Sacramento-based council that connects 18 counties in the area and serves 29,000 girls, the "Cookie Site-Sale Investigator" (CSI) program gets older, more experienced girls to go undercover at cookie-sale sites to check whether proper customer service guidelines are being followed.

At the Girl Scout chapter in New Bedford, Mass., Scouts use a Facebook profile page to take orders, keep track of customers and to promote booth sales, a common practice across councils.

And while there is the serious, there is also the goofy. Members of the Girl Scouts of Nassau County created a YouTube video called "The Cookie League of GSNC," proclaiming their mission to feed hungry customers, one cookie at a time. The girls are hoping it will net them the one thing more marketers are itching for these days: viral buzz.

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