May 30, 2012

Kashrus Agencies Increasingly Focus on Customer Service, Especially Around Passover

NEW YORK -- Kosher consumers have come to rely on more than just the certifications and symbols that leading kashrus organizations provide. Modern-day kashrus agencies have fully adopted a business model that has become the standard for most large businesses. Price and quality alone no longer define a successful business; the level of attention to the customer’s needs does. Kashrus officials say that the increased attention paid to the ordinary shopper is more out of necessity than to score points in a crowded marketplace. 

An increasingly complex kashrus world demands more education. Even customers educated in the best Jewish schools are often lost in the maze of certifications and modern-day kashrus agencies offer seminars and materials on subjects that range from the home checking of vegetables to the properness of using ingredients heretofore unknown to the kosher consumer. This is especially true on Passover when shoppers are super-cautious, evidenced by this year’s popular new apps, discussions over social media, or simply clicking on to Websites. 

Technology has by no means rendered the conventional means of communicating obsolete. The OU Hotline, for example, fielded more than 5,000 calls this past Passover. It was also true that the numbers at the OU and other agencies were to some extent “off-the-charts” when it came to clicks on their Websites or even  acquiring the traditional directories. Retailers say that customers unfamiliar with some of the new products on Passover shelves will almost always look to the certifying agency for clarification. They are often miffed, said one, “that chometz sounding ingredients appear on a Passover label.” 

Israeli rabbis have required many manufacturers with products that appear identical to year-round products to resort to distinct packaging. Customer service has gone well beyond fielding inquiries by customers. Kashrus agencies routinely sponsor neighborhood seminars and publish periodic newsletters. Some of the rabbis pen feature columns in Orthodox media addressing a broad range of topics. Some observers say that this relatively new emphasis on being customer-friendly has benefitted the agencies in many ways, including gaining the trust of customers and frequently winning browning points with food clients who appreciate the added-value that they are receiving from their certification agencies.