Coles extends an initiative customers say helps fight irritation and nausea: Lessons from the “Quiet Hour” rollout

Emma Koehn /

Supermarket giant Coles has taken heartfelt feedback from the pilot program of its “Quiet Hour” initiative on board, rolling out the service aimed at those with autism and special requirements across 68 of its stores.

Customers have taken to the retailer’s social media platforms to offer support for the scheme, which received a huge volume of positive feedback when a trial of the idea was implemented in August.

The initiative, which is a partnership with Autism Australia, will now see 68 Coles stores reduce music in stores, stop trolley collections and dim lights by 50% between 10:30am and 11:30am on Tuesday mornings.

Coles accessibility sponsor Peter Sheean reflected earlier this year that the aim of the pilot was to “make a difference” to customers that have difficulty shopping in a high-sensory environment.

The announcement of the program’s extension has seen several customers suggest other ways of improving on the idea, including providing the “Quiet Hour” concept during after-school times.

Families of children with autism have praised the scheme, while other shoppers have explained the idea also suits them much better than the traditional supermarket environment.

“In no way I am austistic, but I find music in all supermarkets, distracting. I cannot think, then I begin feeling irritable and in a worse case scenario, mild nausea,” one shopper told the retailer on Facebook.

Director of CP Communications Catriona Pollard says the rare good news story holds valuable lessons for businesses when it comes to pilot programs and social media engagement.

“This shows that social media can be used as market research when done effectively,” she says of the initial customer feedback on the program.

The fact that Coles trialed an idea and then leveraged a future strategy off the back of personal feedback shows the power of leveraging positive responses, Pollard says.

“The beauty of social media feedback in particular is that people are always honest. They will really tell you what they think,” she says.

Keep channels open and focus on sharing

“The entire time we were in there, I was fighting back the tears,” one customer told Coles of her first experience with the Quiet Hour idea, explaining how it helped her child.

Pollard says the emotional responses to this policy idea illustrates the importance of opening up all communications channels to engage with positive feedback.

Smaller businesses are often more reluctant to open their social media channels to hear customer experiences for fear they will get negative reviews, but this also cuts off the ability for customers to weigh in with positives.

“We know the impact that the haters have online, but we miss the incredible, positive impact when people like something to do with your brand,” Pollards says.

The supermarket’s approach in this case was to try a customer-focused idea and then wait for a response before implementing it fully.

Pollard advises businesses looking at trying new approaches take the time to capture and share the real-life experiences of their customers, because these can add significant momentum to branding if you do decide to roll out a new idea in a permanent way.

“These customers are the perfect people to use from a marketing perspective. Their experiences are such powerful things, if you can amplify them.” 

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior SmartCompany journalist.

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