The Real Cloth Diaper Guide From A Mama Who’s Done It

The Real Cloth Diaper Guide from a Mama Who’s Done It

Cloth Diapering Essentials and Tried and True Tips

This post contains affiliate links.  For my full disclosure policy…http://www.thevocalconsumer.com/disclaimer/

Getting started with cloth diapers is easier than people think.  With all of the unknowns for those new to cloth diapers it can seem overwhelming.  New things and experiences can feel that way.  Learning is always a process.  I’m here to tell you that cloth diapering your baby is possible, and you can do it!  Yes, even washing them.  I have been cloth diapering for more than three years, and am currently diapering my second child.  I am going to share my personal experience as a cloth diaper mama, so hopefully you can get started with less fear and more excitement.

There are many things to consider as a mom-to-be, and diapers are definitely one of them.  Your child is probably going to need diapers for at least two to three years.  Cloth diapers may sound great in theory to some, but they get scared away because they’re unsure of how to use them.  Disposable diapers just seem easier.  After all, you just throw them away and buy more.

Why I Chose Cloth

When I was expecting my first child, I researched all things baby related.  Google + First Time Pregnancy = Information Overload.  I read about what to eat, what not to eat, what I need to have before Baby arrives, how much baby stuff will cost the first year…the list goes on.  When I started looking up diapers, I discovered what disposable diapers contain.  One of these things are dioxins (which are a byproduct of the diaper manufacturing process).  According to the World Health Organization website, dioxins are environmental pollutants known as persistent organic pollutants.  Once they enter the human body, they remain there for years.  Long-term exposure is linked to problems with the immune system, nervous system, endocrine system and reproductive system.  Newborns may be more vulnerable to exposure to dioxins (www.who.int).  Now, some studies state that dioxin levels in diapers are really low.  That said, diapers are in contact with skin nearly 24/7.  Skin absorbs what it is in contact with.  Even at low levels, it really concerned me.  Thus, I began my journey into cloth diapers.  I read articles about how to use cloth diapers, just like this one.

My second reason for choosing cloth was cost.  Cloth diapering a baby costs less than half of what disposable diapers cost over the same period of time.  This includes the cost of washing and drying them too.  I love saving money, so this was also a positive factor in my choice.  Lastly, knowing that a disposable diapers remain in landfills for up to five hundred years before decomposing was pretty compelling.  That’s five generations (or more!) of a family before a diaper is gone.

I also read that the original intent of disposable diapers was for use during travel to make it easier on parents.  Travel and vacations are usually an occasional thing, so disposable diapers weren’t meant for exclusive daily use.  If disposable diapers were treated this way today, we would create much less waste.

Now that you know my journey into cloth diapers, I will now share what I have learned over the last three years.

Initial Cost

The cost of an individual cloth diaper can be surprising at first.  Newborn fitted diapers can range between $7.00 and $12.00 depending on the brand and where you purchase them.  If you go to a trendy baby boutique, expect the $12.00 price tag.  I went the $7.00 route for organic cotton diapers.  Larger sizes are a little more.  Remember though, you’ll reuse a single diaper over and over.  The average cost of a single disposable diaper is $0.30.  I’ve used each size large diaper I have once every two to three days for about two years.  That’s less than $0.05 a diaper “use”.

Popular Types of Cloth Diapers

  • Flats – Large, thin squares or rectangles of fabric.  The “original” cloth diaper
  • Prefold – Padded rectangles with two seams down the length, creating three “sections”
  • Fitted – Looks similar to a disposable, with snaps or hook and loop (Velcro®) closure
  • All In One (AIO) – A diaper cover that is permanently attached to a diaper
  • Pocket Diapers – Diapers with an opening for inserts (padded liners that hold pee and poo)

There are other things that you’ll need to cloth diaper your baby.  All of them have a higher upfront cost, but a much lower overall cost in comparison to disposable diapers.

What To Buy

Cloth Diapers

They are “sized” – Newborn, Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large.  In my experience, the most useful sizes are Newborn, Small and Large.  You can easily skip Medium if you use fitted cloth diapers.  Beginning your cloth diaper journey with diapers that fit and work for you and your baby will make it easier to stick with it long-term.

Doublers

Doublers are a separate insert for diapers – sort of like a pad or underwear liner.  They are useful for heavy-wetters and overnight.

Diaper Covers

This is the waterproof outer cover that you place over the diaper.

Cloth Wipes

Cloth wipes look like small washcloths and are used with a wipe solution to clean Baby.

Diaper Pins/Fasteners

Fasteners are used to secure diapers.  I’ll go into more detail about this below.

Diaper Pail

A diaper pail is where you will store the dirty diapers prior to washing.

Diaper Pail Liner

This is a bag that you put in the diaper pail.  When you are ready to wash a load of diapers, take the whole bag out and empty it into the washing machine, bag and all.

Wet Bags

A waterproof bag for dirty diaper storage.  Keep a small one in your diaper bag for outings.  Wash the wet bag with the rest of the diapers.  Diaper pail liners are also called wet bags .

Laundry Detergent

There are several cloth diaper laundry detergents on the market.  I’ve only used Country Save, and I am happy with it.

Small Open-Top Trash Can

Having a small trash can next to the changing table is a wonderful thing.  You’ll use it when your diaper pail liner is in the wash, and if you choose to use disposable wipes.

Clothes Washer and Dryer

We didn’t have a washer or dryer when we began cloth diapering.  I purchased a portable Panda Washer that plugged into the wall and used a tiered drying rack to air dry the diapers and covers.  It was a lot of work, but it shows you that cloth diapering is possible in many living situations.

Washing and Drying Cloth Diapers and Covers

When you receive your brand new cloth diapers, you’ll need to “prep” them.  This simply means washing with hot water and drying them a few times to increase their absorbency.  New diaper covers just need to be washed once.

Once you start using them on Baby, wash them on the warm setting and do an extra rinse at the end of the wash cycle.  Sometimes I start the wash on hot for a few minutes if there are some really good (poop) diapers in the load.  Hot water will wear the cotton more over time, just like your own clothes.  So, even when I use hot water, I don’t fill the entire wash basin with hot water.  Dry the diapers on low.  It takes about one and a half full dry cycles to dry my diapers.  Your dry time may differ depending on your machine and time settings.  You can put the covers in the dryer too, but it will shorten the life of the covers.  Machine dried diaper covers lasted me about a year before the lining failed to hold pee in.  I had actually used those covers for close to two years, but I air dried them on the drying rack for a year before we had a standard washer and dryer.  I have since started to air dry covers again.  I toss them on the bed to dry.

What To Do About Poo

In the first few days of your baby’s life, meconium will be the first “poo”.  This is what has been storing up in your baby in the womb.  It’s black and looks like tar.  This may stain cloth diapers.  I found it really helpful to cut up one of my husband’s old undershirts into small rectangles and place it between my baby and the diaper until the meconium cleared out completely.

After this stage, baby poo will be so thin that you’ll toss the diaper – poo too, into the diaper pail to wash.  Once Baby starts eating solid food and the poo looks more like poo, you can flush it.  There are diaper sprayers for sale to remove poo off of cloth diapers into the toilet.  I’ve never used them.  I have used Bummi’s Bio-Soft liners though.  These are very thin flushable liners that resemble toilet paper sheets.  They will “catch” poo, and then you flush the liner and poo down the toilet.  You can also use these for meconium, although the meconium could get through the liner.  As my child grew and ate more “adult” food, I used toilet paper to help remove the poo into the toilet.  Sometimes I rinse the diaper in the toilet bowl.  Yes, it can be gross.  It’s poo.  But you’re supposed to dispose of poo into the toilet, even with disposable diapers.  If I rinse a diaper in the toilet, I either let it hang out in the trash can next to the toilet before transferring it to the diaper pail or bring the diaper pail into the washroom with me.  Sometimes I place a really soiled diaper in the washing machine for a rinse or quick wash (after removing what I could). Solid poo is my favorite.  You might be thinking I’m crazy right about now, but it empties into the toilet so easily and leaves a very clean diaper.  Trust me, it’ll make you happy too once you see all the other stuck-on stuff.  Now that I’ve grossed you out a bit, let’s address another reality.  Your child will have diarrhea one day.  And it will smell worse than the regular stuff.  When this happens, wash the diapers the same day and use some hot water and a little more detergent.  It’s worth the extra load of laundry.

How Effective Are Cloth Diapers?

Cloth diapers are the only diapers that I’ve used.  I’ve found that cloth diapers work really well, and am cloth diapering my second child too.  I’ve used them daily, for air travel and long road trips.  Have there been challenging days?  Sure.  But you’ll have those whether you choose cloth or disposable diapers.  Blowouts happen, with disposables and cloth.  It’s a fact of parenting life.  Change the diaper, the onesie and move on.  With cloth diapers, the cover is the part that protects from leaks.  Always make sure the diaper is completely covered by the diaper cover.  Check the leg area and tuck it in.  Most of the time, especially at the beginning, you’ll just need a cloth diaper and cover.  Doublers are good for overnight, heavy-wetters and as Baby grows (and produces more pee).  Doublers are available in several sizes and fabrics to accommodate your baby’s needs.

How to use on a baby

The way you put a cloth diaper on a baby depends on the type of cloth diaper(s) you choose.  I personally use fitted cloth diapers and prefolds.  Fitted diapers look a lot like disposable diapers.  Imagine a disposable diaper with snaps.  Prefolds are flat padded rectangles with two seams down the length (making three sections); these are similar to the classic cloth diaper.  Fitted cloth diapers are my favorite, and if I were to start over, I would purchase them exclusively.  These are the reasons I prefer fitted cloth diapers with snap closures:

  • They are easier to put on a wiggly baby
  • They are better at containing messes
  • They stay in place
  • They are adjustable, and fit snuggly
  • Doublers fit nicely inside
  • The snaps are secure
  • They are easier for babysitters and other caregivers to use

Prefolds work well too, and are a good option if you are on a budget.  There are many ways to fold a prefold.  Honestly, keeping it simple has worked best for me.  Fold it in thirds along the seams and place it in the diaper cover.  Place Baby on the diaper, lift the diaper over the front of Baby and snap the cover over the diaper.  Alternatively, lay the open prefold on a diaper cover, place Baby on the diaper and fold the sides of the diaper in and over the front of Baby.  Snap the cover over the diaper.  If you want to use diaper pins, sticking them in a bar of soap helps the needle to go through the cloth.  I used diaper pins a lot with my first, and am barely using them now.  It’s easier and faster to change a prefold without diaper pins.  This is also another reason I like fitted diapers.  Snappi brand diaper fasteners are another option.  To me, they’ve been more trouble than they’re worth.  I’ve tried them, and don’t like the way they look.  The claws don’t grip the diaper well, and the claw also falls out of its holder.  If you want a closure, choose diaper pins.

 

Diapers Covers

Diaper covers are essential; it’s what keeps wetness in.  Cloth diapers are cotton, and using them without a cover is like putting your baby in regular underwear.  It’s not going to be effective.  Use the same cover for multiple changes.  I change the cover for pee if the edges of the cover are wet, but mostly poo if it got on the cover.  I usually use two or three covers a day.

Newborn size covers fit well for the first few months.  You can also purchase size Small to get Baby through about five months if you’d like.  The “One Size” diaper covers work best after Baby has grown a bit; they’re really big on a newborn.  One Size diaper covers have a few rows of snaps that pull the front of the cover up to create a better fit.  They are large enough to fit a child up to two or three years old.

Did I mention cloth diaper covers are Adorable?  They are available in so many colors and patterns.  Match covers to your baby’s outfits or holidays.  You might as well have fun cloth diapering!  Babies with round cloth diaper bottoms are irresistible.  SO cute!

I’ve used Flip, Bummis, Thirsties, Econobum and Blueberry covers.  My favorite is Blueberry Coveralls and Blueberry Mini Coveralls (for newborns).  The fabric is more durable, and they Work!  They perform well overnight and last a long time.

Storing Diapers

I have a dresser for my little one, with a changing pad secured to the top.  I place diapers, doublers, cloth wipes, disposable wipes, diaper covers and bottom balm in the top drawer.  Having everything within reach is the goal.  Only keep the size you are currently using in the drawer.  I keep the diaper pail on one side of the dresser, and on the other side I keep a small trash can for disposable wipes and dirty diapers (when the pail liner is in the wash).

When I started purchasing diapers for the first time, I bought newborn and small sizes.  I then purchased larger sizes as my infant grew.  If you choose to have more than one child, you can store the too-small diapers in sealed cardboard boxes or plastic bins.  Wash them once before using on Baby #2.  Most of the diapers I’ve used with my second child are from my first.  Newborn and small diapers and covers received the least use (babies grow fast), so they are in great condition.  Using cloth on more than one baby reduces your overall cost dramatically too.

Laundry Detergent

I did a lot of research before choosing a cloth diaper detergent.  I read reviews, checked ingredients and environmental impact.  I compared cost and availability too.  You are not limited to “cloth diaper detergents”, but I did learn that oxygen cleaners are not good for cotton diapers.  Residue from these types of detergents prevent diapers from absorbing, and that’s not a good thing.  Stick to simple powder or liquid detergents. I chose Country Save laundry detergent for my diapers because it is highly rated, and I can buy it locally.  I use it for cloth diapers and kids clothes.  I’ve also used it for my clothing on occasion too.

Wipes

Cotton wipes (or bamboo/terry/flannel) are often used in conjunction with cloth diapers.  We used cotton wipes exclusively for awhile.  I made my own wipe solution and kept it in a spray bottle to wet the wipes each changing.  I’d dunk several wipes in the solution and have them already prepared for our babysitter.  The wipe solution I made contained baby soap, coconut oil and water.  You can find different “recipes” online to accommodate your preferences.  We eventually switched to disposable wipes, but I still feel a little unsettled with them.  They do add up in cost and waste.  If you want to reach a compromise, you might use disposable wipes only for really messy diapers.  Seventh Generation is my favorite, and yes, I researched every ingredient.

Diaper Cream

Cloth diapered babies typically have far fewer rashes than disposable diapered babies.  Cotton is against their delicate skin, not plastic and chemically treated materials.  The occasional times my child had redness, it was due to a reaction from food, illness or outgrowing diapers.  The balm I use is CJ’s BuTTer. It has good ingredients and is safe for cloth diapers.  Using regular diaper rash cream with cloth diapers is a big no-no because it will muck up the diaper and prevent it from absorbing and doing its job.  If you must use regular diaper rash cream on occasion, place a piece of fabric (those old cut up t-shirts work) or a flushable liner between Baby and the diaper.  For me, CJ’s BuTTer works great.  I’ve tried a few others and repurchased only CJ’s BuTTER.  I also use it on scrapes, dry patches and even myself sometimes!

Traveling

It IS possible to travel with a cloth diapered baby.  I’ve done overnight trips and traveled by air with cloth diapers.  On trips that are no longer than three days, you can simply store the diapers until you return home.  For longer trips and air travel, make sure that you have a washer and dryer available and bring detergent.

Stock Up

Ask friends and family for cash gifts or Amazon gift cards for baby shower gifts.  I’m sure you’ll get plenty of cute onesies, but let people know you’ll be cloth diapering and how they can help with that.  Cloth diapers will get more use than that size newborn onesie.  Have loved ones choose an adorable diaper cover instead!

Shopping List

Cloth-eez diapers

You’ll need fewer diapers as Baby gets older.

Newborn (20-24), Small (20-24), Medium/Large (16-18)

Doublers

Diaper Covers (7-8 per size)

Cloth Wipes 

Disposable Wipes

Diaper Pins

Diaper Pail (just a trash can with lid)

Diaper Pail Liner (One, but two is better)

Balm

Wet Bag

Laundry Detergent

Small Open Top Trash Can

Final Thoughts

I wash cloth diapers more than anything else except dishes.  For real.  But it takes two minutes to throw in a load.  I would choose cloth again, and I actually am, with my second child.  Knowing that I am doing something good for my baby and the environment makes me happy.  Old cloth diapers can even be used as rags or gifted to another mom.  The upfront cost is more, but you can splurge on things like good quality bottom balm, diaper covers and even baby shampoos and lotion with the saving over disposable diapers.  Start with the essentials and then add more as you tune into your baby’s needs.  And above all else, enjoy your new beautiful baby!  This time is precious, so treasure it and give time to your baby.  I know you want the best for your child.  Love, nourish, shelter, show patience, and your little one will be off to a great start.  Good luck, and congratulations!  Let the adventure begin.

 

Shopping Should Be Easy

Stores exist to sell.  Whether it’s a clothing store, a grocery store or a comic book store, the goal is to sell what’s on the shelf.  Just like first impressions matter with people, first impressions are important in the retail space too.  When I walk into a store and see items piled and disheveled, it tells me that the store (and company, employees and owners) doesn’t value itself or its customers.  Why?  A disorganized store makes it harder for me to shop.  I must move things out of the way to reach what I want.  I need to dig and search.  I may not even find what I am looking for because it is not clearly displayed.  Disorder can often be found in discount stores, but they’re not the only ones.  I’ve had to step over piles of shoe boxes in high-end stores.  I understand that understaffing can play a part, as can big sales.  But presentation is so important when you’re trying to sell a product.

Imagine you want to buy a pair of size 10 shoes for your niece.  You walk into a shoe store, scan the store, and kick a box as you move forward.  Then you find the kids area and there is a metal shoe sizer in the middle of the aisle along with four shoe boxes, some empty, others with only one shoe in them.  The other shoes are on the floor nearby.  You move them out of the way in order to get closer to the shoe rack.  You find the area marked “10” and pick up a pair.  They’re really cute and you think your niece will love them.  Then you check the size and it says “8”.  There are no other identical shoes in a size 10.  At this point, you’ve encountered four problems and you still haven’t found what you’re looking for.  I would have walked out at this point and continued my search at a different store.  They lost business because it was difficult to move throughout the store and find an item.  Each time you encounter a barrier, it adds a little negativity to your experience.  The mess and misplacement of items prevents you from finding what you need.

Now imagine walking into a store and seeing nice wide aisles and items neatly displayed on the shelves.  You maneuver easily through the store, browsing as you go.  Large signs identify different sections and you easily find the area you’re looking for.  You look at the display and see products carefully placed and well-stocked.  This order is much more pleasing to the eye.  You don’t need to work so hard to shop, which makes for a better experience.  Finding what you need quickly feels great.  Grocery stores are a good example of this.  Huge signs that say Dairy, Meat and Pharmacy help you to focus on exactly where you want to go.  It’s especially helpful when you need to get in and out quickly, as other errands (or dinner prep!) are next on your to-do list.

Shopping is generally thought of as a positive thing.  People shop to relax, to feel good and to buy items that improve their life.  Disorganized stores lose the opportunity to deliver that experience and lose sales as a result.  I’d rather shop at a store that is bright and organized.  It provides me with what I need in a pleasing environment.  That store earned my dollar, and I will likely return again.

What is important to you when you shop?  Share your “shopping values” in the comments below.

 

How to Start Recycling at Home

America is a consumer driven culture.  If it’s new, trendy or publicized we want it.  And then we watch a commercial or hear what a friend just bought and we want that, too.  As a result, we have a lot of stuff.  Clothing is packed tightly in our closet, garages are full and storage units have become mainstream because our homes can’t hold it all.  We also want things that are convenient and easy.  Some examples include water bottles that we can just grab and toss in the car on the way to work and individual portions of precooked rice in microwavable bowls. 

Many of our things are bought packaged in protective plastic or inside a box (or both).  We bring them home, tear into our goods and discard the packaging.  The plastic or paper that kept your item safe in transit to your hands is now trash.  It’s common knowledge that we generate a LOT of waste – an average of four pounds per person per day.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website, about a third of our waste is recycled or composted.  I was happily surprised to learn that the percentage being recycled is that high.  Yet each week as I see the garbage trucks roaring by and look at the overstuffed trash cans lining the streets it appears we still have room for improvement.

I’ve become somewhat obsessive about recycling at home.  I’m definitely not near zero waste, but I love seeing the trash bin almost empty and the recycle bin full.  When I finish a bag of frozen vegetables, the plastic goes in recycling.  When I empty a box of tissue, the cardboard box goes in recycling.  Same goes for paper mail and merchandise tags.  It may not seem like recycling a little rectangle of paper will make a difference in the environment.  But when you multiply that tag by millions of shirts, pants and dresses they were once attached to, it becomes relevant.

Bottles, cans and paper get a lot of the recycling glory.  There’s so much more that we can sort for reuse.  Here are some examples:

  • Shipping boxes and packaging/padding
  • Food boxes, wrappers and bags
  • Shopping bags
  • Tags on clothing
  • Packaging on toys
  • Wrappers for personal care items
  • Plastic sealed over toilet paper and paper towels
  • Tissue boxes, toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls

It doesn’t take much effort to recycle…just a little intention and thought.  You don’t need a bunch of bins for each recyclable material or a complex system.  Here’s a few simple ways to get started:

  • As you open packages, create a pile of the outer wrappings on the counter.  Take them out to your recycle bin periodically.
  • When you empty a toilet paper roll, put it on top of the toilet.  Whatever you use up, put the remaining item aside.  Walk around your home once or twice a week to collect recyclables.
  • Separate paper and plastic at restaurants that have recycle bins next to trash cans.  They’re there for a reason.
  • Many cities sort through standard consumer trash to find recyclable materials.  See if your city is one of them.

There are many ways to lessen our impact on the environment, and recycling gives instant gratification.  Small changes can make a big impact.  Go ahead and press the buy button.  Just remember to recycle the box it arrives in.

How to Shop for Natural Makeup and Skincare Products

This post may contain affiliate links.  For my full disclosure policy…http://www.thevocalconsumer.com/disclaimer/

Natural skincare and makeup has been on my radar for the last few years.  Terms like “paraben free” and “sulfate free” have become buzzwords.  These terms are also an opportunity for brands to highlight the movement towards gentle, simple and safer beauty, and increase sales.  I’ve been incorporating these types of products into my life gradually.  While it would be nice to throw out all my lotions, potions and makeup and start fresh, I am also realistic.  I, like many women, have found loyalty to products and brands that have become part of my daily life.  I wear a certain eyeshadow all the time and favor skincare that I’ve used for years.  That said, as I’ve used up my products I’ve tried to replace them with others that have fewer ingredients that I can actually pronounce and understand.

When I shop for items like shampoo, I often turn the bottle over to look at the ingredients.  First, I scan for obvious parabens.  You can find paraben ingredients by looking for “paraben” at the end of a word.  Examples are methylparaben and propylparaben.  They are preservatives often used in cosmetics and fragrance.  Those get placed back on the shelf.  Another way I find more natural products is by looking right on the front of the item.  Like I mentioned before, brands that are centered around a natural focus often highlight it.  “Free of parabens, sulfates and dyes” are seen more frequently now.  This is a benefit for shoppers because it’s easier to find products to feel good about.

Stores sometimes have dedicated areas for natural beauty.  Often, they’re placed right with everything else in the same category.  You simply need to take a few moments to seek them out.  Fortunately, more mainstream stores are stocking their shelves with natural skincare and makeup.  It’s not just for tree huggers anymore.  In fact, I think more people are giving love to Mother Earth and their own care when making purchasing decisions.

If you want to start incorporating better-for-you products into your beauty routine, there are a few ways to get started without being overwhelmed.

  • Scan store shelves for natural beauty buzzwords such as “Sulfate Free” and “Paraben Free”.
  • Do a quick online search for “Natural Makeup” or “Organic Makeup”.
  • Start by trying one or two products and see how they perform for you.
  • The Environmental Working Group website is a great resource – http://www.ewg.org.  EWG’s Skin Deep Guide to Cosmetics is something I reference often.  You can search by ingredient, product or brand.  They use a numerical scale to rate the safety of ingredients and products.

Remember to do your research, as there are often natural ingredients alongside ones that require a chemistry degree to read and understand.  Trying new beauty products is fun, and knowing that you’re putting natural ingredients on your body is a bonus.  The next time you shop for skincare or makeup, read the bottle.  And find the good stuff.

A Simple Way To Make People Smile – What’s In A Name?

There is almost nothing sweeter than hearing the sound of your own name.  In a few (or many) letters, the entirety of your life exists.  Your name has been with you from the beginning, and remains with you every day.

Many jobs require employees to wear a name tag.  The cashier at the drive thru as you get your caffeine fix in the morning has one.  So does the teller at your bank.  And the employee at Home Depot, too (it’s often written on the aprons they wear).  Sure, it’s a requirement.  It is also an opportunity for you as a customer.  Life is often busy, and necessary errands become just a part of daily routine.  Your morning coffee helps you ease into the day with a bit of comfort and warmth.  You need to deposit that check so your bills can be paid.  The light bulb in your kitchen burned out and you didn’t have any more in the house.

Each scenario is aided by a real live person.  Bear with me if you e-deposit everything now.  The point is, each of us are human and we appreciate personal acknowledgement.  The people wearing name tags are likely working because they have to.  The cashier handing you your morning coffee may have woken up earlier than you in order to prepare the store for your arrival.  They likely see dozens of people a day who rattle off an order, swipe a debit card and leave.  Some may even say “Thank you”.  But consider this.  What if you said “Thank you, Matt”?  You just brought that person out of their fog simply by saying their name.  It’s true!  I’ve seen it firsthand.  I’ve seen a smile.  I’ve seen surprise.  I’ve seen a happier person than when I arrived.  Sure, it may be for just a moment.  That moment was created by you though.

There’s a good chance you go to the same place for your coffee every week.  The same staff likely works there too.  What happens then, when you repeat the process every time?  You build a repertoire and become familiar with each other.  They remember your order.  And you added a little positivity into the world simply by saying a name.  You also benefit.  You added a layer to your morning coffee run that enhances your experience.  Personal interaction with others and relationship building is a part of being human.  The relationship with a cashier may not be a core relationship, but it is a part of your life.

The same effect applies even when you don’t regularly frequent a certain establishment.  Remember, people love hearing their own name.  Taking a moment to recognize the person who is assisting you is an easy way to express gratitude for their time.  The next time you are out running those all-important errands, look for a name tag.  And give a personal thanks.

Writing to Companies – Delight the Customer

When I take the time to write to a company, I expect some sort of reply in return. Often it starts with an automated  “confirmation email” that reads something like Thank you for contacting us.  We have received your inquiry.  Your comments are very important to us and we will reply to you within two business days.  Then I may receive an email from a customer service representative that is clearly a form letter.  Or I receive an awesome personal reply that puts a smile on my face!  The following experience put a smile on my face.

I tried a new (to me) brand, Straw Propeller, on a whim.  I saw a small display of quick-prep oatmeal with adorable packaging.  Yes, packaging matters!  And if it’s pretty, cute, or clever it will catch my eye.  So I chose one cup of the oatmeal and place it in my shopping cart.  Later, I cooked it up with water and gave it a try.  The flavor is sweet and generous with actual fruit inside.  Some flavored oatmeal is often lacking in flavor.  You get a hint of “maple syrup” or “fruit”, but it’s more of an afterthought.  Not Straw Propeller.

So I wrote to them.  This is what I said:

Hello,

As I write this letter, I am enjoying my very first Straw Propeller product – Apple Crisp Oatmeal.  I purchased it the other day, persuaded by the packaging and wholesome ingredients.

This stuff is really good!  I’ve had other oat products that I will never repurchase; this, I will.  I also think it will be well received by my little one too.  Thank you for a wonderful product.

They replied:

Hi!
What an awesome rave,  thank you for taking the time to email us!  We love hearing from our customers.  My kids love the Oatmeal too so I’m sure your little one will enjoy it.  All of our flavors are kid friendly but we do have 4 products that are specifically marketed for kids (although adults love them too!)  Strawberry Jungle, PB & J (kids,) Peanut Butter Apple Muesli ( my families favorite,) and Cinnamon Raisin Muesli.  The Strawberry Jungle and kids PB & J have a reduced amount of sugar and the Muesli has no added sugar or salt.  The flavors are very kid palate friendly.  Make sure to follow us on twitter @strawpropeller and on Facebook, Straw Propeller.  We often run fun contests for a chance to win free product!  Thank you again for taking the moment to email us, we appreciate you!
Peace. Love. Oatmeal!
The reply I received was positive, acknowledged my personal email and was thoughtfully written.  Yes, I was encouraged to try other products from them (buy more!).  Then again, I already expressed my delight with their product so it makes sense that I would want to try another.  They didn’t include a coupon, which I would have liked.  I did not ask for one either.  That will be a whole other topic for another day, though.  Overall, I have a great impression of Straw Propeller.  Their oatmeal is made with good ingredients, it tastes great, and their customer service impressed me.  They did many things well, and it has earned them a happy customer.  Any reply from a company is good, but one with thought is always better.

Giving Feedback to Companies – My Lunch Date at Rubio’s

Today I will provide you with an example of great customer service.  I often write to companies when I’ve had a great experience.  Yes, there are plenty of instances when a complaint is necessary.  I also believe that a bit of good karma goes a long way.  Companies love to hear when someone is happy.  And there are real people on the other end of your letter.  This is an email that I sent to a restaurant via their contact form.

Hello,

I am so excited to share my experience at Rubio’s.  I stopped for lunch with my son, looking forward to sharing a meal with him.  He likes the fish and beans from Rubio’s, so I knew he would enjoy his lunch.  What I didn’t know was how happy I would be during our visit.

Bryan took my order at the counter.  I asked him if they had high chairs, and he said they were all being used.  He took the initiative to borrow a high chair from a neighboring business so we could dine in.  As I carried my son on my hip between the table and the drink/salsa area and back, Bryan approached and let me know that he brought my order to my table.  After sitting, I realized I needed another plate for my son.  I brought him to the counter again, and Bryan immediately noticed us waiting from the back area.  He came up front and helped me right away. 

I did let Bryan know how appreciative I was after our meal, but I also think it’s important to tell you as well.  I don’t know if Rubio’s offers incentives or rewards to its employees.  Bryan does deserve some sort of acknowledgement though. 

I have had both positive and negative experiences at different Rubio’s locations, but I will go out of my way to return to this one.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Update:  I received an email from Rubio’s thanking me for my comments.  I was also informed that my letter will be forwarded to Bryan’s General Manager.  I am glad that they responded quickly, but I don’t like that they emailed me.  Their contact form specifically asks how I would like to be contacted, and I did select mail correspondence.  Email is often overused, and there is something to be said for taking the time to arrange and send a letter.  Maybe this is a minor thing, but it upsets me because I was provided an option and received something else.  It’s too bad that the customer service member placed a damper on an otherwise amazing experience.

Final Thoughts:

The experience I had at the restaurant and the back office were completely different.  I was so happy with my interactions with Bryan at the restaurant that I was compelled to write to corporate.  Unfortunately, the employee that responded to my compliments failed to simply read through my inquiry.  Paying attention is a part of good customer service.  The small things often leave the biggest impressions.

 

 

 

Contact Us: The Customer Service Experience

I’ve realized that when I shop, there is much more involved in my purchase than simply trading money for goods or services.  Yes, I am seeking to fill a need, perhaps a want.  But there are also other factors that influence my decision to buy.  Some of these things include the store, employees and even a previous purchase of another product within the same brand.  How I feel afterwards is important too, and will affect my impression of the product, brand and company.

Over the last ten-plus years, I have written to many companies.  I have written praise for a new product, gratitude for long-term consistency and quality, displeasure (and delight) over service and concern due to a cleanliness issue (hair where it doesn’t belong is never good).  I received many letters and emails in return.  Some of these letters caused me to like a company even more.  Others, not so much.

I like taking the time to write and share my experience.  I enjoy giving feedback, and believe that it provides value to the company I am writing to.  Sure, some of these are large multi-million dollar corporations that spit out form letters.  Surprisingly, I’ve also received many personal, fun and sweet replies to my feedback.  So I continue to write.

The Vocal Consumer will explore the many facets of the consumer experience.  I will share my own personal experiences, and walk you through my interaction with products and people along the way.  I’ll tell you how an item makes me feel and why.  I’ll bring you into my purchasing decisions and show you how I view products on a shelf.  I’ll share why I am compelled to take the time to give feedback for some products and not others.

Hopefully, The Vocal Consumer will cause you to think about your purchasing decisions too.  We are surrounded by branded products every moment of the day and night.  They have a purpose in our life.  Let’s find out how well they deliver.