The Co-op is creating a weight of expectation by constantly asking consumers for their opinions

The Co-operative is embarking on another round of ‘member engagement’, launching an online hub called Let’s Talk to canvass people for their opinions on a range of issues relating to communities and CSR. The company is obviously desperate to put things right after a disastrous year but this constant canvassing for opinion is creating a weight of expectation the group will struggle to live up to.

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It all started back in February with the launch of The Co-operative’s Have Your Say campaign. It asked people to complete an online survey where they could share their thoughts on its structure, values and services, specifically asking what the Co-op “means to people now and in the future”.

Then in June it launched a poll for its banking business, asking people for their view on the “five pillars of its ethical framework” and whether it should add new tenets such as responsible banking, transparency and treating customers fairly.

Let’s Talk is a less formal means for people to have their input into topics such as “curbing food waste” and “rethinking food”. No need to fill out long forms, instead they can simply type their thoughts into the forum or tweet them using the hashtag #letstalks.

The Co-op believes it can constantly ask for customers’ opinion because, as the chief executive of the bank puts it, the Co-op it not like other companies. This is a member-owned company and as such its customers feel they have more right than most to throw in their two pence on how they think it should be run.

They have had a lot of replies as well – 180,000 from Have Your Say respondents and 73,000 replies to the bank poll. However, as yet they have done nothing with these opinions.

The Co-op initially said the results for Have Your Say would be announced at its AGM in May. Now it won’t even put a date on it, with a spokesman saying they remain “committed” to publishing the results but that its focus is addressing issues relating to its governance. After that it will be “in a position” to share the findings, he adds.

Now they are adding thousands more opinions, getting inundated with tweets and thoughts from consumers on any topic they want to vent about. The concern is that consumers will expect all their thoughts to be implemented, something the Co-op simply won’t be able to do.

The initial Have Your Say survey made sense as a means to reconnect customers with the brand and prove it was looking to seriously change.

Now, however, it needs to deliver. No more canvassing for opinions or asking customers for the minutae on their store layouts and product ranges. It is time to stand up and tell customers what the Co-op is, what it stands for and why they should be shopping (or banking) with it.

This is a not a decision customers can make, it is one the company must make and then communicate. People have given the Co-op a lot of their time and thought, now it must show it knows how to use it wisely.

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