Saving Dough With Net Stat

O.K., maybe you've never dialed that 800 number on the package for a tete-a-tete with the Green Giant to discuss his peas. But a lot of people have, and for years the folks at Pillsbury have been overwhelmed by customer feedback. The Minneapolis food colossus gets about 3,500 calls a day. Sorting through all that information was giving the big guy a headache.

To help ease the pain, Pillsbury research scientist Fred Hulting cooked up a high-tech solution called NetStat. It's a Web-powered program that analyzes reams of customer data, handling more than any off-the-shelf marketing software could ever dream--and fast. NetStat takes only a few hours to crunch data and spit it out to a Web page as a chart, giving marketers more precise information about consumer tastes. Using NetStat, Pillsbury can find out, for example, that croissant lovers in the Northeast prefer a flakier crust than their friends on the West Coast.

It's not just about taste. The Net helps Pillsbury flatten costs, too. Customer service has a handful of analysts who cost up to $3,000 each for just a week's worth of digging. But NetStat data, because they sit on Pillsbury's internal Web site, are instantly accessible to every laptop-toting employee. That means once NetStat is fully deployed, it could save Pillsbury up to $1 million a year. In the cutthroat food industry, programs like NetStat are "critical to keeping a competitive edge," says Prudential Securities analyst John M. McMillin.

Although it's still new, NetStat is expanding from a test in the frozen-breakfast division to all Pillsbury brands. Soon, Pillsbury will be able to rise above its customer feedback worries.