These days, we drink in the modern-day world of technology such as Twitter feeds, Facebook updates, and real-time tap lists on brewery/bar websites. And like it or not, expectations have changed for some consumers (not all) when it comes to getting information from breweries and drinking establishments. Not all businesses are equipped to deal with these types of updates, and some businesses have no desire to provide these updates, which is just fine. Customers are also not always aware of the different ways a business distributes information. Regardless of how a business does or does not communicate to their customers, many businesses have to deal with more frequent direct email and phone requests from customers looking for up-to-date information.
Unfortunately, things don’t always go perfectly when businesses deal with customers. This thread on BeerAdvocate is a perfect example of things gone wrong (if that link doesn’t work, try here). The exchange is between a BeerAdvocate user and the owner of Cigar City Brewing, located in Florida. Essentially, here is a summary of what happened:
1) A customer sent an email asking the brewery if they know what beers will be on tap in the next 10 days because he had a friend visiting the area that was going to fill a growler or two for him.
2) The owner of the brewery, who is understandably very busy, wrote a simple response six days after the original request was sent: “Unfortunately we can’t project that far out.”.
3) The customer then replied with a passive aggressive email pointing out that since it took six days to respond, there were only 4 days left in the time frame he was asking about and he finds it hard to believe he can’t tell him what’s going to be on tap in the next 4 days. The tone of the email was enough to bait the owner.
4) The owner then took the time to write an almost six hundred word response about how he was sick, the company is not equipped to deal with the large amount of email requests they receive, and how busy they are in general. Additionally, he finished with, “If you can’t continue to support us because your email got returned 6 days after you sent it, I certainly understand.”
5) The customer then replied by pointing out exactly how bad he thinks the owner’s customer service is, and he gave him some pointers on how he can improve. He finishes with, “So again work on the customer service a bit and keep up the excellent brewing.”
6) The owner responds by telling the customer that he does not want his business and that he should buy his beer from someone else. He manages to work in a shot at Redhook as well.
I’m no expert, but here are just a couple brief suggestions for beer geeks and people who handle customer service in the beer industry:
Customers: We are not entitled to anything. Most breweries are happy to answer questions, but sometimes they just don’t have the time; they are indeed busy doing things like making us beer and running a business with minimal resources. Sometimes they have a short fuse. Telling you what is going to be on tap probably isn’t near the top of their list of priorities, especially if they really don’t know at that moment in time. Do it the old-fashioned way; just show up and see what is on tap. It’s quite fun, really. Or, use other resources such as message boards on RateBeer and BeerAdvocate to ask your questions. Many local users on those sites are really on top of things.
Owners/Brewers: We understand you are busy. But, if you are going to reply to an email, a one-liner with little info is not really the way to do it. Craft yourself a few template responses for popular questions you receive so that you can start with those and then alter them in order to cut down on the time it takes to respond. I’m not saying to send out a generic corporate email, just give yourself something to start with. Take the extra seconds to put a little more care into emails; it may save you from later writing a six hundred word, pissed off email. Something similar to the Cigar City owner’s ”opus of dickish customer service replies” (in the owner’s own words) would obviously be ill-advised for most companies, but if you are confident you can continue growing your business and be a dick to people if you want to be (and they deserve it), then more power to you. An original response with just a little more information could have avoided the situation altogether.
Here is a great quote for business owners to keep in the back of your head when dealing with customers: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffett