Customer Service and Dealing With Modern-Day Beer Geek Expectations

February 3rd, 2010 · 10 Comments · Notes

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

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10 Comments so far ↓

  • Russ

    Word, how hard is it for the friend to show up at the brewery, see what’s on tap, and give the dude a call and let the dude pick what he wants…?

  • Devlin

    Perfect example of the douchebaggery that runs rampant on BA and other forums. It amazes me how many of these people want to have their egos massaged/asses kissed/balls fondled. And if you don’t give them exactly what they want, they’ll shit-talk you on the internet. It’s pathetic.

    But yeah, Cigar City guy should’ve known better and not taken the bait.

  • Kaiser

    Ha – you said douchebaggery. I love that word.

  • dave

    This hits really close to home here. Off I go…

    I think this is a perfect example of both parties being stupid.

    That customer should be publicly spanked by baboons in front of all of his ex-girlfriends or boyfriends — assuming he has any — for having such a gross (but unfortunately NOT uncommon) sense of entitlement, and I want that brewer to wake up and realize that sometimes you just have to smile and swallow your pride.

    People are @ssh0les. Twas always thus and always thus shall be. If you’re going to shun everyone who pushes your buttons, you could be looking at a world of hurt. In this age of Yelp, etc., PR is more vital than ever. Even if you’re not actively trying to grow your business or looking to sell your company one day. It still pays to be nice, even to morons who have no clue about what you do. Because what choice do you have, really?

    Then again, some establishments actively promote and strive for a surly, in-your-face reputation (“Hot beer, cold food, lousy service! C’mon in!” har-har-har). That’s fun for some people, I guess, but those place are the exception, not the rule.

    One last thing: there’s a relatively new brewpub in town that has got this down. They are always busy and their service ranges between so-so and awful. But they are almost always very nice, laughing and joking with customers, pretending to be happy to see them whenever they come and sit at the bar and say, “what kind of beer do you have?”, even though it’s all right in there in front of them. I’ve had the opportunity to observe them with their masks off a little, and they f**king can’t stand us noobs or riff-raff or civilians or whatever. Kudos to them for at least keeping up appearances.

  • dave

    Btw, thanks for the article. And the recipe yesterday. I’m going to try it tomorrow.

  • Dean Ruffner

    And in keeping with the whole passive-aggressive theme, there is now a 24 page forum fight over this issue going on over at RateBeer.

    Stay classy, beer geeks!

  • Tracey

    Business like Naked City have really raised the bar on using social media for keeping their clientel in the picture of what’s on tap. They’re also rather clever in the way they use the concept of “what’s up next” – it allows the daily printed menu on the premises to be kept up to date with the simple use of a Sharpie when the next beer is tapped, and also gives a heads-up to customers when beers they might be especially interested in are likely to be pouring in teh near future.

    On the other hand, keeping this level of information current is no small task, and not all businesses can devote the time needed to do so. But even a simple weekly newsletter with info on upcoming events, what’s new, and so forth, is nice.

    But the least I’d suggest for any business that has any sort of web presence is always, without exception, to make sure to post there, as far in advance as possible, the information around any times that you will be closed. I have been disappointed (and resentful) more that once to turn up at a bar or brewpub and find it closed, despite the fact I’d checked their website only the day before, checking explicitly for notice of anything like that.

    As to the customer in the anecdote above: total tool.

  • Kaiser

    My favorite posts from the RateBeer thread (which is now frozen):

    posted by SamGamgee
    “I love this thread. Anyway, what were we talking about? ”

    Response:
    “Orval of course. “

  • Frank Belson

    I say, if you want a Nordstrom experience, go drink at Nordstrom’s. All this overly friendly crap that people seem to want just gives the staff extra reason to suck up for bigger tips. You want a nice tip? Don’t interrogate me, don’t try to draw me into conversations I don’t want to have, if I have questions, I’ll ask them, please answer accurately. If you don’t know the answer, go find out. I can tell when I’m being bullshitted and being sucked up to for tips. Bring my order quickly and accurately, and I’ll fill your gas tank. Give me any BS, and you’ll be riding the bus.

    As far as the use of social media goes, anyone (consumer or business owner) who is not taking these with the largest train loads of salt possible is a fool. This is an area where cynicism and skepticism are your friends.

  • Dean Ruffner

    My favorite post was the “Wanted for Trade: 10 Day Projection IPA”

    Awesome.

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