In the era of social media, brands can’t afford to get customer service wrong, with negative word-of-mouth buzz able to spread like wildfire across the internet. However, if you get things right, the rewards can be endless.
Britain’s oldest wine and spirits merchant Berry Bros & Rudd believes it has the right balance. Offering everything from wine classes – last year it hosted over 13,000 events - to stocking out people’s cellars with the world’s finest bottles of red, the brand says 88% of its customers rated their customer service as good or excellent last year. A further 93% rated the business as good or excellent for delivery.
Appear Here spoke to wine and spirits education specialist Barbara Drew, and PR manager Gemma Duncan to get their advice on how businesses can ensure they implement a successful customer service strategy.
What would you say is the most important facet of great customer service?
Barbara: You need to find a way to meet your customers in person regularly, as this will give them a genuine connection to your business. The events we host can be everything from an introduction to wine to masterclasses on how to build the perfect collection in your cellar, and they ensure we don’t lose that human connection with our customers. There’s people who have been coming to our wine school for 15 years and at the end of a class they might make a suggestion like: “It would be great if you hosted a class on the wines from this region!” We can then incorporate that feedback into our schedule and this builds real loyalty as the customers feel like they are directly involved in the business.
With such a specialist community of wine collectors, I’m guessing word of mouth is also very important?
Barbara: Definitely. If we get something wrong, then that’s going to spread quickly through our community. But if we get something right, that’s going to spread quickly too, and that’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to grow our events business so quickly as we’ve created real hype around it. Word of mouth is very important, which is why we try to reach our customers daily so they always feel that connection.
You have individual agents who look after your customers, right? Would you say that offering a personal touch rather than just outsourcing your customer service to a call centre in another country is also important?
Gemma: We have a direct system where customers can put in money each month and buy a case of wine. It starts at £100 a month and sellers help them buy the right stuff. I would say the moment you outsource your customer service, you take a big risk. We want our customers to feel part of the family and be treated as individuals rather than statistics. Having a sales support team in another country will only lose you customers. There shouldn’t be a one-size fits all approach.
Let’s say someone gets in touch with a problem, how do you respond?
Barbara: The first thing is to own the problem. Say sorry. We pride ourselves on great customer service but will still always get the odd issue. It’s important to admit when you haven’t got something right, and then work with the customer to rebuild that relationship. Can we send a guy over to help out? If they didn’t enjoy our event, can we get them back to another one to have a better experience? A lot of the time a long-term relationship starts with resolving an issue, where because we fixed it and made it right, they are now more loyal.
Are there any other businesses you look to for customer service inspiration?
Gemma: Definitely Apple as their customer service is so slick. I would have to say Net-a-Porter too as the way they present their products is beautiful and it’s so easy to get a refund. We recently introduced a chat function on our website where customers can talk directly to a seller if there’s an issue or they want some advice. But I’d say we have fallen behind with our tech at the moment, so we’re currently working hard to update it. I guess great customer service is about constantly growing and innovating.
And what about using social media to communicate with your customers?
Gemma: It’s definitely a refreshing approach as it opens up a sense of vulnerability. Our Instagram is run by a fourth generation family member - Geordie Willis - and that gives it a human touch. He does all the communications and responds to customers, and it adds a nice touch because we can reach out to our community in real time.
To brands who have poor customer service, fundamentally, what is it they’re doing wrong?
Barbara: Not listening. It’s easy to do when you believe you know everything your customer wants, but listening is important. Too many brands have a starting position of thinking they’ve got it all right. No, the customer is always right and it’s your job to help them, not lecture them.
By Thomas Hobbs