Epic Beer is a boutique, premium brewery based in New Zealand. It’s winning accolades all around the world for the quality of its product, but more relevant to us here at Zengage, theyre doing it via direct conversations with the customer. Also cool is how the company is heavily leaning on its social media channels to reach customers.
I ran through some questions with Luke Nicholas, general manager (and first-generation flying brewer!) at Epic Beer, to get his take, as a small artisanal producer, on what customer service means.
Q. Everyone says they’re a customer-focused business, whether or not they mean it. How do you think an organization can ensure that it’s genuinely customer focused? What does this look like for Epic given you’re young and small?
A. Genuinely customer focused? I think it is about being transparent and honest. Be straight up about screw-ups or failures. People will respect you even more if they can feel your pain, and you are genuine in trying to make it right. Being a small business that doesn’t have the reach of a large national company that employs hundreds of sales reps, we have been able to keep shelves stocked with customers tweeting that their local store is out of Epic Beer. I am able to reply directly to that customer and to thank them for letting me know, and that I will have someone in the store the following day making sure new beer is ordered and on the shelf.
Q. Many people have talked about friendliness in relation to customer service. What do you think about the balance between friendliness and professionalism? How do you remain fresh when deadlines, brewing issues, and the like, get stressful
A. I made a decision early on that the Epic Beer brand wasn’t about trying to please everyone in the market. It is like a person: some people you like and some you don’t. Its about creating a personality. I tweet about Sci-Fi TV/movies, hot/spicy food I like to eat, rock music I listen too. I guess it is how I created the beer I like to drink. I just share what I am enjoying in my life. It could be sharing a funny YouTube video, something from Digg; it isn’t always sell, sell, sell. It is about understanding your audience and trying to deliver value beyond just the core values of the immediate brand. Thats how I keep it fresh.
Q. How does one ensure that your customer support staff, which in this case means you, are genuine with their customers? What can you do to keep fresh, especially when you’re trying to do everything else in the business?
A. Being genuine with the customers is easy: just tell them the way it is.
Q. It always happens, the customer is always right, but there are times when they’re simply wrong. Any customer service nightmare stories to tell?
A. I have fun with customers. I have done many tastings in bars, supermarkets, bottle shops, and festivals. You meet a diverse range of people. Many love the product, but you always get the difficult person or smart ass. My best standard reply to people that say they hate, or dislike my beer, and they think it is shit is, well, it isn’t about the beer. The beer has won multiple awards; it is technically well made and has no faults, so it must really be about them, and they are the ones with the problem.
Q. What place do tools have in delivering great customer service? My contention is that good systems and tools take drag out of the system and make it easier to give customers exceptional experiences. Do you agree, and do you have any specific examples in your case? Especially since you’re so small, I’m assuming tools help cover all your bases.
A. Online tools, such as Twitter, and Facebook to a lesser degree, give me the ability to stay in touch with my audience and customers. It lets me broadcast what I am doing with the likes of Gowalla or Foursquare. My customers are able to see I am in Chicago judging at the World Beer Cup, or in London trying new types of beer, or doing a collaborative beer [event] in Delaware and being filmed by the Discovery Channel for a new series, or brewing a new release for the local market. By sharing this information live, your audience is more engaged and more willing to share the information with their networks, which increases your reach and grows your network.