Wine merchant’s customer service leaves sour taste

"Stellenbosch Pinotage" by Agne27 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stellenbosch_Pinotage.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Stellenbosch_Pinotage.jpg
“Stellenbosch Pinotage” by Agne27 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

A wine merchant from Somerset West in the Western Cape called me enquiring whether I would like to buy wine from their boutiques wine service. It was a cold call. I didn’t know about the wine merchant and felt that the prices were too high.

Three months later the same wine merchant called me again asking whether I would like to buy their wine. I was again reluctant to buy from them but after I was presented with a special Pinotage I thought I would give them a go. I ordered six bottles of the Pinotage rather than a case of 12 bottles to halve my risk.

The wine merchant told me that they used a small courier company that was excellent and provided personal service. The wine would be delivered three days after I put the full value of the wine and delivery cost in their banking account. Three days went by and the wine wasn’t delivered. To cut the story short, the wine was delivered only three weeks later.

It turns out that this small entrepreneurial wine merchant didn’t have a follow-up system in place to check with me and the courier that the wine had been delivered. After sending a final email in desperation, thinking that I had been ripped off and would lose my money, a representative of the courier company called me to apologise and told me that my wine would be delivered the next day.

When I asked the courier company what had gone wrong, the representative said they had no excuses and the reason had been “negligence” on their part. I was floored by such an honest answer and decided to wait for the wine to arrive the following day.

The wine was delivered the next day but that is not the end of the story. The owner of the boutique wine merchant business called me to apologise after the wine had been delivered, blaming the courier company. It was frustrating to hear from this owner after she had not been available beforehand and had not followed up even after the first three days to find out whether I had received my order.

This whole incident of buying wine from a wine merchant has left a sour taste in my mouth. I won’t be buying from any wine merchant whether online or by telephone in a hurry. Once bitten, twice shy.

Yet the poor service from this small business does highlight an important lesson for other start-ups and small businesses. Customer service is not only about the interface that you have with a small business but also, more importantly, about the whole experience you have.

To deliver that experience, a small business owner needs to ensure not only that their staff or salespeople are friendly but that there are systems in the business that assist fast and cost-effective delivery of product or services. Customers, like myself, want to be helped in the buying process. They want to be informed if deliveries are late. They want to know the reasons why there are problems. And they don’t want hollow apologies and reassurances.

The opportunity that I see in this pathetic customer service from this wine merchant is that it always pays to buy from companies and test their service levels. Competitors in the Western Cape wine merchant marketplace can benefit from weak operators like this by jacking up their own service delivery system.

How could you test your competitors service and gain valuable information and experience from what they do?

Do this, and it might make an important contribution to your sales in this tight market.

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