If there’s one place we demand great customer service, it’s served with a wine glass. Like specialty retail, the world of wine is a tricky one for business owners to navigate: they must be both knowledgeable and gregarious, capable of selling without pitching and tasting without drinking. It’s an art form—and it’s been perfected by our local wine shop, Maggie B’s.
The wee storefront, owned and managed by Elspeth and Andy Brown, was named after their dog and opened in 2007. It’s the traits of the best pets—loyalty, unerring kindness, openness—that define Maggie B’s, which is primarily a wine bottle shop, but also offers sandwiches, soups, salads, wine and beer by the glass, and a variety of cheeses.
Their incredible customer service has allowed the business to steadily expand over the past decade. “We started very small and each year have added on, whether it has been more space, draft beer, inventory, or catering,” says Elspeth. “We love educating customers about different wines and helping them find the perfect wine to suit their tastes.”
We are so inspired by the Browns’ level of customer service and resulting growth that we wanted to share their perspective on the phrase, how they achieve it, and why it matters. We asked Elspeth the tough (and easy) questions, and analyzed why her approach works.
Q. We think “customer service” is veering into the realm of the catchphrase and losing its legitimacy as a concept—that’s why we want interview the folks who we know understand it. Could you give us your definition of customer service?
A. Customer service is reading the particular customer and offering them the service that fits them. Some customers want to grab a beer and have you listen to their problems, others need to grab a bottle of wine quickly and get home.
TMG Analysis: Elspeth and her team recognize that although every customer is different, they all deserve the same quality of service. One of the first steps in true customer service is an apt analysis of that individual, so that you can cater your service to their particulars.
Q. How do you try to implement great customer service in your business? As in, what are some of your best practices?
A. We always try to remember, or write down, what customers have purchased in the past, so when they walk in we know what they enjoy and suggest options catered to them. If you want it, and we have it, we would love to get it for you.
TMG Analysis: A business is buoyed by its regulars, and catering to them is integral to keeping them around. Whether that means remembering your customer’s names or orders, checking in on them post-race, or making a point of getting to know them better, personalized service never goes unnoticed.
Q. Good customer service can be a difficult skill to learn; how do you pass it on to your employees?
A. Always be kind, even if it’s a difficult customer. People come into Maggie B’s to relax and have a good time. You never know what a person is going through, so it’s our job to make them feel good and enjoy their time in the store.
TMG Analysis: The simple quality of kindness is one often overlooked in businesses, even those built on customer interactions. It’s a return to that initial concept of giving every customer the same quality of service: regardless of the situation, as a business owner, manager, or employee, it is your responsibility to give every single customer the kindness, empathy, and genuineness they deserve.
Q. Any suggestions for other business owners/managers trying to cultivate an environment of great customer service?
A. As an owner, talk to your customers and try to find out what they like and don’t like about your business, and then actually make changes.
TMG Analysis: Asking questions seems like the simplest form of service, but it’s where many businesses fail. We’re so quick to assume we know what the customer wants or, just as bad, what our business needs. But the success of your business lies in your customers, and you should shape it to their opinions and needs. And like Elspeth says, don’t just ask the questions—act on them. Adapt your business to your customers, and they’ll notice your intentionality in the longterm vision of your customer service.
Q. What are some unique customer service challenges you’ve experienced, and how did you overcome them?
A. There have been some customers that my employees do not get along with and it’s apparent to the customer and other customers in the store. My employees need to put that past them and offer even the hardest customer the best service. But, if it’s possible, every day try to read your employees and make sure they are in the position that fits them best that day, whether it’s in front of customers or stocking inventory.
TMG Analysis: This is a great point! Your employees are human, and you can’t expect them to always be capable of impeccable customer service. It’s your responsibility as a manager to recognize where your employees are at on a daily basis and, if at all possible, to shape their roles to their current position. Yes, every employee should be constantly trained in great customer service—but sometimes, you just need to read the room and adapt your business to it.
Q. If you had one recommendation for business owners/managers trying to cultivate true customer service, what would it be?
A. Even in today’s social media and digital world, you still have to put a strong emphasis on face to face interaction.
TMG Analysis: And this is what it’s all about. The internet is a whirlwind force in the world of retail, but nothing will ever replace genuine relationships and personal interaction. That’s why it’s so important that you practice customer service and adapt your business to your real life customers.