The 800 lb Gorilla

I was chatting with a friend of mine who I had not seen in a long time. He happens to own a bar and we got on the topic of customer service. I was watching how he managed his customers (old habit) and it was quickly apparent this was a guy who knew his customers.

A couple of quick observations:
– A regular walked in, he chimed out the guys name (or the bar’s nickname for him) to me and said “he’s going to have 4-6 Rolling Rocks and will be here for an hour and a half.” I noticed the guy leave later and looked down at my watch noting he had been there for an hour and twenty minutes. I then asked the bartender how many he had, to which the answer was “3”.
-A couple walked in and had a couple of drinks two tables away. They left and came back 30 minutes later. As they walked by the bartender remembered them and said “another…” and paused as she was trying to think of their order. My friend, while acting like it was part of our discussion, answered “Bass and Sam Adam Light.”

So back to our discussion of customer service…The place was one of the larger Budweiser pub clients in the area. Budweiser had decided to cut back their shipments from Wednesday & Friday to just Wednesday. No problem in general, but it did put more pressure on ordering and inventory. He felt like he did a nice business with Budweiser and was often willing to bring in new Bud products. Sometime after the scheduling change, he forgot to order enough to cover for a live band for Friday night and called the sales rep to ask a favor for an additional shipment. To his amazement, the sales rep simply followed the company line “we only ship to you on Wednesdays.” He admitted it was a favor to which the sales rep simply said “sorry.”

The next morning (Friday) as he was pulling in the lot the Budweiser truck was delivering to another bar in the same parking lot. Their regular delivery day was Friday.
While I certainly don’t know the whole story, I do see this “company line” excuse happen all the time. I understand that we need to run numbers and that sometime Customer Service can be a costly endeavor. And that we do on occasion need to put our foot down, but do we need to abandon it all the time? Yes, it is true that the bar probably won’t throw out Budweiser as a supplier, but the company and the rep lost money that night.

And on another level, it made me think about the Wed/Fri delivery options. If you are dropping one day of delivery for cost constraints (which is completely understandable), why run the same route both days? Wouldn’t it make more sense to deliver to both bars on the same day?
While there are potentially legitimate reasons for all actions, I would venture a guess that a number of decisions were made in vacuums with partial bits of information to serve specific questions. I also believe that these decisions were based on “how do we minimize cost”, not “how do we maximize long term profits and brand leverage.”

I wonder how the 800lb industry giants fade into oblivion over time?
In this case, I would think that Budweiser would be better served focusing on customer service and leveraging that value to bring new things to markets, improve placement, and promotion.

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