Great customer service for delivery operations doesn’t just happen. While mistakes and miscommunications are an inevitable part of running a retail operation, well thought-out policies and processes help solve problems when they arise — and minimize their occurrence in the first place. 

According to Brian White, Drizly’s director of customer experience, “our number one piece of advice is to put the customer’s delivery experience first.” This requires reviewing and refining operations throughout the shop, from checking in new inventory items to making the final hand off to the customer. The following tips will help you ensure your shop has the people, policies, and processes in place to deliver excellent customer service with every bottle.

MAKING INVENTORY DECISIONS

Get it right from the beginning, with the items your customers want at the price they are willing to pay. 

1. Stock the Products Your Customers Want

The first step to a happy base of customers is ensuring that you never run out of top-selling items. “Customers are creatures of habit,” says Rich McCarthy, of McCarthy’s Liquors in Cambridge, Massachusetts, “so I want to be confident I have the product in place that they are looking for.” 

Establish a process to identify and track your core items and to calculate reorder points that take into account the required lead times for each distributor. McCarthy recommends using trend data, such as Drizly’s top-selling items report, to provide insights into what your customers may want before they even ask for it. 

Make sure your distributor sales representatives are aware of which items are most important to your business. Ask that they alert you about potential out of stock situations or changes to vintages or pricing so that you can properly prepare. 

Yet no matter how solid your ordering process is, there will still be times you run out of a core item. When this happens, have a process in place to recommend potential short-term substitutes and let your customers know when their preferred item is back in stock.

2. Buy Deep on Favorites and Keep Your Pricing Sharp

Knowing what your customers want is just the first step. You also need to sell it at the price they want. Many of the most popular brands are often sold with large volume discounts, so buy as deep as you can to keep your pricing low, while maintaining as much margin as possible. 

Smaller shops should ask their distributors if a bill and hold option is available and if it is, make sure the payment and delivery terms are clearly understood. Regularly check in with your distributor representatives on potential price increases, or special deals, so that you can work large buys into your budget. 

A reputation for stellar customer service may allow a shop to charge an extra dollar or two per bottle, but on large well-known brands even this may be difficult. A better option may be to have a selection of low-priced, high-margin discoveries for customers willing to take a chance on something new.

3. Ensure That Your Inventory is Accurate

Incorrect inventory — whether online or in-store  — is one of the most common sources of customer complaints. A good Point-of-Sale system that integrates seamlessly with your e-commerce platform will eliminate many potential issues. 

Equally essential is developing a process to accurately check in new items — without it, your data will be incorrect from the beginning. Ongoing inventory counts and reconciliation, either monthly or on a rolling basis, are necessary to identify inaccuracies and correct them before they become an issue. 

4. Make It Easy to Indicate Whether Substitutions are Acceptable 

No matter how solid your process is, the occasional inventory issue is inevitable. Including a “substitutions allowed” check box as part of your e-commerce system will allow customers to decide for themselves if they prefer getting their order quickly or getting exactly the items they were looking for. 

If a customer approves a substitution, make sure it’s a thoughtful one. McCarthy recommends upgrading the item at no cost. “It makes them happy and it makes the hiccup go away.” Letting the customer know that they will be receiving a substitution ahead of time — and indicating that it’s an upgrade — will often eliminate potential complaints after the order has arrived.

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PACKING AND DELIVERY PROCESSES

Make sure you have a streamlined process to smoothly get your customer’s bottles from shelf to box and to their door. 

5. Manage Delivery Time Expectations

Late deliveries are a frequent source of online customer service complaints. Timely delivery depends on so many factors beyond a shop’s immediate control, including weather, traffic, and delivery location, so it’s unsurprising that managing customer expectations can be one of the most difficult issues you will face. 

Paul Nani, of Casa Oliviera Wines & Liquors in New York City’s West Village, notes that it’s crucial to understand your shop’s peak delivery times and to staff accordingly. At his shop, all deliveries are done on foot or by public transportation, so floor staff is cross trained and can pitch in if there is a surge in orders.

If you anticipate longer delivery times than expected, communicate this to your customer quickly and honestly. It’s better to lose one sale today than to lose a customer for good. If you charge delivery fees, offering to waive them is an appreciated gesture of goodwill. For your best customers, offering to include an extra bottle or applying a discount to the order can go a long way to easing the stress of a late delivery.

6. Double Check the Order 

Be absolutely certain that what is being sent out the door is exactly what the customer ordered. Giving a refund or collecting and replacing a misdelivered item takes time and effort, so getting it right the first time is worth the extra effort. 

There are many ways to structure this process so that it works best for your shop, staff, and order flow. At McCarthy’s, the 50 top-selling items are staged and ready for quick pulling and packing, and both an expeditor and the driver check the order against the invoice before embarking on a delivery run. 

7. Make a Good Impression

Drizly’s White says, “we encourage our Retail Partners to pay attention to the little things, like making sure products are sent out in good condition.” A torn wine label or a beat up case box may not impact the quality of the wine in the bottle, but such issues will give the customer a less than favorable impression of your shop’s attention to detail. 

It is also important that your delivery people are well-trained on the shop’s policies and prepared to handle and resolve issues that may arise at the delivery point. In many cases, the delivery person is the only representative from the shop that a customer will interact with. Delivery staffers should be friendly and make customers feel good. If they know something about the product being delivered, encourage them to offer up that information, telling the customer something interesting or useful as they do the delivery handoff. Overall, ensure that your delivery staff knows how important they are for helping keep customer satisfaction levels high. 

MAINTAIN CLEAR POLICIES

Develop clear policies and make sure they are communicated to your staff — and to your customers.

8. Make Your ID Policy Crystal Clear

Make sure that your delivery team and all staff members understand the process related to checking customer identification, both before a sale and at the point of delivery, particularly during this time period when the health and safety of both the customer and your employee are key concerns. 

Your store’s policy should be clearly stated on your e-commerce site and on invoices so that there are no surprises when the order arrives. Your team should know exactly how to handle various scenarios when proper identification is not provided, even if that means returning to the shop without delivering the order.

9. Ensure Happy(ish) Returns

Dealing with the occasional request to return a product is never easy, so make sure you have your policy clearly stated online and posted in the shop. In many states, alcohol returns or refunds are illegal, except in the case of exchange for damaged product, so make sure you know the law. Handling return requests requires patience and tact, so your staff should have a clear process to follow. 

While expired and damaged products are easy to identify, a faulty wine may require a familiarity with the wine in question. Your staff needs to know when they are authorized to process a return or exchange on their own, and when they will need to involve a manager. Returns resulting from a customer mistake, such as an unwanted gift or a mistaken purchase should be met with the kindest interaction possible, even if a return isn’t permitted. 

Remember that the customer comes first — and that their return business is worth more than a lost bottle sale. Whether in-store or at their door, do what you can to ensure the customer’s interaction with your staff leaves them with a smile on their face.