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Are you a broken bottle business?

Jon Silk, director of Bite, urges businesses to break the ‘bottle only’ mentality and give customers what they want

I know it’s a ‘first world problem’, but it really annoys me when restaurants don’t serve every wine they have by the glass. Is it really worth refusing to give the customer what they want for the sake of a margin-driven rule?

Let’s say that a bottle of wine costs them around £10 wholesale, but they sell a small glass at £5 and a bottle at £25. Selling bottles and glasses at those rates will provide £15 profit per bottle. That’s a normal, if simplified, scenario.

Offering every wine for sale by the glass wouldn’t hurt profits, then.

“But the wine is wasted if nobody orders enough glasses!” I hear you cry. Good point.

Customer satisfaction
Okay, let’s say the wine in 100 per cent of the bottles gets poured away after just four glasses are sold. Each one still makes £10. Margin is down by a third but customer happiness is way up.

With satisfaction levels riding high, customers are more likely to come back. Repeat custom builds a business, and all of a sudden a drop in margin is replaced by happy regulars. They tell their friends, and their friends tell their friends, and bingo – satisfaction has gone viral.

The ability to buy any wine by the glass doesn’t even have to be advertised – they just need to break the bottle-only rule if someone asks. Almost all of them will say no. Go on, try it. (Let me know how you get on.)

‘Bottle only’ mentality
Many businesses are blighted by this ‘bottle only’ mentality. My broadband provider seems to struggle to provide broadband, and every time I call to complain they make me unscrew my phone socket before I am allowed through to the next level of support.

It doesn’t matter to them that I’ve done it three times already. The rule cannot be broken. It’s a process they can’t change.

Try returning something to a shop, slightly after the 28-day limit. Try arranging a delivery in a window of less than six hours. Try to get out of your mobile phone contract because text messages take three days to arrive and you can only get signal standing on the roof of your house.

You’ll be unsuccessful, because those rules are designed to keep margins high and customers in their box.

Social world
This is why social media is so important. Channels like Twitter completely mess with the model, because customers can talk to a business in a very public way. Unfairness is not tolerated, and ignorance or repression quickly forms an angry mob. The viral threat is very real.

All of a sudden, you’ll find the rules are miraculously broken.

Every scenario above is one that I experienced, and was able to solve by tweeting or blogging about my dissatisfaction. Each company rushed to change the process when it realised dissatisfaction was spreading. So why wait until there is risk?

Here’s my plea to every business: think about your rules. Are they focused on controlling customers to squeeze every last percentage point of margin out of them? Do you break your processes only when you’re at risk of damage to your reputation? Do you sell wine only by the bottle? If so, you should change things.

The net is getting bigger. Customers are getting smarter. Expectations are higher. The bottle only model is broken.