The customer comes third


We had a sales meeting this week. I was disappointed with some of the things they shared with me. It wasn’t the slowing rate of payments that were most disappointing … although you can’t be in the hop industry today and not feel the pain of delayed payments. What bothered me was that apparently when some brewers call in or write they are being very rude and insulting to our sales staff when they don’t get what they want. Not everybody behaves this way, of course, but the number is growing. They stand out from their peers as real jerks. Some demand their hop contracts change. Some say their prices are too high relative to spot hop prices or sale prices. Some say we have no right to offer sale prices at all on our website. Some try to lay down the law by dictating new terms for their contracts. Unless they get exactly what they want, some brewers can be rude and disrespectful.

I understand the articles about a “day of reckoning” coming in the craft beer industry might have some brewers nervous. I get that maybe your beer isn’t selling as quickly as you hoped a year or two ago. It makes sense that not every Brewer is an expert in contract law. Some of you undoubtedly have bills to pay that are piling up. Maybe brewing beer isn’t as easy as you thought it was going to be when you got in the business. There are a lot of reasons to be stressed when things aren’t going just right. There’s no reason though to be rude to people when you don’t get your way. As the old saying goes …You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.


The sales team and I talked for a little while. They vented. I listened. It was good for them to get a lot of their thoughts off their chest. They clearly did not want to say anything at first. They didn’t want to come across as complaining or to disappoint anybody. I respect them for that. They were suffering silently. After hearing their problems, I explained to them the way I’d like them to think about things from now on. I told them the customer comes third. First, comes their health and well-being. No job should get in the way of a person’s health and happiness. No amount of money is worth that! Secondly, I told them they should look out for the company and the other members of the 47Hops team. Clearly many brewers are reaching a desperate place and are overlooking how their actions may affect others. That makes sense since some of them are having trouble, but it’s no justification for bad behavior. I explained that we need to keep their problems in mind, but we also must be mindful that ours is a for-profit business. We cannot let the problems of others interfere with that unless we can find a mutually beneficial solution. The customer, I then explained, comes in a strong third.


That may sound crazy at first glance, but, if we put the customer ahead of our own well-being and that of the company, none of us will have a place we enjoy working. I also told them that if a customer is rude over the phone they could, within reason, unleash a little sass back without any fear of consequences from me. I think they’re a little reluctant to go there yet, and I hope they don’t get pushed to that extreme. I encouraged them to be firm, stay focused, and not to feel like they have to walk on eggshells with customers who are not polite.


You can easily judge the character of a man

by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.

   – Malcolm S. Forbes


If you’re a brewer and you call or write in and are tempted to be mean … please remember the person on the other end of the phone or on the receiving end of that email was not the cause of your troubles. Don’t cave to the temptation to unleash your stress and anger out on them. We’re all of the legal drinking age. Hopefully, that means we can all be nice to one another and act like adults.