What's Your Problem?

I've been a little cranky lately. I simply bit off more than I could chew this month and it finally came back to bite me in the behind. I'm simply pooped. Even after fifteen straight days of events, tastings, traveling, and writing, I was supposed to take the red eye to Mexico tonight for more spirits-related business.  When a few last-minute emergencies, extenuating circumstances, and general health problems piled on top of my no-room-for-error calendar, I had to make a difficult decision: stay home and rest.

I've been doing a lot of work, but I haven't been doing any of it well. My emails are piling up and I take answering them very seriously, yet I've only been able to fire off short, one sentence replies to people I'd like to have more dialogue with. It's frustrating. There are so many new people who need help with booze! While I'd like to believe that my amazing customer service is responsible for the increased response, most of the reason I've been getting so many emails is because liquor companies have started their own email lists, sending out notices to consumers when new products are being released.  It's a great idea! Keep people informed and excited. The only problem with this is that they're sending these emails out, sometimes months before the product is available at K&L, telling customers to give us a call long before telling us what to expect. It leads to the following scenario:

Awesome K&L Customer: David - do you know if you'll be getting the new _______ anytime soon?

Me: I haven't heard anything about that. Have you seen it available anywhere else?

Awesome K&L Customer: I got an email about it and they said K&L will be carrying it.

Me: Hmmm.....well I have no idea unfortunately. I wish I knew more and could help you.

Awesome K&L Customer: Can you call me when it comes in?

Me: I wish I could do that for every customer, but unfortunately I get so many requests it's not possible. What I can do is add you to our email list and notify you that way.

Awesome K&L Customer: I'm usually travelling and I don't always have time to check my email, can you just put in an order for me now? I'll pay you in advance.

Me: Unfortunately, no, because I don't know how many we're getting, if we're even getting it at all, nor do I know the price.

Awesome K&L Customer: So there's nothing I can do right now?

Me: I'm sorry, but that's correct.

Awesome K&L Customer: Bummer. Do you think another store will have it?

This situation happens at least five times a day, even on my days off when I'm answering emails from home. Now, it's important to note here that I am not annoyed with the customer!  I love interacting with consumers and anyone who takes the time to shop with us. Why would I be upset with someone who is interested in buying whisky, a product I love to drink, write about, and sell? What I am annoyed with is the situation that I've been put into. Regarding the above scenario, there's no way I can succeed in giving the customer what he or she is looking for, which is getting them a product that I likely will be getting, but currently know nothing about and have no control over (i.e. the Jefferson's Ocean and the subsequent deluge of requests from customers all over the U.S.). Couple that with the fact that I look like a novice for knowing less about the schedule of new releases than my customers and it turns into a situation that aggravates me immensely, especially when I have to relive it every half hour.

When companies send out notices about the immenent release of a whisky without notifying retailers, it makes everyone's life difficult - mine, my customer service staff who ends up forwarding all these questions to my voicemail, and the customers who are just looking to get some more information. Everyone ends up bothered because they can't settle anything at the moment - it's like trying to cross something off your chore list, but realizing you'll have to leave it open-ended. I'll have to keep checking with the distributor (who usually knows nothing as well), the customer will have to keep calling other stores to see if one person out there knows anything, and our staff will have to keep fielding these questions about which they know nothing.

Then, there's the issue I have with the new "Top Whiskies in the World" from the 2013 Whisky Bible.  In all honesty, I have no issue with Jim Murray. I don't know him and I've never met him, so it's not a personal attack on him.  What I have a problem with is the lack of explanation about how rare some of the "world's best whiskies" are. Many people who find out about Jim's top whiskies have no idea about what goes on in the booze world. Why should they? If I read a list about the "Top Movies of 2012," why would I think twice about whether I'll be able to see them or not? Of course I'll be able to watch them. I'll just go down to the movie theater, buy my ticket, and that's that. Unfortunately, that's what the ten people who emailed me yesterday about the Handy Sazerac also thought about purchasing that bottle of whiskey.

When you promote, promote, and promote, but you leave out the little details (like the fact that the Handy and Weller whiskies are extremely difficult to find and, until recently, were being sold on Ebay for more than twice their retail price), it makes everyone else's life difficult. I've lived through the following scenario once already this morning, ten times yesterday, and twenty-seven times total since Jim's list was released:

Awesome, totally not-at-fault, K&L Customer: Hi there - I'm looking for a bottle of whiskey called the Thomas Handy Sazerac. Do you have any and how much are they?

Incredibly-talented K&L Customer Service Person: I'm not showing any in stock, unfortunately.

Awesome, totally not-at-fault, K&L Customer: Do you know when you'll be getting any? I'd like to reserve two if possible.

Incredibly-talented K&L Customer Service Person: Let me get you over to our spirits buyer. Hold on while I transfer you....

Hi this is David Driscoll, spirits buyer for K&L Wine Merchants, I'm not here right now, but the best to reach me is always by my email at [email protected]

Awesome, totally not-at-fault, K&L Customer: Hi David - I got your email from your voicemail. The person I spoke to on the phone said I should talk to you about getting some of the Thomas Handy rye.  My husband really loves whiskey and I think this would be the perfect gift for him.  He's been talking about how it just won some big award, so I want to surprise him.  If possible, could I reserve two bottles from K&L?  I'd also like to get two bottles of the William Weller Larue.  I guess that whiskey also won an award.  Please let me know what I need to do to make this happen.  Thanks for your time!

Me: Hello ______, thanks so much for your inquiry. Unfortunately, the Handy and Weller whiskies are very limited and are only released in the Fall in very small allocations.  I usually get around 3 to 6 bottles of each and I have thousands of customers already on a waitlist for these bottles.  What we usually do is a raffle, so considering the amount of interest, there is a very slim chance of getting one of these via K&L.  I'd be happy to add you to our insider's email list and keep you informed that way as to when we'll be holding the raffle.  Please let me know if you'd like me to do so.  Sorry to be the bearer of bad news! These whiskies are very, very popular and finding them is extremely difficult.  Thanks again.

Awesome, totally not-at-fault, K&L Customer: Hi David, thanks for the quick reply! I had no idea this was such a big deal. Please add my name to the raffle.  At least there's a chance!  Thanks again.

Me: Hi again! While I can't add your name to the raffle right now, what I can do is add your email to our insider list and, when the time comes, you'll receive the information about how to enter the raffle.  We send out many emails about other whiskies and ultimately one of them will contain the raffle information when we actually get our allocation. Thanks!

Awesome, totally not-at-fault, K&L Customer: Hi David, I'm not really interested in getting more spam in my inbox.  I get so many consumer-based emails as is.  Could you please just add me to a waitlist and notify me when the raffle is to happen?  Thanks for your understanding.

Me: Hi ________, while I wish I could notify you personally, you are already the 30th person to ask me the same thing this week.  I wish I could keep everyone straight, but the only way I can keep everyone informed is via the email newsletter.  Please let me know if you would like me to add your name to the list. Sorry about the inconvenience!

Awesome, totally not-at-fault, K&L Customer: Hi David, I'm really only interested in the Handy or the Weller whiskies.  Is there any way you could just email me the one about the raffle?  Thanks,

Still no resolution!  No, I can't email 3,000 customers personally about when we get three bottles of Weller Larue.  I wish I could!  I wish I could get 3,000 bottles of Weller Larue for everyone!  I can't!  These email chains keep going and going.  I must have fifty unresolved e-conversations in my Outlook folder right now that resemble the above dialogue and each one is a little bit different.  You can't rubber stamp them to give the same automated reply because each request is somewhat unique. Each customer deserves an explanation, anyway. This is to say nothing of the fifteen to twenty Pappy requests that may show up in between the Handy emails. 

In my mind, it's irresponsible for a producer to promote or hype a whisky to the general public that is not currently available.  It unfairly punishes retailers and suppliers who ultimately are the ones dealing with customers, and it infuriates consumers who call every store in the country, searching for a ghost. You don't know how happy I was when Julian Van Winkle decided not to announce the release of Pappy this year.  He's leaving that up to each retailer, which is how it should be.  Every store has their own way of dealing with special whisky releases and it's best to let them announce each one to their own consumer base. I'm not advocating that a whisky company shouldn't talk about its future releases, but rather that it shouldn't claim "available at K&L" or "now available at a retailer near you" when that obviously isn't the case. Certain personalities also should be aware that, while they think they are helping retailers by exciting the public about the "world's best whiskies," driving business to their storefronts, they are in fact hindering them by burying them knee deep in requests that they cannot resolve.  Instead of finding new whiskey, writing about new whiskey, and reaching out to customers who need my help with an order, I'll be sitting here for the next two hours explaining to someone, in the nicest way possible, that I have no way to help them at the moment.

I'm sorry, ma'am, but I can't help you right now. I wish I could!  I can't.

That's my problem.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll