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Great Customer Service is Always On Tap at San Angelo Brewpub Brandon Gardner has a long history in customer service, so it made perfect sense to use that expertise when he bought SoCo Taphouse in San Angelo, Texas in 2015.

By Emily Washcovick

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

SoCo Taphouse

Behind the Review host and Yelp's Small Business Expert, Emily Washcovick, shares a look at this week's episode of the podcast.

Sometimes you just want to go where everybody knows your name. If you're in San Angelo, Texas, that place is SoCo Taphouse, a craft beer bar that both owner Brandon Gardner and Yelp Elite reviewer Josh H. call "The Cheers of Beers."

SoCo has earned the familiar designation, thanks in large part to the incredibly knowledgeable staff. "The feeling you get when you're at SoCo, it does come down to the staff because they help sustain and maintain the vibe that I think Brandon was going for when he started," Josh said.

He called out regular bartender Devin in particular for making his experience memorable. "She embodied everything that SoCo was because she is one of the people. She's one of us locals that has lived here most of her life. She knows the town, the city, the people, the vibe, the likes, and the dislikes."

This hiring choice isn't a happy coincidence. Brandon, who has worked in the customer service industry for many years, focuses on hiring personable people like Devin who will represent his brand and his ideal atmosphere. Part of that authenticity is a shared passion for and knowledge of the product. At SoCo Taphouse, that's craft beer.

"We try to pick people that love craft beer because if you come into the place and you wanna work there and don't love craft beer, you're not gonna exactly have the greatest way of interacting with the bar regulars, talking about beer, or giving them something good to drink," Brandon said.

Great employees who love their jobs are also a key factor in creating the homey feel Brandon is going for. "It starts with the people, not just the atmosphere. Our job is to make you hang out and feel the most welcome. Let's find you a good beer that we know you're gonna like. So it's almost as good as sitting on your couch at home after a long day of work and cracking a cold one. We're gonna make that feeling exactly like that at SoCo. [Our staff] are wonderful and welcoming, and that's why we really try to make sure we're very stringent on who we hire."

Because craft beer can be considered a niche interest, it can often feel inaccessible to new customers—hence why having knowledgeable staff is critical. To improve accessibility even further, Brandon's team is big on sampling before buying, something Josh appreciated right away.

"They will let you sample eight or nine different samplers right there to find out what you want. They don't want you to buy a beer just for the sake of buying a beer. I've gotten the vibe they want you to find the one you truly like and you're going to enjoy drinking."

To Brandon, enjoying the experience is exactly what SoCo Taphouse is all about—and it makes good business sense. "If we can get people to find something they like, they're gonna come back. In fact, it's not uncommon for us to put a beer on tap that's new and just start handing out samples everywhere. And we love doing it. Like, hey, try this. Try that. If you like that, you'll like this. We want you to find something that you enjoy drinking."

This service-minded culture has helped SoCo garner many positive reviews on Yelp, including from Josh, who has been regularly reviewing businesses on Yelp for more than a decade and believes that reviews are a service to both a business and the public.

"I do the review so other people can see it. They can see it's positive. They're gonna get some good reasons for why they should go to get an equal experience. And now I've helped to foster and grow that same interest in a local business. The more people that experience that positivity, they're gonna keep going back as well. And now we are collectively, hopefully as a result of just a single review that's positive, keeping a local business in play like that."

As a business owner, Brandon is grateful for thoughtful reviewers like Josh. He's also grateful for critical reviews, which can benefit his business in other important ways.

"I love reviews, good or bad. One, you learn if you're not doing what you need to be doing properly. If you get negative ones, that allows us to reevaluate as a business. Why did we miss the mark that day? What happened? What was going on with the bar? Why was our service not as good as it could have been?"

When reading critical feedback, Brandon suggests taking a step back, letting the sting die down, and then responding with a level head.

"Take your entrepreneur hat off—off of what you've built and what you've loved—and let's think about this thing from a consumer standpoint and from a business operational standpoint. I actually have a rule that if I ever find myself [letting it become personal], I take a two-hour timeout," he said. "If I think I'm going to be too emotional about a review, I pump the brakes. I've got to make sure I don't use the emotions and the love and the care that I have for this place that I built and reply back negatively."

Brandon also keeps in mind that trying to please every person 100% of the time isn't the right call. "If you try to appease everybody, you'll fail. Just be good at what you do. Some people are gonna be upset about it, but you've got a business to run. And you've gotta make sure you take that seriously and then reply back to [reviews] in the most business savvy customer service way."

Since 2015, SoCo Taphouse has stood by these simple—but crucial—tools for success:

  • A knowledgeable staff makes for great customer service. Your team should know as much—if not more—than you do about the business and products.
  • Hire smart. Hiring the right people for your business can create the kind of atmosphere people remember and more importantly, return to again and again.
  • Use reviews as a way to improve your business. Reviews are a valuable way to take stock of your small business and learn how you can improve the customer experience.
  • It's okay to take a step back before replying to reviews. Before you reply to a review, take a moment to remember it's business, not personal, and most reviewers are genuinely trying to help you improve your business.

Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Josh and Brandon, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.

Available on: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, and Soundcloud

Emily Washcovick

Small Business Expert at Yelp

As Yelp’s Small Business Expert, Emily is meticulously focused on helping local business owners succeed and grow. Her expertise lies in customer engagement, reputation management, and all things digital marketing. Through speaking engagements and thought leadership, Emily shares industry insights that entrepreneurs in any business category can leverage for the growth and well-being of their businesses. She is also the host of Behind the Review, a podcast from Yelp and Entrepreneur Media, where each episode features conversations with a business owner and a reviewer about the story and lessons behind their interactions.

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