It’s safe to say that these past couple of years have been the strangest the world has seen for a long while – if you’ll pardon the understatement. I can remember how my family responded when I said I got the job at Hallgarten and Novum Wines. After a series of remote interviews and emails regarding the position, I finally got a call and – amazingly – they chose me! It was exciting, so I rushed over to tell them. My mum and dad gave me a hug, as did my sister, while my cousin said: “Wow, really? You?”
Yes, me. How supportive, eh? He’s a sweetie.
My excitement was so well balanced by a large yet healthy amount of nervousness; I was starting in a new town, new area, with new people, in an industry that I’d never been in before! But – another understatement incoming – it is an incredible opportunity. I get to experience the industry and company from all angles, from Marketing to Regional Sales; from National Accounts to Shipping, and all starting in Customer Services. This was to ensure that I gleaned as much information about our customers, and learned our portfolio as best I could both from customer, and the Account Managers that I’d need to interact with.
The 18 month HeadStart programme was launched late in 2019 to develop the future talent of the wine industry, providing a 360-degree perspective of the wine sector from vineyard to table. The programme encompasses placements across the Hallgarten business, ending with a month working the 2022 harvest with one of the company’s key European partners. It is designed to give the apprentice total visibility of the Hallgarten & Novum business, allowing them to generate a deep understanding of the financial, strategic and commercial aspects of the company.
My first week was mainly meeting the senior team and various departmental managers that I will be coming into contact with. Then, it was time to get stuck in the nitty-gritty of Customer Services (hereby referred to as CS) – very much the engine room of the company.
Contrary to what I first thought, it’s not just inputting email and phone orders from our customers. The team also organise deliveries, returns, credits, process orders from different ordering systems used by different customers, keeps an eye on stock, liaises with different departments – they expertly manage close to ten things, all at once. They also harmonise the relationships between account managers, couriers and customers.
I am nine months into the apprenticeship and I have worked a total of four months with the CS team, and I’ve decided that it’s not an understatement to say they are all Magicians. How they’re able keep up with everything is unbelievable and I almost felt bad getting in their way whenever I ask a question – however they were always happy to help. In some ways, I felt quite lucky as two other people started at the same time as me meaning we could bounce off each other. If one of us had an issue, the other two may have encountered it before and could sort it out. When we did need to ask a question to the others – which I have no shame in saying was often – they were so kind and patient with us. They sat down and explained the simplest way of sorting it or they’d just coax us in the right direction.
I think the hardest part for me was learning the sheer number of customers and the volume of codes for each and every wine. One of the quickest things I found out was that some customer descriptions don’t fully match up with the wine they are trying to order, so that was a lot of fun. But, in all of this, I am immensely appreciative of how generous and compassionate the team were with me. Even when it was so busy coming back out of lockdowns and Christmas, they still upheld their generosity like nothing I could ever praise or thank them enough for.
My time with the CS was unforgettable and an incredible grounding for the challenges that lay ahead for me at Hallgarten. Onto the next team – National and Regional Accounts!