Real business story

One company’s experience of making virtual meeting technology really work

Struggling with virtual meetings and the challenges they present when it comes to collaboration and maintaining staff morale? Hear how one company has managed these issues and pivoted to make the most of working online.
Ramekins & Wine

Ramekins & Wine had to adapt, but has found itself all the better for it

When online working, working from home and virtual meetings suddenly became the norm, Ramekins & Wine were dealt a double whammy. The company runs events at which it matches food and wine for its customers. Working closely with the wine industry, it also caters for private events with signature dishes – canapes and small ramekins of food carefully paired with wines.

Not only did founder Jamie Patterson have to think about internal meetings and communications with colleagues and freelancers but he also had to consider how to manage interactions with customers when meeting face-to-face became impossible. The collaboration needed to create menus and wine pairings, and briefing freelance and temporary staff was particularly tricky.

Back to the beginning

Jamie started the business in 2016. “We’ve always loved the way food and wine can go together, especially when done well, but it’s often a bit of a secondary thought for restaurants, and so we decided to flip the narrative, make wine the hero and create the food to pair perfectly,” he said. As the catering side of the business was hit by coronavirus, Jamie and his team decided to offer monthly boxes delivered to a customer’s home, containing all of the essentials for a wine and food pairing session.

As the company moved from addressing rooms full of people to leveraging digital tools, it switched to Zoom tasting sessions. Redesigning the original product for a virtual world and deciding exactly how it would work online involved some detailed research and planning.

“It took a while for us to nail our product offering, but we ended up sending out wine and food to our customers and hosting a two-hour event online,” added Jamie. “It was exceedingly busy for a few months, which was great, and it allowed us to re-evaluate what we do going forward. We knew people were looking for online experiences, that other businesses were hosting online tastings, and that we had a superior offering.” The team adapted the product for a virtual audience and began advertising it – and it didn't take long for it to take off.”

In fact, interest in this virtual offering has been so strong that Ramekins & Wine continued it even as lockdown ended, with the aim of launching a subscription service. Managing the balance between virtual and online and working out how to retain customers involves regular interactions with them.

More time, less cost

The company’s virtual meetings have brought with them considerable advantages when it comes to communication and collaboration. “We often used to go out to meet clients,” said Jamie. “This required a lot more time for travel, more expense, often longer meetings, and more planning. With the virtual world things are quicker, more flexible and it’s easier to have a 15-minute session as there is less of a cost to us of doing so.”

Finding ways to ensure that the company’s virtual meetings were every bit as good as the face-to-face variety was important. Internally this meant paying attention to the little things such as social niceties and the usual pleasantries of interactions in person. For external, client-facing meetings the product was front and centre, even though it had to be slightly adapted in some cases to be sent and unwrapped by the client.

“We focussed a lot on the quality of our offering, so it didn’t feel like a temporary product – we gave all our customers glass bottles, glass food pots, high quality notes and packaging, and we created our food so that it would work well being delivered, often by courier,” revealed Jamie. “Our online offering was completely different to what we would normally do, but it received the same level of praise.”

Well set for future

As well as constantly checking in with staff, both permanent and temporary, on the internal virtual communications, Jamie has been carefully monitoring customers’ feedback on their virtual experiences, something that has helped to evolve the offering.

“We found customers were a lot more price sensitive online, that the themes of our tastings had a large impact on sales and that we had to advertise well,” he explained. “We knew our product was good, so the trick was optimising our marketing and pricing.”

Avoiding the temptation to simply switch everything from the usual face-to-face world to online and, instead, rethinking product offerings, practicalities and ways of working has benefitted Ramekins & Wine. The company has used the move from real world to virtual to redesign its product offering as well as rethinking the way in which the business interacted with permanent as well as temporary staff as they carry out their collaborations.

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Top takeaways

Digital tools allow you to reach more people, but don't be tempted to cheapen your product by relying solely on this kind of interaction.

As the world is discovering by cutting down on international and domestic travel, tools like video conferencing allow you to reach more potential customers.

Businesses of all shapes and sizes have found that forced ways of working are actually better ones to build upon.