2012 was heralded by many as the “Year of Customer Service“. Now widely noted the #1 success criteria, many are hyper-focused on getting this area of their business up to par. But to what standard? The impact of social media on FAQs and complaints, the shortening of attention spans by the media, the homogenization of products, and expectation for immediacy via technology have us all expecting miracles in this arena. As a winery owner, how do you know what level of service your company must offer to be successful?
Where you need to be on the service scale can be assessed to a great extent by four primary indicators:
Wine Industry Benchmarks: Obviously every industry varies in terms of the importance placed by customers on service. One would expect a service request from a utility company providing water or heat to be more speedy than, say, a question about a bread maker. Wine may not be high on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs but don’t get complacent if you think you’re in a low-service industry. Customers are passionate about wine, and expect a lot from their tasting room visit. There are no excuses for crowds or off days, so make sure your guests don’t feel like a mouse in a maze during the tour or a lab rat playing 20 questions with the new hires. If you’re not watching Yelp obsessively and looking at your neighbors to the left and right of you, you’re not seeing the whole picture. Keep an eye on industry Wine Club benchmarks (conversion, retention and attrition rates). They are a great guideline to tell you how you’re doing with your customers.
The Winery Competition: The higher the competition, the better service you will likely be required to provide in order to keep your customers. Service adds value, and value is what customers use to compare you to your competition. Mystery shop your competitors. Gauge their service performance versus yours. And, while I’ve said this before, it bears repeating. Your competition in a tasting room is not the same as your competition on a retail shelf. While you might consider yourself the small-lot Sauvignon Blanc king at retail, the Cabernet/Zinfandel producer right across the lane from you is your competition when you’re looking at service in the tasting room.
Customer Expectations: Your marketing and advertising messages must be consistent at retail, on property and on the phone or web. Your distribution locations, your label and your pricing give customers an idea of what to expect when they visit or contact you. And the appearance of your signage, facilities, printed collateral, and maybe even the music you play and the way you answer the phone, set expectations in your customers’ minds about the level of service they will receive. When is the last time you listened to your hold music, or saw how long it took to return a phone call, or purchased a wine on your website? Your performance against these expectations determines success or failure. Remember that 40% of customer dissatisfaction is driven by unmet expectations1. Realize what expectation your brand is setting, and try to exceed it.
The Customer Feedback: If you have a good feedback system, then little guessing is required. You should survey your customers regularly, and watch key metrics for clues. This doesn’t have to be time-consuming – there is really only one question you care about. Your customers are telling you directly what service they require. This can even be in non-direct ways – like engaging you on social media. According to a 2011 poll featured on UK-based flight comparison site Skyscanner.com, 52% of Facebook users stated that seeing friends’ vacation pictures inspired them to book a trip to that particular place. So encourage interaction – it is an implied endorsement of happy feedback.
If you watch these four indicators in a monthly benchmark, you’ll be sure to have your pulse on your business and be on your way to a bright 2013.
1Raphaelle Lambert-Pandraud, Gilles Laurent, and Eric Lapersonne, “Repeat Purchasing of New Automobiles by Older Consumers: Empirical Evidence and Interpretations,” Journal of Marketing 69, no. 2 (2005): 97–106.