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Susan DeMatei
March 18, 2014 | Customer Support | Susan DeMatei


My wonderful husband, who has worked for 17 years at AAA, was sent to a conference last week in San Diego. 

He returned with a bag full of pens and magnets, and some stories about boring demonstrations, speakers who didn’t have full grasp of the English language or their PowerPoint slides, and the typical lunch table gossip.  (It is my opinion that conferences thrust us all into high-school mentality once again.  Do you sit with the cool kids at lunch, or are you the AV geek who jumps up to help with the projector?)  But, there was one speaker he did go on at length about — the keynote, who spoke about customer service.

This was customer service in the imaging technology industry – mind you.  B2B to be sure, and a reseller/OEM structure almost as complicated as the wine distribution system.  But, as I listened to him recount the talk, I pulled out three nuggets that are very apropos for us with our customers.

Ask Why?

Ask Why

One examples given was of a florist who got a customer call requesting flowers be delivered immediately.  Instead of just taking down the details and completing the order, the counter clerk took a moment to ask “Sir, you seem upset, can I ask you what happened that this is so urgent?”  The man confided that he had completely forgot his wife’s birthday the day before which reactivated a long-standing argument about him working too many hours and being selfish and resulted in him being sent to the couch the previous evening.

But that evening when the man came home his wife was all smiles.  The roses had appeared that afternoon with a note from the florist apologizing for the mistake on the delay – that due to a clerical error from the florist they were scheduled to be delivered yesterday. While no one wants to condone lying to your family, this is a telling tale highlighting how finding out the motivations of our customers might help us serve them better.  That man is now a loyal customer of that florist for life.

When someone cancels your Wine Club, do you ask them why?  Perhaps there is another Club Tier they can be migrated into, or be put on hold instead of canceled.  If someone gives your wine as a gift, can you take a moment to hand write the note instead of printing it on a packing slip?  Can you sign the bottle?  If given the freedom and encouragement, I would wager your staff can come up with a dozen ways to surprise and delight your customers with only extra seconds and pennies a day.  Encourage them to go off autopilot and seek out the motivations of your customers.


Over Communicate

Over Communicate

The funniest story my husband recounted from this keynote was actually a stab at IBM (a competitor in this context.)  The speaker said he was talking to a IBM rep one time and they were discussing wives (and how much we like to talk about feelings) and he said “I told my wife I Love You once.  That should be sufficient. If it changes, I’ll let her know.”

Think if that’s how you treat your customers.  Do you tell them about their wine club benefits only when they sign up, or mention the tasting room hours only on your website, or have a single email about all the events for the next six months?  One of the most common misconceptions I hear from wineries is “we don’t want to bother our customers with too many emails”.  I’d argue you’re relationship is worth something to them, and it’s actually sort of arrogant to think you’re so important they can hear from you once a quarter and retain it.  If you are fair and just in your database capture (meaning people actually signed up for your mailing list) then trust that your customers actually do want to hear from you.  And, also expect that they have a 2 second memory (like the rest of us) and aren’t printing out your event schedule to post it on their refrigerator….they need to be reminded.

Clear, consistent and helpful content is one of the best things you can do to provide service for your customers.  About every 4-6 weeks is reasonable to send out news about your awards, new releases, events and sales.  And, repeat yourself.  If you have a deadline–like an RSVP cutoff or allocation ending–2 or 3 reminders aren’t out of line.  I know it is hard to believe, but your wine isn’t always at the top of everyone’s mind like it is ours.  (Weird, I know.)

Provide (and Monitor) as Many Options as You Can Reasonably Manage

Provide (and Monitor) as Many Options as You Can Reasonably Manage

One example I like to point out when I’m speaking is comparing my Mom and my in-laws and my friends.  My mom is a print person who is constantly cutting out articles and mailing them to me (I live across town).  When she does get something electronically she prints it out.  My friends who have kids, especially teenagers, are texters.  If you send them an email, they won’t respond for days.  But, a text will get a response in under 3 minutes.  My large wonderful Sicilian family I married into are all on Facebook.  Birthdays, hospital trips, graduations, skinned knees, promotions at work, new shoes are all covered and discussed on walls an in chats with 50 cousins.

You automatically figure out what channels are best to communicate with your friends and family – why not do this with your customers?  I had a debate with a winery a couple years ago about offering online tasting reservations.  They didn’t want to add this functionality to their website because they thought it was impersonal, and didn’t provide the high-end, high-touch service they prided themselves on providing.  That’s great to have standards and want to promote luxury, but some of us do our best personal surfing at 10pm with a remote in one hand and a glass of wine in another.  We don’t want to have to get on the phone between 9-5 and talk to someone.

Giving people the choice on how to communicate to you – and responding in kind – is the new luxury.  But the catch is, be able to manage all the channels, and be able to respond in kind.  So unless you have somebody to answer that info@ email box, don’t set it up.  And,  if someone signs up online, give them a confirmation online.  There are many tools out there to help and this is very doable even for the most modest of winery.

What this conversation with my husband made me realize is while “customer service” is a buzz word now, it is a universal need among all types of companies, and really comes down to listening to your customer!


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