Top 10 Customer Service Count Down

This fall, I had the pleasure of presenting with Allan Wright, owner of Zephyr Adventures, at the first annual Wine Tourism Conference held in Napa, California.  Allan is well known in the industry for his wine and beer bloggers conferences; in fact, the wine bloggers will be coming to Portland in August!

We were asked by conference organizer, Elizabeth Martin-Calder -- a marketing veteran serving the wine, food, travel and art industries, to speak about the important connection between marketing and providing great customer service experiences.  Below is the top 10 list we created to underscore how a compelling customer service should permeate your entire organization:

#10 - Create a Philosophy of Customer Service that Stems from your Mission Statement
Define the "why" behind your company.  Decide what it is you are offering and how you're going to be the best at it.  Think about your target customer and the experiences they desire.  This is precisely where the marketing and hospitality teams should begin to engage -- well before the taster arrives at the winery.  Companies like Four Seasons, Apple, BMW and Target have a well defined customer experience, and it's not by chance!

#9 - Transform Ethos into Action
Translate your service philosophy into specific, measurable actions.  Think about how the hospitality team will tell the story, decide on specific and consistent talking points that all staff members can share, and don't forget to outline the greeting, during visit and closing actions.  For example, the Four Seasons personally greets each guest by name, provides a wait-free, quiet check in with a water bottle, and the staff is encouraged to ask about particular preferences early on and get feedback throughout the stay.

When was the last time you took your winery's tour?  What are the specific actions you take to follow up with visitors and re-engage them? 

#8 - Seek Feedback
In founder, Isadore Sharp's book, Four Seasons: The Story of a Business Philosophy, he details how he built the company from a regional Canadian construction firm to the world's preeminent luxury hotel brand.  What most struck me is the company's "Glitch Report", which is a discussion held at every hotel every morning.  During the meeting, the team outlines anything that went wrong the prior day, and discusses the specific steps taken to correct the mistake.  This encourages people to be open about mistakes, learn from them, and helps create a culture of continuous improvement.  It also prevents further mistakes and identifies customers who may need special touches to improve their stay.

Feedback should be a two-way street.  Internal feedback of team members can come through staff and individual meetings, discussions, surveys and 360 reviews.  External feedback can be gained from Yelp, customer and supplier surveys, card drops and verbal asks during visits.

#7 - Address & Learn From Mistakes
When a customers alerts you to a problem, own it.  Apologize, state what you will do to correct the issue in the future, and offer some sort of unexpected "thank you" to the customer for bringing it to your attention.  It is important to remember that addressing in-person complaints is not enough -- I encourage you to monitor social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Yelp, too.  In all of these mediums, you have the opportunity to respond and correct.  Performing excellent service recovery can create even more loyal customers!

#6 - Keep a Database
Do you have an email list?  Is it possible to sign up in your tasting room, on Facebook and on your website? Do you actually input those sign ups into the database?  Are you tracking your customers, their preferences and operating with a schedule of follow up communications?

#5 - Recognize Repeat Customers
Having a database will help you track them, but it won't do the follow up work with customers for you.  Send thank you notes, personal invites to events, offer special pricing and referral rewards, etc.  And don't just communicate via email -- a personal phone call is a powerful tool, and it's much more rare with all of the email marketing solutions.

#4 - Seek Outside Best Practices
There are some terrific examples of service within our industry.  While it's natural to stay in our own backyard, looking outside of wine and spirits can reveal additional best practices.  Train your staff to be "service spies" and create a game out of reporting on best or poor experiences from which everyone can learn.

Some favorite non-industry best practices that come to mind immediately are the way Starbucks encourages barristas to call customers by name and how Southwest mails you drink coupons on your birthday.

#3 -Answer the Phone

Return phone calls and emails promptly.  Fully engage the customer (i.e., don't be checking email) and smile while you are speaking.  Set up a Google alerts and Twilerts for your brand name and key wines to track press and social media conversations.  Pay attention to Yelp and Trip Advisor on a regular basis.

#2 - Engage Everyone
Each person involved in hospitality should have a sense of the "front of the house" jobs -- ideally, all team members would.  Remember how annoying it is when you enter a restaurant, are passed by several servers, and one finally says "a hostess will be with you soon"?  Customer service is not someone else's job -- we are all first in the hospitality business.

At every step of the hospitality experience, your customers are watching, and often reporting via social media.  The days of Don Draper's Mad Men telling people what to think are long gone (although I'm happy that the show is soon coming back!).  So embrace this customer involvement as an opportunity for authentic promotion.  After all, when your customers tell your friends to visit, they are much more likely to listen.

And finally, #1 - Audience Ideas...
We asked for audience participation to help us come up with the final customer service "do".  We received many great ideas, and the one I most remember was submitted by a woman who suggested that wineries take an extra step to promote their vendors before events, then ask for their post event feedback.  Associated parties like caterers, entertainers, etc. are also "watching" during your special events, and may see things that your customers don't report or you do not notice.  They will also appreciate the extra recognition.