Looks Like Santa is Not So Jolly

Since my last blog post, I heard back from Santa via voicemail.  His tone told me he was not too pleased with my inquiry about pricing.  He stated that the invoice I'd received was correct -- that I'd actually been given a better deal, and he wasn't sure how that had happened.   That I could call back.

Wow.  So a customer calls to inquire about pricing, stating that the prices charged didn't align with those on the website and the promised 20% discount.  She immediately gets an email saying that the difference would be credited. Then a day goes by and there's a voicemail stating that she was in the wrong.  (No thank you for the order, nor inquiry about how the wines were tasting.) The last time I felt like this about Santa was circa 1979 when I had a healthy skepticism about not-so-jolly red men in suits with fake beards.

I really don't understand how I got a better deal than the promised 20% case offer when the $20.00 Chardonnay is marked down to $18.00 on the winery's website and I was charged $19.20 per bottle.  Even using the original higher $20 rate, this is a 4% discount -- not 20%.  (I won't bother going into details of how the other 20% discounts don't add up.)

When I receive an email offer marketing wine, a winery should know that a normal next step in the customer buying process is to check prices online.  The prices listed online are in effect the promise made to the customer.

If I was incorrect, why not politely explain my error and take the opportunity to ask about the wines I've just purchased?  This would change the tone of the brand conversation -- it is quite possible I'd want to buy more or sign up for a wine club.  This is actually an opportunity to create loyalty here by developing the relationship.  Versus assume the customer calling with a question wants to pick a fight.  (More on this in a moment.)

From a customer service lens, the reason behind a service error doesn't matter. A business might choose to briefly explain why the error occurred and what has been done to ensure it won't happen again.  The main focus should be on correcting the problem -- this is both the right thing to do given the brand promise, and provides a good return on investment when done well.  The service recovery paradox shows that when a customer's negative experience is solved successfully, her loyalty increases.

 In Harvard Business Review's  "The Profitable Art of Service Recovery", the trio of authors demonstrate how a Club Med manager turned a group's horrendous travel experience into "the most fun they'd had since college."  He went much, much farther than would be expected, especially since the airline delays were not under the resort's control.  The vacation that should have been ruined before it started became a story of delight that has no doubt been told many, many times over.

It is worth noting that the only difference between these two posts by me and another high frequency wine consumer is that my counterpart would have mentioned the winery's name.  This creates what is known as the ripple effect, where dissatisfied customer shares her negative service experiences much more frequently than the instances where she is satisfied.  Behavioral studies have shown a similar phenomenon called loss aversion theory (or prospect theory). When applied to finance and market performance, investors hate their losses 2.5 times more than they celebrate their gains.

Did I return Santa's call?  No, because it's not worth it to me to argue over the money. Especially when I'm dealing with an interaction that should be delightful.  It is worth it to me to take my wine business elsewhere -- after all, we're all in the hospitality business first; the epicurean industry second.


Here Comes Santa Claus... and He Has Vino!

On December 5, I received one of the most creative wine marketing emails I've seen in a long time.  A Washington winery offered to make my "holidays brighter this year": For a one-case-plus purchase, Santa -- one of the company's co-owners, would personally deliver wine to me in his " Sleigh."  I'd get a 20% case discount for the order.

I immediately jumped on the phone to call the winery and compliment the offer.  Compliments are of course nice, but *sales* are what we're all striving to create through wine marketing, so I asked them to create a special case for me for our annual Huey holiday party.  After all, marketers need to understand customer expectations and desires, so this was important research for me.

Since Trellis Growth Partners offers email marketing as part of our small business communications suite, we are always researching new ideas.  Some tactics that have worked well this year for clients include promotional magnums, winery credits, special gift offers, support of charitable causes and a particularly memorable sealed envelope mailing where the recipient had to present the card at the winery to open a surprise gift. (Details are purposefully not disclosed.) Each of these had a creative theme and required excellent execution from the wineries.

With email marketing, there are some best practices -- consistent and compelling communication, which is aided by having an advance plan of action including themes; using call to action in the subject line; sending the emails from a real person and at a preferred time of day for your customers; etc., etc.  A critical aspect of effective email marketing is delivering on your promise.  Going beyond simple delivery to delighting customers is what we should all strive to do, as it helps turn them from transactional buyers into loyal ambassadors.

The arrival of today's Wall Street Journal brought a related article -- "Made You Click: Dark Art of Store Emails", which describes how retailers use email marketing as a powerful sales tool.  According to the piece, "email is retailers' most important tool for cranking holiday sales" since the online shopping is "the No. 2 holiday shopping destination". The article solidifies the plans we have for our clients in 2013 -- to re-test optimal send times, subject lines, and introduce customer segmenting when possible. It also highlights the importance of using compelling imagery and layout to enhance offer appeal.

Something not mentioned in the article is aligning online marketing communication.  We're big proponents of promoting one's press, so posting your email to your Facebook site and creating a website call to action.  Our small business communications suite does just that plus includes a quarterly media pitch to present our clients' products to key gatekeepers.

The Journal also brought me a sign this morning: Santa showed up a few hours later with the case I'd ordered exactly two weeks ago.  He had been out all day delivering a lot of wine -- the promotion brought a terrific return on his investment of time and creativity.

I must admit I was surprised and relieved, because I hadn't heard anything regarding a delivery date and we're only in the office about half the time due to client engagements.  (The offer would have been much less interesting if I'd come back to an unsecured box of wine sitting in the (too) cold weather on my doorstep.) Just last night as I was driving back from a client meeting through winter weather, I was thinking the offer would be a huge let down if Santa had not gotten my wish list or had experienced a sleigh malfunction. 

In summary, I give the promotion an A+/ 10 out of 10 on creativity. I called as soon as I read the email offer. Boom - it worked!  Customer communication, delivery cheer/ presentation need some improvement. A 5/10 feels a little generous right now. 

Santa did come, but he made me wonder if it was all just a fairy tale since I didn't get a delivery confirmation.  The promised discount was inconsistently applied on the difficult to read invoice given website pricing.  (A call to the winery was promptly returned via email with the promise of a credit using the web pricing.)  And there was no real holiday cheer attached; just a case box with an invoice taped to the top.

To really put a smile on my face, a cheerful "ho ho ho", a little note or even a big red bow would have worked wonders.  It's amazing how much people appreciate the care taken on how a product is presented and what is placed inside the box -- even us jaded wine marketers.  (Think Tiffany & Co. -- a master of presentation and creation/delivery of heightened expectations with its ubiquitous little blue box.)

As a first time customer, after spending nearly $400 on a case of wine, I was hoping for a little more love -- at some wineries, this purchase would immediately propel me into the "case buyers" club with a special invitation for more.

I am looking forward to opening the wines and sharing the selection with friends.  Long after the bottles are empty, I'll remember the offer that caused me to drop what I was doing and order a lot of wine.  (This is especially significant for someone who spends over 10 hours per day promoting her clients' wines and typically receives a sizable trade discount.)  Just not so sure if I'll feel like it was a smart decision given the impulse buy, full experience and extraordinary amount of competition for my dollars out there.

The risky part about raising the bar through an especially creative promotion is that the customer's expectations are equally, or perhaps exponentially raised -- especially when you smartly tap into a cheery emotion that brings us back to one of the joys of childhood. Let's hope those wines are drool-worthy :)

Happy holidays to all, and to all a strong OND selling season!