I have a role that puts me in contact with winery owners, analysts, entrepreneurs and occasionally even people with checkmarks next to their Twitter accounts. They run the gamut. I get a couple hundred emails a day - most of them junk but more than enough to have me working 12 hour days to keep up. People are always asking my opinion, and on occasion, they want to give me their opinion.
This week I received an email from a casual acquaintance who is a wine consumer but likes to read the SVB State of the Industry Report and check in every year with me. This year his email was disturbing. Here is what he said almost verbatim. I've changed the region to 'wine country' to make it more general and added emphasis:
(Deleted small talk about the SVB annual report)
A funny thing happened during my most recent visit to wine country. This was the fourth year of an annual father/daughter wine trip. Our daughter's the type of person the industry should be watching for; 39, a successful professional, and an early collector.
We had a good time, but on our flight back to Chicago she shocked me by saying 'Dad, let's stop these trips. We were treated better in every restaurant and retailer than we were in any of the wineries. And many of them obviously didn't give a (expletive deleted) we were even there, let alone that we were Club members. Let's do the Grand Canyon next winter.'
Yep -- we're doing the Grand Canyon in winter rather than going back to wine country!
I fully realize as a consumer/collector I'm not on anyone's radar and certainly no 'whale' in any way, but we focused on reserve wines, bought at every winery and did drop over $10,000 in total. My daughter noted 'that's probably negligible in this great economy'. As an aging Boomer, well out of the 1%, I hadn't considered that.
As I thought about it, I had to agree with our daughter's analysis. We had 15 visits; every one with an appointment set many weeks in advance. Four had no record of our reservations while others had it for the wrong time or type of tasting. Only two had bothered to look at what we had bought from them in the past. Only once were we met by the person we were told would be meeting us. Several set us down with a glass and a bottle and walked off -- only to reappear while bruskly asking 'you want to taste something else now?'
She said she only felt truly welcome at three places. She was also, in her own words 'royally pissed off' when we were presented with our invoices at several locations only to see hundreds of dollars listed as our 'suggested tip' based on our case purchases. I told her it might be a new approach to generating fee income. She said it made her feel even more inadequate as a customer and certainly less comfortable recommending wine country as a place for colleagues and friends to visit. She also noted, which I had missed, not a single winery thanked us for being a club member or allocation customer.
I seriously believe something is broken when the Inn bellhops and housekeepers are nicer to you than are the winery staffers. When presenting pitches to buy wines above $50 per bottle and sometimes well above that, the quality of your sales staff is actually important whether ownership supports its need in their business model or not. I worked my early career with Control Data. I know the mighty might not think it, but they can fall.
In this case, we have run over the opportunity to bring in a new young consumer; something that's desperately needed today.
I keep hearing how DtC revenue is increasing, how much better and evolved we are in the tasting room, that we are getting professional training and delivering a great experience for our guests. Now I'm questioning what I know.
Are wineries preparing for by-appointment customers? Do wineries know the names of those coming and how much they have purchased prior, how long they have been club members, or even if they are already in the club? (That's also a question about your winery's electronic systems and the ease and ability to review your consumer data.)
I personally think tips are a good thing to allow in tasting rooms, but it has to be managed. Instead of managing the issue, many wineries just prohibit tipping which doesn't work either. Some guests really do want to tip someone for a great experience and we should give guests what they want. But we don't want staff grubbing for tips during a luxury experience either. That's just not a best practice in hospitality. So it's even worse to me that a management team would allow a suggested tip line on a visa bill. That's encouraging the wrong culture.
It's one thing to hear about someone who had a bad experience at a winery. It happens. But this is an experienced consumer who is trying to pass on his love of wine to his daughter and didn't visit just one winery. They had a bad experience with 12 of the 15 wineries and now would rather go look at rocks next year rather than visit your tasting room. That's not an aberration. That is a trend. And while you can blame this all on a self-entitled consumer if you want, I wouldn't presume that. This is meaningful industry feedback and something worth pondering.
If you work in a hospitality area:
- Pretend this letter is addressed to you. Ask yourself if there is anything in this that might resonate.
- Share this with others you work with and talk about it on your team.
- Before you get this letter directly, make sure pieces of it don't apply to you.
If you own a winery or manage a tasting room:
- Ask yourself if you have a CRM system that empowers your staff to greet and recognize good customers and club members for their loyalty.
- Make sure that it's routine for staff to have time to prepare for a by-appointment guest, and give your staff the tools to succeed.
- Audit your customer reservation system routinely. Have a friend make a reservation 6 weeks out and make sure the tasting room staff can pull up the reservation correctly. I hate it when a restaurant I planned on taking someone to loses my reservation. At a minimum, I feel unimportant. That's not a good experience.
- It's a best practice to engage with a soon to arrive guest and personalize the up-coming visit by putting a face to your winery and assigning an employee as a touchpoint. Try not to change the staff member that's pre-positioned to host a customer. It's not always possible, but human contact and interaction are so important to the success of a visit, especially from someone out of town who is spending their hard-earned vacation and has high expectations for their experience.
- Double-check that the staff has adequate training. Send in professional shoppers to test your beliefs and routinely discuss positive and negative results with the team. And in the process, don't create an environment where negative feedback results in a penalty. Failure has to be a learning experience or poor performance will be hidden from managers.
- Make sure you are managing your tipping policies and remove suggested tipping lines from your visa bills.
What's Your Opinion?
- Is there some piece of this email that resonates, or do you think this only happens in some other region and not in your winery?
- Is there a best practice you can offer below in the comments that might help others in the industry?
Please join this site on the top right-hand side of the page, and offer your thoughts below. I respond to everyone - though I may be a little slow this time as I am the keynote speaker at the Oregon Wine Symposium Tuesday and getting on a plane Monday.
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