A team from China bested 21 others in the recent world blind wine tasting championships organized by the French magazine, La Revue du Vin. Humbly, the Chinese team commented that their win was due to 50% knowledge and 50% luck. The Guardian's Daniel Glaser dove in a little deeper into this comment in his article this week, taking the opportunity to explain the primary factors that influence perception and taste. These factors apply to the average wine taster (not just the experts) and are useful to winery owners and operators looking to maximize their direct-to-consumer sales efforts.
In addition to influences such as smell, temperature, your mood and visual cues, our expectations play a substantial role in our perception of wine: "If you think a wine will be good or bad, or red or white, the brain primes itself to taste it in that way, regardless of what the tongue's sensors tell it."
As a winery owner or operator offering tasting and hospitality, you have significant influence over a lot of these factors. Here are some key questions to ask yourself and your team as you envision your winery's guest experience:
1. Is our space comfortable, inviting and warm?
2. Are customers greeted upon arrival in a similar fashion?
3. What is the "personality" of our tasting room -- is it pin-drop quiet and serious? Lively and festive? Somewhere in between? And how does this actual experience align with what we would like to offer?
4. How do external factors like music, art work, information displayed, etc. add to or distract from the experience?
5. What information and in what manner are we communicating with customers? Are we matching the information we share to the guest's desired experience? Are we even asking what type of experience the guest is looking to enjoy before diving into the tasting?
6. How are we sharing our story? Is it memorable and unique, or is it simply something that could be said at the winery next door?
7. Are we getting feedback from guests during the experience? For example, if the taster doesn't like whites, did we find this out and skip that portion of the tasting?
8. Are we using the information we gathered and the relationship we're building to ask for an appropriate sale or wine club join?
Some of my worst tasting experiences have happened when I'm greeted by someone who is clearly not interested in doing his job, or someone who wants to show me how much she knows about wine. To pick on the highest quality region in my Pacific Northwest "backyard" -- the AVA where I taste the most frequently -- I've lost count of the number of Willamette Valley wineries who allow (or worse yet, instruct) their staff to launch into diatribes about soil, floods, clones and other geeky subjects. The moment I hear about the Missoula floods, I start wanting to head for the higher hills because I know I'm in for another re-run of a movie I don't want to see. My mind wanders off the tasting course and into a betting game of whether clonal break-downs will dominate the "conversation." If my husband or non-industry friends are with me, particularly those who've tasted in other regions, I know I'm in for a post-tasting eye roll at best.
It's typical to be bombarded by this type of information without so much of a mention as to why the winery was founded or who makes the wine. I'm almost never asked what brought me to the winery, about my level of wine interest or if I've been to the property before. Nor am I asked about the styles of wine that interest me, such as a more acidic white or earthy red. This one size fits all (or none) approach misses a huge hospitality and sales opportunity.
A winery has an enormous potential to set the tone and expectations for the tasting by working through the eight questions I pose above, and creating a vision for hospitality and service. This influence over expectations can go a long way in creating enhanced experience, excitement for return visits, loyalty and increased revenue in the form of moving more boxes.
"So if you want to hire outside resources to help you solve a business problem... get them in the boat with you so that you’re all accountable for creating value."
Today Janel forwarded me a Forbes.com piece, "Why Consultants Should be Accountable for Results, Not Recommendations." It reminded me of many of the lessons I've learned over the years -- most importantly, that clients hire us and most importantly, re-hire us for results.
As outside service providers, we are often in a position of giving marketing and public relations advice, but ultimately, our recommendations don't alone create tangible benefits. The results side of the equation comes from our process and our ability to form close client relationships and a wide media network. This includes the plans we develop, the ideas and pitches we create and at the end of the day, our ability to connect with media to provide angles of interest.
Our results-based process starts with the end result in mind before we're even hired. We ask potential clients about the results they'd like to see, and assess whether or not we can serve them based on their vision, quality, and reach (i.e., distribution). And we try to make absolutely sure that the client is committed and ready to be communicative because ultimately, we can not serve a client who is not "in the boat" with us.
If we proceed with a proposal and are hired, we focus on blending creative pitching with results -- measured by performance to plan goals in the form of monthly report metrics including pitches, samples sent and articles generated. PR can be a gray area and there is more to our value-add than numbers, but at the end of the day, the ultimate measure is... Did sales increase?
For success is sales are you swimming or sinking? Take a look at what works & what doesn't
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.
Yesterday I had the honor and pleasure of presenting "Building a Winning Marketing and Sales Plan" to an enthusiastic audience at SOWine 2. I was impressed by the enthusiasm, energy and attendance at this second annual event held in Central Point targeting Southern Oregon producers. In fact, my mind is still racing with thoughts about the knowledge gained from thoughtful audience questions and my colleagues' presentations.
A terrific industry event starts with a strong vision and commitment to planning, organization and service. It follows through with strong presenters and like a good marketing plan, collects feedback and seeks continuous improvement. If its truly impressive, an event like this leaves attendees and presenters alike feeling energized, connected, educated and ready to take action.
Marilyn Hawkins of Hawkins & Company PR, a b2b PR firm based in Ashland, is the visionary behind SOWine and she gets it! Marilyn created this event to gather and educate Southern Oregon wine producers (she also owns a small winery there) and her abilities as an event organizer are downright impressive. This year, to enhance her inaugural program, she partnered with the fast-growingSouthern Oregon Wine Institute of Umpqua Community College, directed by the equally energetic Chris Lake.
Below are some of the highlights of my notes:
1. Good design is consistent, transferable, and projects extrinsic cues about the brand promise (the marketing value proposition) - Richard Roberts, Palazzo Creative
2. Don't just "build and blast". Best practice email marketing starts with a goal, list segmentation, and compelling contest. It includes testing and analysis, focuses on deliverability, and is compliant with CAN-SPAM laws. Terry Miller, CRM Group
3. Consider rotating your email signature to include great press quotes about your winery - Sheila Nicholas, Nicholas Communications
4. Your social media campaign needs to consider that over 80% of millenials sleep with their smart phones (myself included, although depending on what definition you use, I'm more likely a Gen Xer) - Jeffrey Kingman, Chalkboarder
5. Before you can build a successful marketing plan, you need to know who you are, to whom you're selling, what differentiates you, when and where you will sell and why anyone should care - moi,Trellis Wine Consulting
Unfortunately, I was unable to stay until the very end of the day, so I missed the late afternoon presentations. Given my experience at the beginning of the day, I'm confident that they were equally as interesting. This was a couple of days out of the office well worth taking.
Check out my latest article, Driving Direct Sales with Effective E-Marketing, in the October issue of Grapevine Magazine.
Members of the Willamette Valley Wineries Association are invited to attend my interactive, action-oriented two-hour seminar to help stimulate demand for your wines.
Creating an email marketing campaign for your winery is easier and more cost effective than ever before. Popular sites such as Constant Contact, IContact, and Interspire offer customizable templates, list management and reporting metrics. Best of all, they provide the ability to drive traffic to your site and increase sales -- all at very competitive prices.
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