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Business lesson learned while wine tasting

The last thing I expected to be thinking about was business, while my partner Jack and I spent 4 days wine tasting in Napa, California.  But, by the last day, the difference in the “visitor experience” from each of the 4 wineries was dramatic.  And it made me think about what your customer experiences when they visit you.

More than 30 years ago, I had a top client visit our wholesale produce warehouse on a Saturday morning.  I wasn’t at the office that day, but the feedback I heard directly from him on Monday morning was shocking and was the impetus to me creating a consistent, sustainable, unique and “wow” experience for everyone who ever visited our company from that day forward.

What did he tell me? In a nutshell, he said, “I didn’t feel special.”  We had a long history with his company (H.E.B., the largest retailer in Texas who is known for their customer experience obsession).  And he basically told me: “I thought I was an important client.  Your team did not make me feel that way. If you treat me that way when I visit, then it makes me question your entire company.”

And that’s essentially what happened while we were wine tasting.  To be fully authentic, I am naming names, so I hope the folks at these top wineries listen up:

Jordan Winery in Alexander Valley:  The very junior tour guide (4 months on the job) was clearly on script.  She barely took a breath while she spoke, and if we dared ask her a question not on script, she told us “we could wait until she got to the next room, where that answer would be shared.”  Everything about the tour was on schedule, so no dawdling!  Whatever happened to EQ, or reading the room?  We felt like a number. Not a surprise, we didn’t buy any wine and frankly couldn’t wait to get out of there. Note: we are fans of their Cabernet Sauvignon, just not their tour/tasting experience. 

Kunde in Alexander Valley: Our tour guide was on a schedule – he walked backward while we followed him, as if he was told not to take his eyes off the six of us.  We entered the caves (which are enormous), and basically walked in silence until we were brought to a large table in an alcove, pre-set with wine glasses and cheese plates.  There we were told to sit in our assigned seats so our guide could tell us his funny stories about previous wine visitors.  Unfortunately, the stories were not funny and at one point, he told us “feel free to talk to each other”.  Not only were the caves chilly, but so was the tone of our tour.  No warmth, no personality, no connection with us (the paying visitors).

Silver Oak in Alexander Valley: Silver Oak has an amazing reputation, and their wine is impeccable.  We started our tour, when we entered the tasting room and the hostess immediately started arguing with my partner Jack about the previous location of the wine tasting room.  Jack had been to it several times, yet the hostess did not adhere to the maxim that “the customer is always right.”  I sighed a big relief when I found out we had a different tour guide, Allan. Allan was a retired M & A banker who loves wine.  He was low key, jovial, and responsive to our diverse group of 8 people. Loaded with fun and unique “ah-has”, it turns out Allan and I had a few businesspeople in common so our conversation (and the wine) flowed.  The time flew by, and we did not feel rushed as we walked through the vineyards and storage rooms.  Our tour experience was almost ruined by our first impression, but a second person came in to save the day.  His warmth and humor, along with relatability, made the long drive worthwhile.

Del Dotto Winery & Caves in Napa: We have been to the caves several times, and each time, we are thrilled to see the owner, David Del Dotto roaming the grounds.  It’s his home away from home, and he treats it that way. From the moment we walked into the lobby of the winery, we felt welcomed.  Our tour guide, Dustin’s business card said he is the National Brand Ambassador and we quickly learned why.  He was friendly, flexible, generous and we never felt like we were a bother.  After the cave tour (where we barrel sampled almost a dozen wines, using a wine thief to extract the wines), we were taken to their spacious, Tuscan style patio and served freshly made pizza, cheeses, tater tots (yum!) and more wine.  We noticed the owner, David, was at the next table, and he came over and introduced us to his visitors from Florence, Italy.  They were the designer and his team who designed the entire winery, complete with Italian marble, paintings, etc.  It felt like we were in someone’s home. Multiple people paid attention to us during our visit (at least 8). Our tour guide, Dustin, was not pushy, but I could tell why he is the top salesperson at the winery. He made us feel special, pampered us during our visit and gave us his cell number, and he told us to let him know when we are back in the area or need anything. We WANTED to buy wine from him and, boy did we!

So, what is your customer experience like?  Here are a few highlights of what I used to do and encourage you to consider:

  1. We bought a marquee for our lobby and always put the visitor’s name and company there. We added “Welcome to Frieda’s!”. Thanks to technology, we were able to program it from a laptop and could use fun colors, fonts and customize. You would not believe how many visitors took a photo of themselves in front of our marquee showing their names!
  2. Before any visitors arrived, we sent an all-company email to let everyone know the date and time and who was coming.  We shared names, titles, the company, how they ranked as a client or grower and what our schedule would be during their visit.  Warehouse tour, visit to test kitchen, meeting in the conference room, who from our team would be involved in the tour, and always ended the email with “Feel free to say hi to our clients by name when you see them walking by.”
  3. We always have samples of our produce for visitors.  It gives people a reason to linger and chat when they are eating.  Sometimes we made recipes, other times we just created a platter of cut fruit and veggies. If you don’t sell food, remember, people always like to snack.  It is a universal sign of hospitality and will create a sense of gratitude from your visitor.  The last thing you want is a hangry visitor.  Be sure to always offer coffee, tea, water and beverages.
  4. We had an agreed upon timeline and tour guide for our visitors and let them know, in case they had a time constraint.  For example:  “We’re so happy you’re here.  How about we walk through the warehouse, then to the offices where I can introduce you to everyone and then we can chat in our conference room?”
  5. The key team members who would lead the visit, had a pre-meeting together to make sure what the intended outcome of the meeting would be.  Any deals to be closed, any pending prior issues that may come up, and everyone got a chance to share their input.
  6. We always had SWAG bags for visitors.  If there were multiple people on the tour, everyone got their own bag (even spouses and kids), often with their name on it.  When people arrived, we would figure out their shirt size, so the correct shirt size magically was in their bag.  We had SWAG for both women and men, and always did a “bag haul reveal” when we handed them the bag, so we could describe each piece of SWAG.  It created a lot of anticipation and fun conversations with our visitors.
  7. Within a day or two, we write a handwritten note (on our company greeting cards) to our visitors thanking them for visiting.

As Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  I encourage you to make your visitors feel special and they will become ambassadors for you and your organization.

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