Customer Service Checkup
By Dr. Kathy Kelley
We have touched on a few customer-service related issues and strategies in past blogs: responding to online comments and criticism (http://bit.ly/2wYNSZm), why customers would like to contact a customer service department using text rather than call the company (http://bit.ly/2wYPxhR), and the importance of “good customer service” (http://bit.ly/2wYQuqn), but today’s post focuses on providing good customer service, ways to learn about customer service issues, and strategies for appeasing dissatisfied customers.
Employer and employee expectations
How can employees provide exceptional customer service if they don’t know what is expected of them? Because you are hiring an adult – you would think that they know how to treat people properly and always be a good brand ambassador. While most employees will remember to smile and greet customers when they arrive and ask which bottles they would like to purchase after their tasting – you may need to remind/teach them how to interact with customers between the guest’s arrival/departure. Or, you may need to educate staff on how to focus on visitors when the tasting room is packed, customers are two to three people deep at the bar, and staff members are just trying to remember what to pour next and who liked which wine.
To make sure that all staff members handle situations the same, it is suggested that businesses create a customer service strategy. After you develop a strategy, print hard copies, require all employees to read and retain the document and have them sign a statement (that is kept on file) indicating that they understand what is expected of them (just like you would for your employee handbook).
According to an article posted on The Thriving Small Business website (http://bit.ly/2wXIqRW), a customer service strategy consists of:
- Developing a customer service vision that employees fully understand
- Asking customers (using surveys, comment cards, focus group sessions, or one-on-one conversations) if the level of customer service provided meets or (hopefully) exceeds expectations
- Setting customer service goals (e.g., within how many seconds a visitor should be welcomed after they enter the tasting room)
- Providing training and reviewing customer service skills during employee meetings or after an issue is brought to your attention
- Holding staff accountable and rewarding excellent customer service (e.g., ask customers to indicate who provided exceptional customer service during their visit)
Further explanations and examples for each of these are below.
Developing a customer service vision that employees fully understand
If you have ever taken your Apple devices to an Apple store for service, or you are just browsing the store, you may be quite impressed with how they learn about customer needs. According to a video produced by Carmine Gallo, President of Gallo Communication Group (http://bit.ly/2wYYNCD), Apple is most likely implementing the following five steps:
- Approaching customers and giving them a sincere welcome
- Asking questions to understand a customer’s needs
- Presenting a solution that the customer can take home that day
- Listening for and resolving issues or concerns
- Thanking them for visiting and inviting them back
Asking customers if the level of customer service provided meets or exceeds expectations
You can approach this activity in a few different ways:
- Hand a comment card to visitors and ask them to fill it out before they leave the tasting room
- Post questions on your website and on your Facebook business page
- Conduct an online survey using the free versions of com and SurveyGizmo.com (with limited functions) or purchase the full version on a monthly or annual basis
- Use Google Forms (within Google Docs) to create a document that looks like a survey, which can be embedded into an email and sent to tasting room visitors/case club members. Recipients can respond to the questions and click the “submit” button when finished. You will then have access to a spreadsheet where responses are organized by survey participant
If you learn about an issue where the custom was wronged:
- Tell the customer what we can do (realistically) and correct the problem
- Thank them for bringing the problem to your attention
- Follow-up to make sure that they are satisfied with the outcome
Setting customer service goals
A goal could be that you will provide each and every visitor with an enjoyable customer. In a Wall Street Journal article written by Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher (“Tips for Tasting Rooms,” http://on.wsj.com/2wY1ggr) the authors listed a few of their tasting room “pet peeves” and behaviors that tasting room staff should focus on:
- While tasting room staff do not need to be wine and viticulture experts they do need to be able to provide tasting room visitors with at least a “basic understanding of the wines”
- Have a list of questions that will help staff suggest wines for visitors to try based on preferences. You might also want to have a list of wines that appeal to beer drinkers based on the style of beer they like
- Be a “people person” and engage visitors in a conversation so that they don’t feel like just a sale
- Have a little “something special” that you can offer wine enthusiasts, but be discreet if others are tasting too. You don’t want to pour samples for one couple and leave the bottle on the countertop and not offer it to others
- Give all visitors your attention, even when there is a VIP at the tasting bar. Specifically, “If you are going to lavish wine and attention only on [VIPs]…take them to another room and flatter them instead of just pretending that we’re not there” (http://on.wsj.com/2wY1ggr)
- Indicate which wines are only available at the winery, which supermarkets/retail outlets sell your wine, and if your wine is available for sale online
This quote may strike a chord: “Many impressive wineries offer very poor service with staff that ‘pour and ignore.’ They don’t act interested in the customer, and they expect all the energy to come from the customer’s side of the counter…To “pour and ignore” is like being the last person in a relay race and deliberately dropping the baton. It is the worst possible public relations we could provide next to outright rudeness. (http://on.wsj.com/2wY1ggr)”
Providing training and reviewing customer service skills
It is suggested that training tasting room staff “has the potential to reduce turnover and build staff loyalty… [and that] a winery may be able to obtain a competitive edge at the cellar door and improve the bottom line of its retail sales by incorporating strategic cellar-door training and development programs” for both existing and new employees (http://bit.ly/2x0okGw).
Holding staff accountable and rewarding excellent customer service
When you are out shopping and see customers interact with employees, discreetly observe their conversation and ask yourself:
- Does the customer service representative look/sound like they are interested in helping the customer and that solving the customer’s problems is his/her number one priority?
- Based on the customer’s issue, would your response be similar or different from what the customer service rep is doing/saying?
- If you were the customer, would you be satisfied with the response/outcome?
Remember the saying “praise in public and criticize in private.” Employees will feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when they are recognized for providing great customer service. When you do provide praise:
- Included details about the situation (e.g., while assisting a customer with buying wine for a gift…)
- How the employee provided “excellent customer service”
- The outcome/what happened as a result of the employee assisting the customer (http://bit.ly/2x0MjFK)
Empower your employees by giving them the ability to make decisions (http://bit.ly/2ybYDI0). According to the article, “Think about employee empowerment, not as something a manager bestows on employees, but rather as a philosophy and a strategy to help people develop talents, skills, and decision-making competency.”
Where to look for customer service complaints online
Most likely you are aware of the following review sites and (hopefully) claimed your business page, where appropriate.
- Google local guides
- Yahoo! Local
If you have not searched these sites for customer comments, it is critical that you know what customers are saying about your winery/tasting room.
Another site to consider, though you will not necessarily see customer reviews and complaints, is Glassdoor.com. This is a website where employees complain/provide reviews about companies they (supposedly) work(ed) for. While you may not learn about customer issues you may get an idea of how employees feel about your business and how they perceive manager/owner leadership and expectations.
For example, an employee, who worked in the tasting room at “X” in Kenwood, California, wrote that working at the tasting room was a “seasonally fun place to work,” but he/she also indicated that management focused “solely [on] sales” and that “a little more focus on simply learning the wines and delivering better client experiences” was needed (glassdoor.com). Perhaps this employee never talked to the manager or owner because he/she didn’t feel comfortable doing so, maybe they have brought up issues in the past and felt the input was ignored, or maybe they just like to complain. Regardless, now the comments are on the website for all to see.
If responding to online comments and criticism seem intimidating, look online for examples of how businesses have responded to customer reviews and comments (both positive and negative). Follow companies like Zappos.com, Apple, Trader Joe’s, JetBlue, Starbucks, and others you feel provide good customer service to see examples as to how you can appease customers who feel that they have been wronged.
Until next time.
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