Purging the Plonkers

Posted: August 1, 2009 in marketing, wine
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Do you remember the time you were served by a complete plonker, OR the time you were served by that amazing person who told you all the best local places to visit, and explained the wines in such a way you dropped next month’s mortgage instalment for a boot-load of the stuff?

Hmm? Probably both, for very different reasons, but I’ll bet you relayed the stories to all your friends…

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I want to talk about my personal bug-bear, my single biggest beef with the industry, and one of the easier elements to FIX – people.

You can have the shiniest, most stunning Cellar Door in the world, (not to mention brilliant wine), and still provide an utterly average experience to customers.

Staff will literally make or break the customer interaction. They will turn punters into customers, and they will turn customers into your brand ambassadors.

And now, in the days of social media, a ‘word of mouth’ bad experience will be spread around networks faster than the next Paris Hilton video. The flip side of this is of course, that good news also travels, so the choice is yours.

Customers want knowledgeable staff who are passionate about their region, the wines and the local culture. They want to feel special, not rushed or hustled by a sales spin. Your Cellar Door staff are your front-line troops, and pretty much determine your customers experience and opinion of your brand.

Yes, I know this isn’t rocket science, but what are you actually doing to ensure you and your staff have a genuine customer service focus?

* Do your staff really know your brand, and can they communicate it effectively and passionately? There is a massive difference between trotting out the sales spin, and genuinely communicating with customers. This means listening as much as talking.
* Are your staff doing everything to encourage repeat custom? Eg. Easy sign-up to wine clubs, Twitter or promoting up-and-coming events (not just yours, but neighbours’ too)
* How are your staff ensuring that the customer who walks out the door will be a repeat customer?

One of the easiest ways to maintain a relationship nowadays is via social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook – forums that actively funnel customers back into your website and online sales page. You can communicate with your customers instantly, so make sure you have these systems in place, and ensure your staff know how they work, so they can encourage customers to join. This works for mailing lists too, and an email address is gold.

Make sure your staff are trained and up-to-speed with local events, other things to see and do, and can cross-promote other wineries and experiences in the region. Yes, they are selling wine but visitors are at your Cellar Door to have an experience of the Region and all the region offers, so don’t forget that you are part of a bigger picture, and what benefits one will often benefit many. Look after the local foodies, B&B-ers and they will return the favour.

Some regions have regular gatherings of Cellar Door staff who share ideas, host educational tastings and learn about each other and how to work together. Wineries should see these networking opportunities as brilliant free training and support their staff to attend. The McLaren Vale Cellar Door Group run an Annual competition – the McLaren Vale Outstanding Cellar Door Person Award – a fantastic idea that rewards the staff who offer stand-out service on behalf of their winery and their region.

Heres a fun fact – Wine Tourism is not something you are automatically involved in simply because you build a Cellar Door. Likewise, you are not ‘into’ Food Tourism because you whack out a few wood oven pizzas on the weekend. Sorry.

Both concepts are often misunderstood, or simply underestimated by wineries and other operators.

However, they are extremely powerful opportunities to leverage other marketing activities by State and Federal bodies, and are worth investigating. A great place to start is the Winemakers Federation of Australia (WFA) who have bounteous squads of information on the ‘what, how and who’ of Wine Tourism (www.wfa.org.au)
The delectable Robin Shaw of WFA will be more than happy to have wineries knocking on her door looking for good, free ideas.

Your Cellar Door staff can lead the charge on visual displays, supporting merchandise and products. They can also drive the in-region and inter-region networks that open up new opportunities for events and promotions.

They are the ones who deal with the customers every day and probably have a pretty good idea of what they want, who they are and how they think and buy. THAT is powerful market research that should be heard and funnelled into your branding and marketing strategies.

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I’ve seen the best and worst of customer service over the years, across many regions, and although it may seem bleedingly obvious, poor service is still a bane of our industry.

Good staff give you an enormous opportunity to re-engage with a generation of customers who are looking for a genuine, welcoming interaction with someone who is passionate, interested and knowledgeable. They are a critically important a part of your branding, and should be invested in and supported wherever possible.

Summary
• Keep and reward your good people – they are the front-line and you can win or lose customers and sales because of them.
• It’s not just about the wine – Cellar Doors can be tourism experiences that open up opportunities to attract wine tourists and also leverage marketing opportunities through State Tourism bodies.

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