We need world-class customer service for wine

VINE NOTES JEFF STEVENSON, VINE NOTES BY JEFF STEVENSON

Our company has been blessed over the past several years. While I’ve been in the wine biz for over 20 years now, we started this business in 2008 which was arguably the worst time in my adult lifetime to start any business. After many trials and tribulations (some in the courts from disgruntled competitors), false starts and small wins, we seemed to finally be getting it right more and more often. One of the areas we focus the most time on is customer service, and figuring out how to provide world-class customer service is a continual exercise in refinement that is never ending.

Customers are a funny thing in the direct-to-consumer (DTC) wine business, and unlike I’ve ever experienced in the high-tech world I grew up in. They spend their money to fly to Northern California, drive to wine country, rent villas and luxury hotels and then somehow arrive at your winery. You pour them wine hoping they?ll spend that magic $40 on average that all visitors are estimated to spend on your wines and then they leave and if you’re like most wineries we’ve worked with, odds are that you’ll never hear from them again.

Most wineries fail to appreciate and capture valuable customer information on these visitors. For those who get some email address, an email address is not customer information. It is a conduit to communication failure and laziness on the part of the tasting room staff, I’ll grant that. Ideally name, address, emails and phone numbers constitute real customer information.

When you get that information, you build a future for yourself and a sustainable DTC business model that will grow over time. Otherwise you’ll be stuck pouring wine to unknown customers and living on airplanes selling to restaurants and distributors who barely give your brand any attention.

Stealing great ideas is the sincerest form of flattery, and it’s nice to see other companies starting to create Kiosks like ours for data collection. Our Kiosk product (free for our clients) has collected over 55,000 new names and numbers over the past year. We also generally see about 15 percent conversion of those leads into sales within the first three months.

In addition to outbound calls, we recently took over all in-bound phone calls for all of Treasury’s brands (Beringer, Chateau St. Jean, St. Clement, Stags Leap, Penfolds, etc). This includes all inbound calls to the winery, email blasts with phone numbers, wine club ship notifications, billing updates, tour and reservation requests, wine purchases and just about everything else you can think of. The first week, we took more than 2,000 inbound calls. The second week was even more.

What it proved to me is that up until now, the wine industry has been woefully under-resourced in both people and relevant technology to solve for world-class customer service. While we still have a lot of things to improve on so we can get closer to providing a high level of service at all times, here are a few things we put in place with our technology solutions that have really made a difference:

SOME CUSTOMERS MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS

We created and assigned Premium Club Phone numbers for each brand in addition to standard winery/tasting-room phone numbers. Emails with WC ship notifications contain these special phone numbers for premium club members who are then are flagged when they call in on them, so identifying their special status is now easy. If they leave voicemail messages, we tag the message headers with priority information so we can identify them. We then built a visual voicemail application for all reps that shows instantly which calls need to be returned right away.

VALUE OF DATA

We implemented task-based caller identification and call routing. Customers calling in are immediately looked up and queried in the winery database before a single phone even begins to ring. Ninety-five percent of these customers are actually found in the system when they call, and the call is then routed to the salesperson who owns that contact. Sales and support people can issue workflows and trouble tickets that log the customer problem and ensure timely resolution.

WHO AM I?

Don’t you hate having to give all your information a second, third and fourth time when you call AT&T, Dell, Comcast or DirectTV? To solve this, we architected and built a company-wide data bus that receives messages for every single customer touch-point and customer interaction that occurs. Customer places a website order? Immediate notifications are passed to the data bus and follow up calls take place to upsell. Customer calls the winery?

The call notification hits the data bus and even if a call is answered and then transferred to someone else, the customer information goes with it and pops up on the recipient’s desk in real-time. No more looking up customer information every single time, and the customer experience is vastly improved.

TIME-BASED CALL ROUTING

Treasury wanted specific time-based routing of calls whereby calls are routed differently at different times of the day and on different days of the week. This is easier said than done and all routes/times need to be accounted for, and consistency implemented across each leg of the caller’s ultimate journey.

WINE CLUB ISSUE RESOLUTION

VinoPRO had already been selling and servicing thousands of wine club memberships over the phone for several years, so taking on general wine club support is a natural extension to what we do. Implementing systems with our data-bus technology allow reps to solve wine club questions & changes, billing issues, shipping issues including package reroutes, etc., and do it all on the same call. Oh, and we sell them additional wine 80 percent of the time, every time they call!

In summary, these are just a few of the things that get us closer to delivering truly world-class customer service for the wine industry. It isn’t something that just comes along by saying you want it. You have to invest in it as well as work at it literally every single day to improve service delivery and the customer experience. Constant reminders and incentives that work for empowered employees are also key, and you usually get what you pay for.

Lastly, don’t skimp on technology. There are numerous solutions available today other than AT&T for phone services where quality is infinitely better in both delivery of service as well as voice-based applications that can really make a difference in servicing your customers.

Jeff Stevenson (jeff@vinopro.com) is CEO of VinoPRO, a Santa Rosa-based direct-to-consumer sales, marketing and technology solutions company. In 2015 VinoPro was named to the Inc. 500|5000 list of fast-growing companies for a third straight year, unique in the wine industry. It works with Treasury Wine Estates, Madrigal, Papapietro Perry, Penfolds, Iron Horse, Benziger Family, Rodney Strong, and dozens of other winery brands.