There is no valid reason for poor customer service in a business that must be customer focused. Often the problem is less a lack of effort than a poor understanding of what is required and/or inexperience in dealing with a range of people (in a range of moods) in a range of situations.
Selecting the right people and training them appropriately is the first step to ensuring great customer service. Creating a culture that expects and assists staff to go the extra mile is the second.
The following are central to establishing a customer service culture. To assist your staff, it is worth instituting a clear set of standards. Work with you staff to develop them (and the skills and techniques to implement them). If they feel they own them, they will more easily embrace and promote them.
Make a good first impression
Visitors walking into a cellar door will always look for people first and will form an immediate and often unchangeable opinion from this first contact. You and your staff need to be primed to show a friendly face and offer a warm welcome, even if you’re busy. Visitors will normally be happy to wait if they have at least been acknowledged and given a timeframe in which they will be attended to.
Contrast these two greetings: "Hello there, we're really busy at the moment, do you mind waiting?" "Hello and welcome to ABC Winery. Please help yourself to water and take a look at the tasting sheet. I'll be with you in just a few minutes."
Be friendly but professional
Because wine tasting is an informal activity, it is easy to become too familiar, too early. Start by addressing people formally (“sir” not “mate”) until you know how they’d like to be addressed. Introduce yourself and ask their names. Even if things are going well, it is important to always be polite and professional. And remember that different cultures have different perceptions on correct etiquette.
Don’t jump to conclusions
Experienced cellar door operators know that people on holiday dress differently to how they do normally and that how they look – and indeed how old they look – tells you nothing about their genuine interest in wine – and buying yours. There are countless tales of staff misjudging potential customers and paying dearly for it.
Find out why they’re there
By asking some simple questions, you can learn a lot about your visitor so that you can fulfil their expectations.
Have they visited you and/or the region before? If not, you've got an opportunity to talk about the winery, its history and about the region in general.
What sort of wine do they normally drink? For visitors unfamiliar with your range, or who drink wine infrequently, finding out the style or even the regular brands they drink will assist you in determining the starting point for the tasting.
How long will they be spending in the region? The answer to this question allows you to offer advice or refer them appropriately to other wineries and attractions. You'll be surprised how many people arrive around midday and haven't yet booked accommodation for the night. This represents a great opportunity for you to make a recommendation or even a booking
Are you interested in learning more about wine (or wine and food)? Depending on the answer, you can direct people to a winery tour, interactive display or dining facility that offers wine-matched lunches. Of course, you may have these facilities yourself.
Tailor the experience
Once you've got a handle on some of your visitors' needs you can create or direct them to the experience that most suits them. Time constraints on the part of the visitor may mean a shortened tasting session that focuses closely on their stated needs. On the other hand, they may have arrived just in time for the daily tour, after which you can invite them back for a tasting and since they're hungry, encourage them to stay for a bite to eat.
Always aim to explain things in an educational and non-intimidating manner at a level appropriate to a visitor’s knowledge, experience and interest. Many people still feel intimidated by wine and worry about looking foolish.
Look after everyone
If people are travelling in groups you may find not all of them are interested in tasting wine. Offer the designated driver a soft drink or complimentary beverage and engage them in the conversation by asking general questions about their trip. Others may be more interested in perusing your art space or merchandise, so find out about their interests and direct them accordingly. On a fine day, send them outside to take in the view and relax under the shade of a tree- perhaps with a coffee and cake while the others complete their tasting.
If children are in the group, find out how to cater for them. Parents will be very grateful if you can direct their children to a specific area or offer them a non-alcoholic drink to enjoy while they taste. Children running wild in a cellar door are a distraction to everyone, so take charge and offer a solution to the exasperated parents, who are probably cringing in shame.
Know your product
All staff can’t always answer every question, but it is important that they have a good working knowledge of all key information – the wine, vineyard source and production details, food matches and recipe sources, delivery options, retails outlets, benefits of wine club membership, merchandise available, dining options (inhouse or in the region).
Ensure your product and price lists are up to date, with freight options and delivery prices clearly marked.
Provide extra services Ensure you can suggest good dining, accommodation or tourism options in your region if asked and either offer to make a call or booking for them or provide all the information for doing so. Stock a good selection of regional maps and brochures. Know what facilities and services are available at the nearest Tourism Office or Visitor Information Centre.
The easiest way to get feedback is to ask for it, either directly via a Visitor Satisfaction Form or indirectly by prominently displaying a nicely presented Visitors’ Book or iPad. Ensure pens are available for the form or book and instructions for the iPad. It also helps to have a comfortable place for people to sit and write or talk with you.
Design a simple form that customers can fill in quickly and easily. It should be no bigger than an A4 sheet. Hotels often use A4 sized forms folded to DL with the hotel name and return information on one side and the questions on the other.
Make sure you have a system in place to act upon the feedback you receive in a timely manner. Assign the task to a dedicated staff member and perhaps create a spreadsheet that graphs the results over time.
If people give valuable ideas and leave their contact details, consider responding and, in particular, letting them know how their idea was implemented. This can also be an invitation to return and "try out" the new/improved service.