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Customer Service: Turning a Customer’s Whine into Wine

I had such a great customer service experience last week at Summerhill Pyramid Winery in Kelowna, B.C. that I had to let you know about it – an experience that demonstrates, once again, that it’s the small things that make a difference, for customers and for your business. 

My wife and I had arrived at Summerhill early in the morning hoping to pick up a case of our favorite sparkling white wine, but were disappointed to hear that they were completely sold out (I know, I know, definitely first world problems). bigstock-A-thermometer-topped-with-the--22775171Alas, a gentleman swept in to rescue us before we left the premises. The reason, I’m certain, he heroically swept in from the far end of the wine tasting counter was because he read our body language from the other end of the room (I’m certain having my “pouty face” on definitely helped). After greeting us in a warm, confident fashion, he confirmed that they were indeed sold out, however, he handled our disappointment with textbook-style aplomb. He apologized and empathized with how disappointed we must have felt to come all that way and not get what we wanted, explained why they were sold out, explained how we could eventually get the wine delivered to us, and then offered us an alternative — an award-winning, sparkling rose.

Because they didn’t have what we wanted he offered to waive their usual wine tasting fees. He then explained that he’d open a fresh bottle to ensure it was top quality. As he opened the bottle he explained the correct way to open a bottle of sparkling wine. And after we fell head-over-heels in love with the wine, he offered to give us a discount on the price to again compensate for our disappointment.

The end result? Two thrilled customers and a sale for their business that they would have otherwise lost if we had simply left the premises without anyone intercepting us.

Again, this was not a huge issue by any means. We’ve always loved our visits to Summerhill and of course we could have come back. They weren’t going to lose any customers because of this. Yet they still turned a moment of minor disappointment around on its head and made us even bigger fans for their business than we were before. And as a result, we’ve already told several friends about our experience, and will continue to do so.

Here are the lessons for anyone when it comes to dealing with a customer service issue:

1. You need to catch potential problems on the inside, as I wrote about a few months ago in my Humor at Work e-zine. If my wife and I had escaped out the door, we never would have known about the alternative wine and Summerhill would have lost a sale and an opportunity to convert customers into raving customers.

2. Front line customer service employees need to be adept at reading body language and looking for subtle clues (such as a pouty face). When a server, for example, asks how a meal was at a restaurant, do they know to read body language cues and listen to the customer’s tone to assess whether or not a, “Yeah, everything was okay” REALLY means everything was okay? Or, is it actually code for, “Everything was mediocre, we were disappointed with the appetizer, and we likely won’t be darkening your doors again.”

3. When necessary, say, “I’m sorry” and be genuine about it. (And not weaselly euphemisms like, “We regret any inconvenience this may have blah blah…” I mean, seriously, who speaks like that?)

4. Empathize. Part of saying you’re sorry is to actively demonstrate you understand how the customer feels.

5. Explain. And by explain I don’t mean rationalize a bonehead mistake or stupid policy, or pass blame onto someone else. But you do need to, when necessary, explain why something happened or didn’t happen the way the customer hoped.

6. Offer an alternative solution. The Summerhill employee could have shrugged his shoulders and simply left it at a sincere apology, but instead he offered two alternative options to make sure we were happy (ship the wine later on when it’s back in stock or try another vintage that we might enjoy just as much, if not more.)

7.  Go the extra inch to build the relationship. The employee did this by offering a fresh bottle and providing us with some great information (who knew there was a correct way to open a bottle of bubbly?).

8. Compensate for the disappointment by going above and beyond. By waiving the tasting fees and offering us an industry discount on the bottles we purchased (he didn’t have to) he more than made up for our disappointment  and wasted trip to the winery. And that’s critical.  As my friend, customer service speaker Jeff Mowatt reminds his audiences: If a customer has to drive across town to return a product for a refund, simply offering a straight refund doesn’t make up for the aggravation, loss of time, and gas money. You need to do more otherwise it’s theft!

Great customer service, as I say time and time again, is about exceeding expectations and doing something different. It’s about looking for opportunities to go the extra inch AND to go the extra mile. And it’s about embracing opportunities to turn a whine…into sparkling service.

Michael Kerr is the author of “The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses Are Laughing All The Way To The Bank”.  For great tips and insights on how to build a truly inspiring workplace and to add more humor to your workplace, be sure to sign up for Mike’s weekly e-zine, Inspiring Workplaces – Humor at Work!   www.Mike

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