The first casualty of business is often quality service. And it seems that Wine Shop Service is not immune to this trend.
Many of you know that I recently began consulting for Gary’s Wine & Marketplace. In my capacity as an Italian wine expert, my main objective is to provide an extra level of service to Gary’s customers. I listen to them and help them make an informed choice. I am not alone in this mindset.
Like many other businesses, hiring people right now is a challenge. Yet Gary’s prides itself on employing knowledgeable wine people. I’ve consulted in every one of Gary’s New Jersey stores. Each store has several wine team members working at any given time. Many of them possess WSET credentials or long time industry experience. They each have unique areas of expertise. But what’s my point?
In any business, to be successful you need to set yourself apart from the competition. What do you do better than anyone else? Why should people choose you? At Gary’s the answer is simple. They have excellent customer service. It’s something that Founder and CEO Gary Fisch takes pride in and requires of his employees. Making customers comfortable, listening to them and providing options is paramount. As a result, it’s one of the reasons Gary’s has achieved the level of success it has.
This isn’t meant to be a Gary’s commercial. Far from it. But to discuss poor service and deride it for what it is, you need to relate the best practice as well. From my experience, both as a customer and now as a consultant, Gary’s does it right.
When I started Tuscan Vines, I shared a similar philosophy. I wanted to set myself apart. I wanted to do things differently than other writers. How? By creating a more personal connection with my readers. Giving them better service. Using this website as the launching pad for more personal interaction with them through my Social Media outlets. As a result, part of that culminated in the Tuscan Vines Open House.
You won’t find brown bagged, nine word wine reviews here. I wanted more substantial articles with deeper insight into the people and the estates; not just the wine. I wanted to discuss wine both with and without food. The culture was equally important.
So then what brought this on?
To put it bluntly, I experienced one of the worst and truly bizarre customer service interactions I think I’ve ever encountered. Yes, I realize that occasionally anyone can have a bad day. And if Gary’s is the best, surely that means there are tiers somewhere in the middle. But what I experienced, was the polar opposite.
Recently I had an appointment in a part of town I normally don’t frequent. While driving there, I saw a Wine Shop in a strip mall and recognized the name. Although I thought this particular shop had gone out of business, apparently they just relocated. As a result, on my way home I decided to stop in and see if they had anything interesting.
The Best Laid Plans – Wine Shop Service Matters
Nothing is ever a waste. Even if circumstances result in complete failure, you have at least learned something. That’s about all I can say after the anecdote I’m about to relate.
Upon opening the door and entering the shop, within 1/2 to 1 step this annoying, electronically automated, jingle bell cacophony sounded. These things lack all the charm of the old General Store bells they are meant to emulate and I’m convinced the sole reason for deploying them in this case was to wake the sleeping cashier. Who……was the only employee in the store.
Upon realizing he was no longer alone, he looked up at me and gave me a warm greeting. “Hey”….
As I began browsing, I noticed many of the usual suspects. Plenty of Budweiser, magnums of inexpensive wine and White Zinfandel. Yet, the store did have quite a few higher end bottles so I continued looking around. At this point, you might have expected some additional interaction with Sleepy. Maybe, “Is there anything I can help you find?” “Are you looking for anything special?” Or simply, “Can I help you?” But all I got was….
As I walked around, it became obvious that the flooring in the store had recently been installed. Bubbles, humps, heaves and creases were ubiquitous and I couldn’t help thinking; my next step might result in me owning this place – but would I even want it? By this time, I had stumbled upon the Italian selections. There were a few wines that interested me because I don’t see them around that often.
Two bottles that particularly piqued my interest were the 2011 Aldo Conterno Barolo Cicala and the 2011 Barolo Colonello. A fascinating trait about this shop was it’s pricing regimen. Gary’s displays pricing on shelves and each bottle is marked with a corresponding bar code. This place is still using a label pricing gun to mark bottles. And of course, about 50% of the bottles were unmarked, including the Conternos.
It was time to approach Sleepy.
Me: Excuse me, I’m interested in these two bottles but there’s no price on them. Can you let me know how much they are?
Sleepy: “Uh, I guess I can look.”
I went back to browsing while Sleepy toiled away at the computer. Had I realized the extent of time my request would take, I’d have gone next store to Starbucks. Alas, several minutes later he returned.
Sleepy: “Well, I wasn’t able to find them in the system. The bottles are kinda old. But I did see some other vintages of the wines.”
Me: Ok, well can you tell me how much they are?
Sleepy: “Well, the newer vintages are a couple hundred dollars.”
Me: OK, well can you tell me how much this one (holding the Cicala) is?
Sleepy: “I guess I can do some deeper research in the system.”
At this point, I skipped over deciding what “deeper research” meant and considered briefly going to lunch, returning home to shower, shave and then seeing if Sleepy was ready to continue. But all I could muster was: “Please, thank you.” (as an aside, on the rare occasion when something isn’t priced at Gary’s it takes all of 20 seconds to scan the bar code and find the wine in the system.) Does that count as “deeper research”?
My anticipation was soaring when Sleepy extricated himself from behind the aging computer… I almost warned him to watch his step…
Me: How’d it go? (barely containing my laughter)
Sleepy: “I wasn’t able to find them exactly. This one (holding the Cicala) is a few hundred dollars.”
Me: And the Colonello?
Sleepy: “That one isn’t as much but it’s still a couple hundred dollars.”
Me: So is it $199?
Sleepy: No, they’re more than that.
Dentists pull teeth faster. At this point I simply said, “Thanks” and left the store – without tripping on the flooring.
Wine Shop Service shouldn’t be an after thought. Giving customers a neutral experience is more preferable than giving them a bad one. I don’t expect perfection but I expect competence.
This store was empty when I got there. The entire time Sleepy was awake, I remained the only customer in the store. I can’t see that changing any time soon save for the occasional wayward “Bud” seeker and I suspect, the next time I’m in that part of town, the store may not be.
As a final aside, when I got out to my car, I decided to search for the two Barolo on Wine Searcher. They are fairly available and no, they are not “a few hundred dollars”…