This week, my column is a bit of a departure from the norm, as it does not deal directly with wine or winemaking areas. Instead, I’d like to look at the very important aspects of customer service we have grown to expect when visiting a tasting room, wine shop or restaurant in search of that perfect vinous moment.
We’ve all had the unpleasant experience of dealing with a “customer service” person who is more interested in being right than listening to what the customer is saying. Whether expressing a justified complaint or merely seeking information, quite often the customer becomes the enemy. So, I have to ask: Is this smart business?
In today’s society, we unfortunately have come to expect this treatment from credit card companies, banks, large retailers and, of course, the many phone and Internet providers with all their complicated plans and inflexible policies.
Our choices are often limited; we either accept the treatment or choose to go elsewhere only to find the grass is not necessarily any greener.
All of this came into clear focus for me a few weeks ago when my wife, Barbara, and I were vacationing at Galley Bay Resort & Spa in Antigua. Happily, my awareness about customer service did not originate from a negative occurrence, but rather just the opposite. The exemplary service we experienced prompted my thinking about just what makes the difference between quality customer service (i.e. customer care) and the contrary messages we encounter during many day-to-day instances.
Is there a connection to the wine/food/hospitality industry in general and Napa Valley in particular where we host 3.5 million visitors a year? Can the very large wine/food/hospitality service industry and a vibrant tourist mecca learn something from enthusiastic locals working at various levels on a very rural island in the Eastern Caribbean? Most definitely, yes. Whether in Antigua or wine country, it’s all about the people and service.
This was our third visit to Antigua in as many years as we’ve grown to love the welcoming atmosphere of the people and raw beauty of the island. During dinner one evening while enjoying the idyllic setting and listening to the crashing Atlantic surf, we engaged in a conversation with our server, Timothy Scotland, who remembered us from last year’s stay. Timothy was so natural in his mannerisms, service, knowledge and speech that I realized outstanding customer care is not really a learned trait but rather the application of an inherent instinct we are born with that can only be enhanced (not created) by training.
In fact, my realization was confirmed the next day when speaking with hotel manager Cedric Henry, who also personally greeted us on our return. He was emphatic in telling us during all hiring interviews he looks first for personality rather than specific skill sets as they can be taught to those willing to learn. Cedric’s philosophy: “Recruit the right people, do the right thing and watch your business grow.”
Rob Barrett is chairman of Elite Island Resorts, a company that encompasses many island properties and business entities, including Galley Bay Resort. Rob migrated from Bakersfield to the Caribbean and settled in Antigua several decades ago. Over breakfast one morning, we were discussing the topic of what makes outstanding customer service and Rob summed it up by posing the question, “Do you want efficiency or attitude?” When considering the fact that Rob successfully built a hospitality empire in a remote section of the world with his primary emphasis on customer care, perhaps his gem of a question deserves some serious consideration.
Many managers in all fields look at customer service as a necessary component of business and sales. I’ve always taken a somewhat broader approach and see it also as a platform for building relationships while poor customer service has the opposite effect. Here in Napa, as well as throughout the hospitality industry worldwide, a satisfied customer is the foundation for all success.
The server in a restaurant or the host in a tasting room has a very short time to either engage or alienate the customer. So why not do as Cedric practices? “Recruit the right people.” And then, let their natural-born instincts set the stage for a satisfied customer experience instead of placing the entire measure of success on how much wine was sold or how many dollars were generated. When the customer is happy, the dollars will follow. But, it all starts with quality service.
In response to my April 28 column “Today’s Beaujolais,” I was elated to hear about the many positive memories our readers shared over these most underappreciated and undervalued wines.
Jon—Love the rehabilitation of Beaujolais. I lived near Beaujolais and frequently biked through the region. A favorite meal of my life, including many of France’s 3-stars, was a lunch at the top of a hill in Julienas, consisting of a jambon cru on a buttered baguette with a demi-pichet of Julienas.