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Customer service is complicated. One winery is finding the right balance.

by Ben Spradling | Dec 8, 2020 2:16:46 PM

Robust approaches to customer service pair a business’s professional objectives with some calculated personal touches. Sales needs are asked to blend with support demands and, when done correctly, the result is an experience consumers can count on before, during and after they make their purchase.

But finding that balance is often complex. Customer needs vary depending on the products and services offered. Plus, the size of the business matters, too. Small companies sometimes struggle with bandwidth. Bigger companies can tend to be too impersonal – can let issues slip through the cracks.

Growing business. Unique challenges.

Andrew Harding is a co-founder of Nocking Point Wines, a Walla Walla, Washington-based winery that collaborates with sports franchises, entertainment brands and celebrities on specialty wine collections that are available nationally. This year alone, the business he started with actor Stephen Amell in 2012 welcomed more than 250,000 customers – not exactly a mom-and-pop operation.

“Customers see we're a winery in Walla Walla, and they may not know we’re doing 125,000 orders in a year,” said Harding. “They feel like they can pick up the phone, call somebody and it’s going to be two people working here who have half an hour to spend with them, right? That’s just not the case.”

It can’t be. Customer bases of that caliber require unique, streamlined support and providing it likely means leaning on a variety of resources at once. For Harding, the winning formula is now a mix automation, artificial intelligence and in-person help.

“We not only have two full-time customer service agents working for us, but we run Zendesk, which is an automated auto-response, best-of-breed customer service platform,” said Harding. “It basically builds a knowledge base so that customers can look up their own answers to customer service questions if they don't get an answer immediately.”

That same knowledge base is additionally bolstered by Forethought, artificial intelligence (AI) software that, according to Harding, scours historical customer service tickets to provide answers to customer questions with roughly 90 percent accuracy. Having that capability on-hand is huge, especially when you consider the types of customers Nocking Point Wines serve.

Customer support meets fan service.

Actually, the more apt term to describe that population may be “fans.” Partnerships with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Bravo TV’s Real Housewives series, Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and others in the entertainment world attract some pretty enthusiastic wine drinkers. And they’re not always patient.

“Based on the kind of customers we have, which are fans, they will literally email two or three, four or five times a day saying, ‘I haven't heard back! I haven’t heard back!’”

So, how did Harding land on a customer service approach that meets the needs of his often-eager customer base? He drew from his previous experience as the vice president of product development for MTV digital. In that role, Harding oversaw website app distribution deals with channels including Comedy Central and Spike TV. He also learned the importance of delivering for your customer.

“I knew that we had to build a robust customer service system because customer experience is key to us,” said Harding. “I think the way you differentiate yourself and you grow the way that we have is not just through having some celebrity buddies step up and say, ‘Hey, this is really cool. You should check it out.’ It's providing a customer experience both through the website, through the product itself, through the way that it's actually delivered to your doorstep, and then in customer service.”

Suggestions for success.

So, for business owners who may not carry a resume that’s as heavy on e-commerce, how that can they get the ball rolling on their own version of that robust customer experience? Harding offered some hard-earned advice:

  • Play to your strengths. Not someone else’s. “Everybody's got strengths; everybody has their lane. Don't emulate others to try to you know achieve your goal. I would claim that playing to your strengths is key.”

  • Recognize the pain points. Turn them into opportunities. “You'll know the pain points early and you'll see the bottlenecks. Those moments will open your eyes to not only your problems, but to new opportunities. Ask yourself, ‘What are the best solutions out there?’ Then start plugging those in.”
  • Surprise, delight and employ data. “We like to include some surprise and delight items. Whether it's a brand-new bracelet or little insert cards that say, ‘thank you,’ we're always thinking of customer experience. And customer service puts the bow on that package. When somebody reaches out, they’re presented with highly accurate artificial intelligence customer service responses, which 90% of the time are spot on. Plus, we've got two dedicated professionals who work full time on customer service to handle any outliers.”

For Harding and the Nocking Point Wines team, employing those pointers has creates a customer reaction any business should appreciate. It’s a blend meant to evoke quality and emphasizes value.

“I hope the customer feels like they gotten a price-to-value ratio in the wine and an experience that is unmatched. For every dollar they spent, they got in return a quality product they can't find anywhere else. I want it to be the best money they've ever spent on a wine experience.”

 

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