The other day I was asked by a customer, “How do you deal with snotty people?” She was referring to wine snobs at the winery, or at least I think she was. She was also referring to obnoxious bachelorette parties that show up at wineries with those jumbo steroid limos or hot-pink buses, where the girls are stumbling around, cackling shrilly, and shouting their random, alcohol-addled thoughts to the other equally alcohol-soaked girl standing 1/2 a foot from her. The customer had just come from another winery where they were greeted by this cacophonic scene. She was worried they were going to arrive here. I assured that most likely wasn’t the case because we only make European-style dry wine and not the sweet plonk the shrill birds desire. She nodded but hardly looked reassured. Then she repeated her question, “But how do you deal with people like that?” Okay, so we’re talking about any difficult person, not just a wine snob.
I astounded her with my witty and wise advice…wait for it…I’m nice to them.
She was perplexed. But don’t they get on your nerves? Don’t they make you want to kick them out? Honey, I would rather sit on a cactus bare-ass naked than deal with people like that, but it’s MY JOB to be nice. I smile, I nod, I mutter simple phrases, and let them enjoy themselves (or not). It’s not my job to change them into fun-loving, gentile wine drinkers who converse like a Southern belle. It’s my job to be nice to them, pour their wine, and do what I can to survive the moment. There’s a reason I drink after work at times, besides the fact that the wine is free for working. It’s called “customer service.” Have you heard of the term? Here’s a definition that I just read: “Customer service is the act of taking care of the customer’s needs by providing and delivering professional, helpful, high-quality service and assistance before, during, and after the customer’s requirements are met. Customer service is meeting the needs and desires of any customer.”
Reading that just gave me the willies. I am not a pushover or people-pleaser by nature. I’m outspoken, opinionated, and snarky, which has probably gotten me in trouble more often than not. Apparently, some people in the wine world don’t appreciate sarcasm or satire. They think it is beneath them. Or take it a bit too seriously as was the reaction to a satirical email blast letting customers know that a winery was hiring at the time. While hundreds loved it (including many professional marketers), said it was the best marketing email they have ever received and it generated several applications, there was a bit of blowback by some with their noses in the air. Such is the nature of satire and sarcasm. Not everyone gets it or infers too much into it. Or they take it personally, which says more about them that the author. I did receive an email response from someone ranting about Trump, how he was of the devil, with a lot of salty language. I still don’t get what that had to do with working at a winery, but to each their own. If writing that email helped him feel better, I’m glad I could help.
When it comes to working with customers directly, I do try to be on my best behavior. I promise. Although, do you know how hard it is to bite my tongue when a customer says “I don’t like this wine. It doesn’t taste like Italian wine”? Of course, it doesn’t taste like Italian wine. It’s French. And I repeat this comment in a sweet syrupy voice five more times until they announce “I’m not buying any of your wine because it doesn’t taste like Italian wine and that’s the only wine I like.” Well, good for you, we make French wine as I TOLD YOU FIVE TIMES ALREADY, AND TOLD YOU BEFORE YOU STARTED TASTING THE WINE. Smile, nod, and pray the glare is minimal on my face. These are the moments I want to take a skewer through the eyeball and into the brain to stop the torment. But I don’t. Mostly because I would rather live, and a skewer to the brain would be a painful death. Not really my cup of tea.
Or the gentleman, I say loosely, who insisted the wine was poorly made because there was sediment in the bottom of the wine glass, and in the bottom of the bottle. He scathingly berated the winery, assumed we were unprofessional and that we had no clue when it came to winemaking, and we should be ASHAMED of ourselves for being in business. He said the wine should be crystal clear and that stuff is gross. An uncomfortable blank stare on my behalf (imagining dumping the glass of wine on his head), while I cleared my throat before commenting sweetly, “Sir, you’re drinking a 10-year-old dry red wine. Sediment is a natural part of the aging process, and is actually a sign of a high-quality wine.” I briefly explained the science behind the sediment in 5-year-old simplistic terms. This time I was the one met with a blank stare and no response. The gentleman left and I shrugged my shoulders but used the experience to spawn a blog article on what really is sediment in wine. Thank you for the inspiration, dear sir.
Or the woman who didn’t like the fact that the winery only makes dry wine. What about those who prefer sweet wine, she demanded. The winemaker doesn’t like sweet wine. He makes what he prefers which is dry European wine. She huffily exclaimed that he is losing a lot of customers because he won’t make sweet wine. She then wrote on the tasting sheet that she didn’t like any of the wines, signed her name, and handed it to me with the nose in the air explanation that I have to give this to the winemaker and tell him that his wine is awful and she only wants sweet wine. She proceeded to say that the customers have spoken, offered their opinions, and demanded he listen and acquiesce (which he won’t, but I didn’t say that). She also pointed out that she is not afraid to put her name on the tasting sheet with her dislikes on it. Now, this is the type of customer I have difficulty with, only because they think they know best. I can’t stand know-it-alls. A winemaker has every right to make whatever kind of wine they want and follow whatever model they want. If he doesn’t want to make sweet wine, then he doesn’t make sweet wine. There are plenty of wineries who do and they can go to those wineries and be happy with their sugar.
I’m happy to say that on the whole, this isn’t the norm. For every obnoxious pinkie in the air person, or screaming inebriated glitter covered bride-to-be, there are 100 people who are a pleasure to associate with in the tasting room. But regardless of the character of the person, I will always go out of my way to be courteous and friendly to them. Every person deserves to be treated well as you never know what’s causing their bad mood or attitude at the moment. For all I know, the cranky woman who wants sweet wine could have just lost her daughter to cancer and is just looking for some solace with a bit of Moscato. Who am I to begrudge her that? (For the record, no this wasn’t the case with her.).
Customer service is extremely important at wineries, or anywhere that serves the public and is one of the top reasons why a customer will keep coming back. If you don’t have high-quality customer service, regardless of how good your wine is, your business will fail or at least suffer significantly. I’ve seen it happen. Even difficult people respond well to a pleasant, friendly face and voice and occasionally, can change their mood and day. Never forget, you don’t know what is causing the person to be the way they are, and you just might be the only bright spot in their day.