Monday, March 19, 2012

Rant: Trust & Responsibility At The Wine Store

"You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible."
--Anton Chekhov

Sometimes trust takes time to build and develop, while other times, trust is given merely because of one's position. In such a case, it is assumed that the position automatically comes with the requisite knowledge and experience, even though that might not be the actuality. The assumption creates a responsibility for that person to live up to the perceived trust. In time, that assumed trust can be shattered if the person bearing the position proves unworthy, destroying any chance of a further relationship.

This assumption of trust can occur in wine stores. A number of customers walk into a wine store and ask for a recommendation from an employee, trusting that the employee will choose wisely for them. When the employee offers a recommendation, the customer may then immediately purchase that wine, trusting that they have not been led astray. They don't ask about the employee's credentials or whether they hold any certifications. They don't ask about their years of experience or their areas of expertise. The mere fact that the employee works in the wine store is enough for some customers to imbue trust in that employee.

Many people still feel intimidated by wine, believing they lack the knowledge to best select a wine. So they seek assistance from someone they believe has the necessary confidence and knowledge, the wine store employee. Other customers might rely upon wine scores or the options of professional wine critics. But many average individuals prefer to rely upon face to face contact, a more intimate situation, with a wine store employee. This is a powerful dynamic, an interaction which can have significant ramifications beyond a single wine sale.

With all of this trust also comes great responsibility. The wine store employee must look beyond that single sale and toward establishing lasting relationships with your customers. A customer's automatic trust will only go so far if the advice they receive fails to please them. So, it is the obligation of the wine store employee to ensure their recommendations are worthy of the trust that have received. They should not pretend to possess knowledge they do not have, or recommend wines merely to empty excess stock. They should gather as much information from the customer as possible on their wine likes and dislikes so as to customize their wine recommendations. It is all about developing relationships, about building a regular customer base.

The objective should be that the customer enjoys the recommendation sufficiently so that they return for additional recommendations. It is very easy to make a quick sale to a trusting customer. A wine store employee could try to unload what ever wine has not been selling much, even if it would not be the right wine for the customer. That is short sighted though. It is far harder to build a lasting relationship, to prove that the customer's trust is not misplaced.

In addition, it should be remembered that customers will share their experiences, whether positive or negative, with their family and friends. Word of mouth has always been a potent form of advertising. One satisfied customer can easily turn into ten more as they spread the good word to those they know. Or in the negative, if you betray their trust, you would lose both actual and potential customers.

For customers, it is quite valuable to find a wine store that they can trust, which will advise them properly about which wines to buy.

What are your positive or negative experiences with service at wine stores?


Jason said...

From my experience within the PA wine monopoly, employees aren't necessarily going to have any wine knowledge at all. My worst experience was something I overheard at checkout, when a customer asked the clerk (he'd been there at least a few years) what the difference was between Cab Sauv and Merlot.

He said they were "basically the same" and then got out a cheat sheet from which he read verbatim some basics about the grapes.

In an environment like this, education and planning have been my best weapons. It'd be nice to live in a state where the wine stores are staffed by passionate people though.

Jason Phelps said...

I think this only applies in small wine shops and not state-run or large chain stores. Your prior commenter hit the nail on the head there.

That said, even some of the small shops have part-time staff that aren't nearly as well trained as the proprietor and unlikely to be a lot of help.

On the flip side many causal consumers have no expectations at all about getting help in wine stores, if they even frequent the type where help might be presumed to be available. As you go up the pyramid of wine consumers the expectation rises and through self-selection they will frequent shops that both match their tastes and have the talent to entertain their needs.

That is where your comments most apply and for what it is worth you are personally capable of that. Furthermore your new gig is likely a location where you will be matched with patrons who will benefit from talking with you. I've got to plan to come in some Sunday and check out the shop.