The Complaint as a Gift: A Tale of Three Wineries

Once upon a time, I worked in retail sales. Actually I was working three jobs because I was single, I had no other responsibilities and couldn’t support my lifestyle (and wardrobe) on my measly salary as a PR person, just a couple years out of college. So one of my “moonlighting” jobs, was at a huge upscale department store. We all worked on commission, so if someone brought in a “return” without a receipt, it came off our take. So most people hid from returns.

White WineOne day a lady came in with a $20 return. All the salespeople vanished into the fitting room. All but me, that is. Sure enough, the woman didn’t have a receipt. But instead of just processing the return I started talking to her, asking if there was something else she might need. Turns out she was taking her teenage daughter on a cruise, and she needed lots of things. And to make a long story short, what started as a $20 return, ended up being an $880 sale, and a repeat client. Why? Because I listened to what she was saying, and turned a complaint into an opportunity, a “gift.”

I did some research for a project in business school regarding customer service and complaints that indicated for every one complaint there were hundreds of customers who said nothing, and just took their business elsewhere. For those who did complain, the most important concept in future business from that customer was whether or not she received an apology, a resolution, and a promise it wouldn’t happen again.

This doesn’t just apply to sales, but also how to handle negative product reviews, concerns about value, shipping issues and website glitches. A positive response can bring you a bounty of goodwill and word-of-mouth marketing. A negative response, and you not only lose a customer, but risk that one complaint turning into a viral word-of-mouth marketing “campaign” that only benefits your competitor.

Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

Remember that old Meatloaf song? It’s sounds like such a lovely, sweet ballad, but if you listen to the words, it’s not so pretty after all, at least for the woman. Likewise were my dealings with three separate wineries in response to complaints about shipping issues, value for the dollar, and my less-than-impressed opinion of a wine.

Story 1: The Never-ending Saga of the Brown Truck

We’ve written in the past about issues when shipping via the big brown truck. Well, it happened again. We thought we had the problem solved, because now we contract with a local UPS Store to accept all of our shipments. For a per package fee, the good people at the UPS Store will accept our shipments into their air-conditioned facility on the earliest delivery route; call us, and Joe can go pick it up on the way home from work.

Well even with the best laid plans, Murphy’s Law got us again. Due to a winery’s website upgrade, our billing address disappeared from my account. And in order to make sure my credit card went through, I re-entered my billing address and added my shipping address in a separate field. Well you can guess what happened. The shipment went to my home address, which is on the last route of the day in Houston, during a week of 100-degree heat.

I contacted the winery and immediately got an apology and a promise to fix the shipping system. And, that a brand new shipment would go out immediately to the correct address. Yay! So I will continue to buy their wine and shout out the praises of said winery.

Story 2: It Never Hurts to Take a Second Look

On our first trip to Wine Country we signed up for too many wine clubs. One such club promised a price range per shipment, but it seemed every shipment was at the high end of that range. The wine was good, but we just couldn’t justify the cost, plus shipping. So, after about 6 months I wrote to cancel our membership in the club. I received an apology, and the wine club said we could continue to buy at club prices, if we chose. And they kept us on their mailing list.

Another few months went by, and I got an e-mail, “Re-join our wine club and your first shipment is on us.” So we did, but at a different level. That was a year ago. When we had to pare down again, they didn’t get cut. Why? Because they turned a complaint into a gift.

Story 3: Hold It, Cowboy; Them’s Fightin’ Words!

29718Several months ago we went out to dinner for my birthday. Part of the dinner included an optional wine pairing. The only problem was that the pairings all had to be wine from the same region. But I wanted the exact menu experience, so I chose it. I was disappointed: I had taken copious notes on each course. So, rather than reviewing just the wines, I reviewed the entire dining experience.

I think it was the first time I’d posted this sort of review about a wine. We get samples all the time, but if they aren’t really, really good, we usually don’t write about them. Sometimes we do, but we usually don’t slam a wine that we got for free. Other writers give us grief, but, that’s just our policy. However, since we’d paid for the dinner; it’s an expensive and much hyped place; and the chef made enjoyable wine that alone was pretty mediocre to really bad; I decided to cover everything I’d tasted.

A month or so went by. I’d forgotten about the specifics of my post. Then another blogger left a comment and a link to his blog where he’d reviewed the wine differently. He also intimated that I hadn’t liked the pairings because I didn’t understand “terroir.” Both Joe and I responded to the comment, and it launched a viral discussion. One of the comments was from the winemaker himself. He wrote that I was obviously ignorant about wine and should get out of town, if anyone would have me. I had posted I wasn’t impressed with his wine. Seriously?!?

It was a bit like waving a red flag in front of a couple bulls with a penchant for research. Because we went on to find out that said winemaker had been quoted in an interview discussing why and for whom he made those two wines. It actually underscored and confirmed why I hadn’t cared for them. Instead of a gift, he turned a complaint into a steaming pile of horse manure.

Really, Amy? You said something bad about his wine, and the winemaker should consider it a gift? Precisely.The smart winemaker would have looked for an opportunity to change the writer’s mind. Invited her to the winery. Recommended tasting his entire portfolio, because perhaps, there was another wine she might have preferred. And positively reviewed. Or recommended his wines to wine drinkers whose palates preferred his style of wine.

The Moral: Don’t Take a Dump on a Gift

Joe used to work with a woman named Julie who was fabulous at customer service. The running joke was how she felt (and sounded to the other AEs) when she was dealing with complaints; “Why yes, it is all my fault. I’m terribly sorry; how can I fix it?” But customers loved her. She was the positive face of the company. She made things right, and retained the customer. Because she treated every complaint as an opportunity — a gift. Even when she had nothing whatsoever to do with the error in the first place.

You’ll note I didn’t identify any of the wineries. That’s because a couple of mistakes can be overlooked, and there is no reason to cast doubt on those wineries. The third? I really don’t want to provide any more free publicity and I’d like to move on. And because I believe in Karma. The universe will take care of him in the most appropriate way possible. And I can just sit back and watch.

So there you have it. Three wineries responded to three complaints. Two of them scored big. And in the grand scheme of things, two out of three ain’t bad.


Amy Corron Power,
aka WineWonkette

And to refresh the memory of old rockers, and enlighten our youth…

Posted in Best of AWB, Featured, Posts, Rant, Video

Amy Corron Power View posts by Amy Corron Power

A licensed attorney, Amy is a wine-lover, foodie, photographer, political junkie and award-winning author who writes about Wine, Food, Beer & Spirits. As Managing Editor & Tasting Director for Another Wine Blog, she travels all over the world's wine regions to share her experiences with her readers and legions of twitter, Instagram and Facebook friends and fans. Amy holds certifications through the International Sommelier Guild, and is also certified, with honors, as a California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS). She is a member of the Guild of Sommeliers, The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas and regularly attends Houston Sommelier Association events. Amy is also a contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books, and was most recently published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Gratitude.
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