a food/wine/marketing blog that is funny by accident, sarcastic on purpose.

“customer service”

barrel tasting day one: new adventures and old favorites.

One of the biggest events in Sonoma County is the two weekend extravaganza (aka drunk fest) that is Northern California Wine Road’s Barrel Tasting Weekend around Healdsburg, Ca.  The first two weekends in March provide visitors the chance to sample wines straight from barrel, pre-purchase the wine (called futures) before it is bottled and meet the winemakers.

Barrel Tasting weekend is a true celebration of spring in Wine Country: the mustard flowers are in full bloom, the sun is usually out for the first time and tourists & locals are running around in short sleeved shirts with red stained teeth.  It is the first event of the year that the wineries roll out the barrels and open up their cellars to the sunlight.

barrel_1-080

Thea Dwelle, her mother and I headed out into the wilds of the Sonoma County wine roads with an agenda:

  1. To show Thea’s mom some of her favorite wines and wine people.
  2. To visit new wineries we haven’t been to.
  3. To visit our Winery Twitter friends.

Dry Creek Wineries: Papapietro Perry, Kokomo, Peterson, Truett Hurst (aka @truetthurst) and Sbragia.

Saturday morning was spent visiting some favorites including, Papapietro Perry, Kokomo, and Truett Hurst.  All the barrel samples from these favorites did not disappoint.  Kokomo Winery even had a delicious special “Mystery Sample” for visitors to guess the varietal.  Winemaker, Erik Olsen even gave us a clue (a Bordeaux variety). Thea did eventually get it.  If you really want to know the varietal, ask me in the comments.

Jim Morris at Truett Hurst made us laugh with his “X-Ray” glasses (aka polarized lenses to look into the creek for salmon), feed us some tri-tip and let us try some of their own zinfandels.

We also visited Sbragia where they seemed to not have enough people working to handle the massive amounts of people visiting the winery.  We tried some unmemorable Zin and left.

Alexander Valley Wineries: Route 128, Jimtown (for lunch) Hawkes Wine’s (aka @hawkeswine) and Stuhlmuller.

Route 128 is a newly opened tasting room in downtown Geyserville. They are still very small so they were not participating in Barrel Tasting, but they poured some pinot for us anyways.

The folks from Sonoma County Tourism Bureau (aka @InsideSonoma) suggested a pairing of Jimtown General Store’s infamous chocolate pudding with one of Hawkes Wine’s Cabernets.  The pairing did not disappoint. The 2007 Pyramid Cabernet Sauvignon went perfectly with the rich chocolate pudding. Good thing the two are right next to each other.

Healdsburg Wineries: Newly opened Hudson Street Wineries (Bluenose, Owl Ridge, Teira, Windsor Vineyards, etc), Holdredge, Camilla (where @Cellardiva was pouring), Sapphire Hill.

These wineries are all smaller with limited cases and I would have to say, I was not as impressed with them. It was the end of the day when we stopped by here, so my experience could have been a bit jaded because of the massive amounts of people.  I would like to stop by Camilla and Sapphire Hill again.

Altogether, I couldn’t have asked for a better Saturday to spend wine tasting to experience some old favorites and new adventures.

Look for tweets with the hastag #barreltasting next weekend!  And, of course, please follow me at @ShaRayRay on twitter!


freebies + social media = hot restaurant strategy.

This article from Media Post News says it all:

Earlier this month, Denny’s gave away more than 2 million Grand Slam Breakfasts in one day with the help of a Super Bowl commercial and online chatter.

This week, Quiznos gave away a million subs in three days after using only banner ads, Facebook and Twitter presence and some free local radio exposure.

Denny’s may have been investing in brand awareness, but as the Quiznos promotion demonstrated, with consumers looking to save every penny they can, you probably don’t need the Super Bowl part to drive a freebie.

Another current example of using a giveaway and online chatter to drive restaurant traffic: International House of Pancakes just completed its third annual National Pancake Day on Tuesday, in which it gives away a small stack of pancakes and in return asks customers to consider donating to the Children’s Miracle Network or a local charity.

IHOP, which has raised nearly $2 million for charities since starting the day in 2006, relied on a dedicated Web site with a “tell a friend” pass-along application, its normal presence on key social networks and some PR to drive awareness and traffic.

The result? IHOP has not finished tallying, but the chain was shooting for $1 million and believes that this year was its best in terms of awareness, traffic and donations, according to spokesperson Patrick Lenow.  “The word-of-mouth generated through social networks was just incredible,” he says.

And that’s just this month’s roster of freebie-based promotions designed to draw in new diners, get existing customers to visit more frequently and pick up some revenue from the beverages and other purchases that usually accompany the freebie.

“Social networking and restaurants are a logical match,” says Reggie Bradford, CEO of social media marketing consultancy Vitrue.  “Food is naturally social,” he points out.  “Where do you want to eat?  Do you want to grab something here?  This is translating to online conversations around restaurant brands.  We’ve seen tremendous adoption of social media strategies among QSRs and fast-casual restaurants.”

Combine social media with freebies, and you’ve got marketing dynamite.  “Giving away food in these uncertain economic times obviously resonates strongly with consumers,” Bradford says.  “Huge gains are being made by brands who are reaching out to consumers with something tangible. IHOP deserves kudos for taking it important steps further by giving back to the community and forging loyalty along the way.”

The lift in online buzz has been significant for all of these promotions, based on Vitrue’s Social Media Index, which measures online conversations about a brand in social networks, blogs and Twitter.

Denny’s SMI score more than doubled (from 22 to 45.6) after its commercial and meal giveaway.  Quiznos’ jumped from 12.4 on the first day of the promotion to 16.1 three days later, or by 30%. IHOP’s score was 36.9 on Jan. 1 and 73.9 on Feb. 25, the day after Pancake Day–a 99% gain.

IHOP and other brands could benefit from more compelling Facebook pages, perhaps incorporating surveys, polling and a restaurant locator, Bradford says.  Providing franchisees with the tools to tap their online social circles to market local events is another opportunity, as is capturing event RSVPs to go back to individuals with coupons and other loyalty-building offers, he adds.


customer service in the consumer review era.

Years ago, back when the terms blog and twitter were still unknown, if restaurants, retailers or wineries provided terrible customer service then the word only got around to the visitors immediate friends and family.  If it was a truly horrific act of bad customer service or product failure, then maybe the word would spread a bit further.  Of course this is not the world we live in now.

As shown by Lisa de Bruin’s trip to Domaine Chandon, Gary Vaynerchuk’s visit at Mondrian, a “hip” hotel in Miami, as well as my recent trip to Korbel, a bad experience is not only is talked about online – it has the ability to “go viral.”  Consumer review site’s such as Yelp (even with their problems) and personal blogs have had a great impact, both positively and negatively on the service industry.  It isn’t just wine reviewers or food critics that are telling the world their opinion.

You can bitch all you want, but this trend is not going away anytime soon.  The internet is here, and social tools are just making it easier and faster for people to voice their opinions.  Go ahead and complain that these reviews are not from trained professionals, who know what they are talking about, or negative reviews could be from disgruntled employees, or that positive reviews could even be from someone affiliated with the company.

customer-service

Okay, hopefully now that you are done complaining about the situation you can take a deep breath and accept that consumer written reviews are not going away…. Or, hopefully, you are one of the ones reading this that understands that this new form of reviewing the service industry can actually help businesses.

What some people don’t get is that BOTH negative & positive postings provide a great opportunity for publicity.  The online landscape allows businesses to respond to negative comments and even generate positive posts by asking visitors to post reviews, or just by delivering customer service that is truly above and beyond.  Those businesses that adapt to the new era of online voices and not only respond to what is said, but actually LISTEN and (if need be) make changes will be the ones who will make it through.  Yes, I do know there is more to running a business then just this — just stick with me here….

Service businesses HAVE TO adapt to the landscape or watch their competition, that are paying attention, take away customers.  They have to know that in this new online era that they truly have to go above and beyond when it comes to customer service.  If you are a business that needs some help with online publicity or even an evaluation of your place of business, then please visit here.

I will leave you with some quotes from Gary:

“Stop age discrimination in the tasting room because that 24 year old will go and blog about what kind of douche bags you are and no one will buy your wine.”

“Service industry is really going to start feeling these impacts.”


korbel’s lack of an online plan.

Just a day after reading about a friend’s lack of acknowledgment at Napa sparkling wine maker Domain Chandon, I was asked by a friend of mine to visit the Korbel tasting room to pick up some Zinfandel (yes, Korbel does make some wine).

I tweeted about my experience, briefly saying that

Korbel doesn’t get a lot of wine bloggers. Staff didn’t know what I was talking about.

kor

When I asked the older tasting room attendant if she ever gets any wine bloggers in the tasting room, I was greeted with not only a blank stare, but she almost looked insulted like I was speaking to her in a different language that she was supposed to figure out.  She asked me what a blogger was and when I told her it was a person who wrote about wine online, she still continued her blank stare and simply said no.

Okay fine, this tasting room person was clearly a different generation and my experience was mediocre enough to not give it a second thought afterward.    Expect I live in a world that is centered around the internet and my mind was on the Domain Chandon experience that I just missed out on.  Interesting enough — several hours after tweeting about my experience, and even drinking a bottle of their zin at home (saying it was pretty good) I read an article in the Press Democrat about how Korbel is suing Comcast to make Comcast identify “internet customers” who criticized the wine company on Craigslist.

Without turning this post into a debate over freedom of speech or even talking about what was said about Korbel on the postings (read about that in the article), I will say that I think Korbel is going about this all wrong.

This incident happened a year ago and I remember reading it in the Press Democrat, not really thinking too much about it.  Untrue (or possibly true) and unflattering things are said about brands online and offline everyday.  While I do agree that those who said the slanderous allegations should not be allowed to remain anonymous…  It is how a brand handles the negative PR that matters.  I think if Korbel simply dismissed the allegations as false than I wouldn’t be here talking about them or my experience in the tasting room (they were playing the Bodyguard soundtrack from the early 90’s).  Instead their reaction to the allegations was to sue Comcast to get the names of the people who created the postings, just so they can sue them for slander.  This is not a good PR move, it makes them look guilty and it brings on more negative attention.

This got me thinking about Korbel and if they even have an online strategy….  It isn’t like I hear that much about Korbel within the wine-blogging community and in my daily marketing promotions emails.  Their website, though saying brand new, is already out of date and to have their flash version open in another screen is not only unnecessary, it is annoying.

korbel

It is interesting that their site has a forum that currently isn’t working.  Their Perfect Proposal Promotion link is currently not working as well.

Altogether, my perceived image of them is that they are out of date, and Korbel people, if you are reading this (which I hope you are because it means you at least have done something right online aka Google Alerts) these are not allegations, just one person’s experience at your beautiful, yet boring tasting room.   I am a fan, especially of your blanc de noir sparkling wine.  And, hey, if you need some online publicity help, call me…  It is what I do.


customer service, you are doing it right.

Everyone who is “online” knows all about what Tony Hsieh the CEO of Zappos is doing via Twitter to create a brand personality based on human interaction and honestly.

Just today, I read a great article about Bill Taylor‘s visit to the Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas in which he describes what new employees have to go through to work there.

Zappos hires new employees, provides a four-week training period that immerses them in the company’s culture.

Then, a week into training, Zappos offers them $1,000 to quit…. Why? According to the article, it is because if the employee takes the money, then they are not the type of person they want working there anyways….

Coming from an ex-Starbucks employee, I can easily say that other companies in the customer service industry need to pay attention to what Zappos is doing. Their obsession with customer service has turned them into a billion dollar company. Their continuation of their free shipping , easy to use 800 number and free return service is a welcome change from Best Buys’ new policy of not being able to return items when you lost your receipt and paid cash or numerous amount of time spent on hold with AT&T.

My favorite quotes from the article:

“So the value proposition is a winner. But it’s the emotional connection that seals the deal.”

“Companies don’t engage emotionally with their customers—people do.”


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