by Melissa Piper Nelson
Unique, upscale, and even lavish tasting rooms follow the trend of new beverage businesses popping up across the country. From what started out as a place to pour sample drinks to a “club-like” atmosphere complete with music, entertainment, interactive games and experiences, tasting rooms are evolving into their own separate environments designed for customer comfort. To build an exciting environment is a special achievement, but to maintain the customer experience requires well-coordinated human resources efforts.
“While most employees will remember to smile and greet customers when they arrive and ask which bottles they would like to purchase after their tasting — you may need to remind/teach them how to interact with customers between the guest’s arrival/departure,” reminds Dr. Kathy Kelley, Penn State professor of horticultural marketing and business management, writing about customer service for the university’s wine and grape blog.
All staff should be held accountable for providing excellent customer service, and an emerging idea is to hire, train and rely on tasting room facilitators (TRF) whose job it is to greet customers, manage the flow of visitors, direct them to tasting and purchasing areas, answer questions, address concerns and coordinate services to make the tasting room floor more than an in and out “look-see” experience.
Facilitators assist in training staff for excellent customer service as well as serving the dual purpose of managing tasting and sales areas for quality experiences. This is essentially much like the help and information desk staff across many business platforms who serve as the first point of contact for visitors and customers. Consumers anticipate facilitators will help, direct and guide them.
All tasting room staff should be knowledgeable about products and sales. Facilitators are especially helpful in overall logistics, recognizing when visitor management skills are necessary to assist the staff. When areas get crowded, the checkout line is too long, a customer is frustrated and needs attention, or other concerns need to be addressed, facilitators can react quickly and effectively. Taking this off the shoulders of tasting room assistants, especially during busy times, helps ease tensions on both side of the counter.
Thinking in human resources terms, a facilitator should combine some special talents:
- Excellent people skills
- Creative problem-solving
- Ability to assess and resolve logistical concerns
- Be empowered to make on-the-spot managerial decisions
- Empathize with customer needs
- Manage with sincerity and respect
Tasting rooms are evolving to meet changing customer experiences. Training and equipping staff to meet these needs are important components of overall marketing strategies. Designating or hiring a dedicated TRF adds a new dimension to management. It allows tasting room assistants more time to laser focus on customer interactions and satisfaction.
While tasting room ambiance and experiences are essential factors for customer relationships, equipping staff to meet the needs of visitors requires human resources attention and planning as well. A TRF helps to set the tone for excellent customer service and supplies special skills and abilities for logistics and problem-solving in a fast-paced environment. Combined with customer service strategies and management plans, TRFs fill an important role in creating and maintaining customer loyalty.
Some resources on wine and craft beverage customer relations and tasting room growth are available at www.brewersassociation.org and https://psuwineandgrapes.wordpress.com.