How Mystery Shoppers Can Improve Your Business

By. Neil Williamson, Grumpy Marketing Guy

The term ‘Mystery Shopper” has been around for at least twenty years. The concept behind mystery shopping is rather simple; how do your employees (or you) honestly interact with customers.  While there are companies that do mystery shopping for a fee, I have found some of the best mystery shoppers are friends of mine who are not known to the client or the client staff.

Doesn’t the use of a mystery shopper mean you don’t trust your staff?  No.  Frankly when I have presented the results from the Mystery Shoppers staff are often horrified at the manner in which their actions were perceived.   With the advancement of Facebook, Twitter and Yelp! having a consistent customer engagement strategy is critical.  There are many individuals who will spend a great deal of time blogging about their experience in your establishment.  These too are teaching moments; but I’d rather control the discussion with a mystery shopper program.

How to build the shopper program — with your staff.  No one likes surprises so go over the goals of your customer engagement program with the staff and see if they agree.  If not, revise the metrics of the program.

Here are a few sample metrics based on a winery tasting room setting:

Were you greeted on arrival in the tasting room?

Were you informed of the tasting fee prior to tasting?

During the tasting did the staff seem knowledgeable about the wines?

Were you given time to taste each wine?

Did the staff provide the history of the winery?

Were you informed of upcoming events?

Were you asked how you heard about the winery?

Did the tasting staff seem interested in your wine journey?

After tasting were you given the opportunity to retaste?

Did the staff ask for your wine order?

In preparing your wine order did the staff confirm with you the wines before placing in the case/box?

Were you thanked for your purchase?

Was your checkout handled efficiently?

Was the tasting room busy?

Was the tasting room adequately staffed?

Overall how would you rate your visit (1-10 scale)?

What could be improved?

Once you and your staff determine the metrics to be used and you let them know you will be using a mystery shopper, you will see improvement in your customer engagement.  I usually bring in the mystery shopper 2 weeks after the staff has signed off on the metrics.

After the mystery shopper files their report (usually an e-mail with the questions above answered and other comments i.e. tasting room staff wearing low cut blouse, taking phone calls, kids running in tasting room, etc.)  I take the results to the tasting room manager and discuss in a morning meeting and then chat with all the associates over lunch.

This team methodology allows the manager to have an opportunity to determine how to best use the information to generate better customer engagement.  Usually better customer engagement results in increased sales.  And really isn’t that what marketing is all about.

Respectfully Submitted,

GMG

Image Credit: Truliant Federal Credit Union

 

 

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An Insider’s Guide to Wine Festivals

This article first ran in The Old Town Crier in May of 2011

By. Neil Williamson

We are well on our way into Virginia wine festival season.  For those not familiar with wine festivals, these outdoor events feature music and wine tastings as well as wine sales.  Some of the festivals include an educational seminar component as well.  As I am now entering my tenth season participating on both sides of the table, the Old Town Crier thought it might be fun for me to share festival strategy.

Photo Credit: Virginia Wine Festival

Don’t go it alone I can’t think of a single festival that I have enjoyed going to alone.  I strongly encourage you to bring a friend or a group of friends so that you can discuss the wines and enjoy the beauty that is the Virginia countryside.

Have a designated driver If one of your festival patrons will not volunteer, I have known friends to be bribed with wine purchase (usually a case) to serve as the designated driver for the group for the day.  While the primary benefit of the designated driver is safety, ancillary benefits include a clear headed friend to keep your group out of any incidents at the festival itself (stuff happens).

Choose the right day Do you like crowds, excitement and generally more rocking music choose to go to the Saturday of a two day festival.  If you prefer to have conversations with winemakers and shorter lines choose early Sunday.

Dress the partshoes Most festivals feature a center tent and then winery and craft tents in a field.  Shoes that work well in that environment are a must.  Many wine folks can tell the tale of the high heels festival goers had to put in the trash after a surprise afternoon rain created a mud bog.

Dress the part – hat As we start the festival season, the sun can sneak up on you.  I know I sound like your mother but a good hat (and sunscreen) are important to the enjoyment of the day.

Plan your attack – When I attend a festival, which are great opportunities to taste lesser known wineries, I always seek those out first.  It never fails to amaze me the ppatrons who choose to go to their old standby’s first.  In the industry there is a term known as palate fatigue – as you taste flavors (regardless of if you spit or not) your palate becomes increasingly less sensitive as you continue to taste.  As I know my favorite’s flavor profiles I tend to taste those later in the day.

Eat – Fesitvals tend to have some of the best “fair” food in the state.  I have been known to bring crabcake sandwiches home from festivals to rave reviews from the family.  Eating is an important part of the festival experience, whether you bring your own picnic (check with each festival) or select from the multitude of food vendors.  Both the break in tasting and the chance to sit down with friends and eat is a welcome respite.

Drink more than just wine (water) – Smart festival goers pack their own water into the event (usually permitted) beyond the potential heat, the tannins in the wine can deaden your scenes at the next winery you taste.  In addition if you did not like the previous wineries last pour you have your own water to rinse that from the glass.

Don’t smoke in the tasting line – Far be it from Grapevine (who has been known to enjoy a fat cigar every now and again) to tell you not to smoke; but don’t smoke in line.  This is a tasting event and if someone is blowing smoke rings from a nice thick Padron cigar, they people in front of them will have a tough time tasting the apricot undertones of the delightfully light Viognier.

Ask questions – When you are tasting with folks from the winery don’t accept the canned “it’s a full bodied red blend” ask questions.  What’s it a blend of?  Did this spend time in Oak?  How was the vintage year compared with others?   What would you serve with this? What’s your favorite wine?  These folks are pouring wine because they love wine, learn from them what they know.  And if they don’t know (or direct you to someone who does) – that says something too!

Wait your turn – You will never learn any of the fun stories if you are reaching over three other people to get served.  If the line is too long either find a less crowded winery or buy a bottle and sit and listen to the music.

Buy wine – The festival is designed to showcase Virginia wine in a manner that you will buy some.  While the wineries know you have paid to be there to taste wine, they have also paid to be there to pour wine.  Unless they sell wine it is unlikely they will be back.  Wineries often have festival specials that can’t be matched even at the winery tasting rooms seek them out along with six pack and case discounts.

Use will call/wine pick up – most of the larger festivals have a solid will call wine pick up service.  When you buy your wine they haul it over to a spot where you can pick it up and (often) have it loaded in your car.

Attend the seminars, cooking demonstrations and tasting tents – The festival coordinators work to develop educational opportunities that are generally undersubscribed.

SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION – I will also be serving as the host of the “Top Five” Tasting Tent at the thirtieth annual Vintage Virginia the first weekend in June at Bull Run.  I will also be a part of the Wine 101 seminar  at the Montpelier Wine Festival held in May in Orange County.

Whether you choose to be a part of the seminars or not, I strongly encourage you to attend a couple Virginia Vine Festivals and taste how Virginia wines have grown in variety and excellence. I do hope to see you along the Virginia Wine Trail.

 

Wine Festivals – Marketing Goldmine, Necessary Evil or Simple Drunkfest?

By. Neil Williamson, Grumpy Marketing Guy

Photo Credit: Virginia Wine Festival

Anyone that has been paying attention over the last twenty years has witnessed the growth of the wine festival.  The bulk of this post will focus on Virginia wine festivals but I have seen similar patterns in other states as well.  As a disclaimer, I have created festivals, worked with festival promoters, been a festival attendee and been an exhibiting winery.

One truth at the outset — All festivals are not created equal.

Back in the Industry’s early days, wine festivals were the hot spot to find the new wine meet the wine makers and hear good music (all of this is still true).  In addition these festivals were hugely profitable for the wineries because people would come and buy cases of Virginia wine that were not available at their local stores.

Then three major changes occurred:

  • Others saw the festivals were successful and fun and more festivals popped up
  • Virginia wineries started selling in the neighborhood wine shops
  • A bunch more Virginia wineries (now over 200) came on the scene

Photo Credit: Virginia Wine Festival

Does this mean festivals are no longer a good idea for consumers or wineries — absolutely not but how both consumers and wineries approach festivals should change.  In addition smart festival promoters are differentiating their festivals with additional programming, unique locations, and special top-notch entertainment and promotion.

First, consumers should change their methodology at a festival.  Rather than heading toward either the first tent or your favorite, I encourage festival goers to “start in the back and work forward”.  Seek out those wineries you don’t know before you head back to your well known favorites.  Secondarily, eat — trust me you need to eat.  After over a decade in the wine business, I can tell you the sun and the wine will catch up with you.  Finally and most importantly buy.  The wineries have come to the festival to sell you wine.  Don’t ask where you can buy it — look at the cases stacked behind the taster — you can buy the wine here!

The wineries need to be more selective about their pours.  Knowing you are headed to a festival where a number of wineries will be pouring do you think it is wise to bring all 14 of your wines?  An interesting study mentioned in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink tested consumers provided four options of jelly to taste versus 12 options of jellies to taste — which portfolio sold more?  The one with only 4 choices.  Take a good look at your wine inventory and determine which wines you can afford to pour and sell at festival.  In addition, after two years of festival going, wineries should take a good hard look at their festival profitability, not all festivals make money but those that cost a bunch should be considered for discontinuation.

Finally, the promoters must recognize two important realities first the people come to the festival for the wine so be really nice to the wineries and make it easy for them.  Secondarily, that the days of throwing a wine party in the field and having any crowd come are long gone.  You need to have a hook, a solid marketing plan (including social media), as well as hope for good weather.

Festivals are an important part of the Virginia wine business.  In addition to being a solid sales/marketing opportunity it also draws the industry together in a unique way.  You will never forget who was near you when the Tornado Warning came down from the hill or what wineries made it to the convention room floor despite over a foot of snow.

Above all else, all involved in wine festivals need to have a can do attitude and recognize that whether the event is like a Super Bowl winning team or the voyage of the Titanic, we are all in this together.

The answer to the question in the post headline is “Yes!”

Respectfully Submitted,

GMG