The customer is–or isn’t–always right?

~In my wine career, I have worked in wine retail and wine distribution, plus I operated both my own winery tasting room and wine retail shop.
~The one thing I know from my experience selling wine is that the customer isn’t always right.
~The other thing I know is that the customer is always right.

I’ve had customers come back to seek replacement for a bottle of wine they claimed was no good, yet they did not think to bring the wine with them to return it.

I’ve had customers come back to seek replacement for a bottle of wine they claimed was no good, yet the bottle they brought back with them to prove it had no more than a glass of wine left in it.

I’ve had customers come back to seek replacement for a bottle of wine that they simply did not like—sometimes they brought the unfinished wine back, sometimes not.

I’ve had customers hand me a nearly full open bottle of wine claiming that something was wrong with it.

I’ve had customers call me on the phone to complain that the bottle of wine they were drinking at that very moment had something wrong with it.

In most of the above cases, I likely replaced the customer’s wine either with the same or with a different wine—of course, the customer on the telephone got a soothing apology, but if he was thinking I would run over to his apartment with a bottle of wine…

~Next to the concept of volume sales, the key to running a retail wine shop is to build relationships. A wine retailer is up against plenty of competition both in pricing and product choices.
~Sorry to have to say this, but wine consumers aren’t especially loyal, not unless the retailer has taken the time and effort to build a solid relationship, and even then it takes constant stroking of that relationship for it to thrive.
~I’ve seen customers walk away from a relationship over a $1 difference in price.
~Today, I am a retail customer.
~I am always exploring and so I buy a lot of wine with producer names that I had not heard of before. A little while ago, one of those bottles of wine unknown to me had a problem.
~I bought this wine from a retailer with which I have had a relationship for many years, since the late 1980s, when I sold my wine to him when he was manager of a store. He knew me when I was a winemaker and he and I used to meet on the road when we worked for separate distributors.
~A few years back he opened his own wine retail shop. Lately, I have been buying at least ten cases of wine a year from him.
~At home, after opening the particular wine that I referred to above, I discovered that it was oxidized. I called the retailer to warn him of a potential problem with the wine, which happened to be at a discount price at the store.
~I was shocked when the retailer said to me, “You are the only person to complain about the wine.”
~In retail, you don’t verbally accuse or doubt the customer, at least not in your first sentence.
~I suggested that he open a bottle or two and then told him that I would bring back the bottle that I had so he could taste for himself.
~When I got to the wine shop, the employee who had sold me the wine was there. I told him what the situation was and just at that moment the retail shop owner came downstairs to announce that he was late and on his way to a meeting.
~He looked at me and reiterated that so far I was the only one to complain about the wine, he looked at his employee and told him that whatever he worked out with me would be ok with him.
~The employee started our conversation by saying that he had just opened a bottle of that same wine the night before and it was fine.
~I explained to him that we were not talking about the wine he had, but the one I had in my hands, and this bottle was not fine, and that I am quite capable of determining when a wine is oxidized.
~The employee opened the wine, poured some into a glass and said. “Oh yeah, that one is over the hill.”
~He replaced the bottle. I bought a case of wine and left the store, but while driving home, I began to get angry over how the retailer had handled the situation.

This retailer has known me for so many years, knows my wine background, and he knows my spending pattern in his store.

He also must know that I have never brought a wine back to the store—I have had a few cork tainted wines but just didn’t bother to bring them back.

Further, the retailer knows that the distributor of the wine credits or replaces returned bottles that are bad.

Why in the world would the retailer treat the situation the way that he did?

~I suppose the retailer either has contempt for his customers or he is overworked (or both), or maybe he thinks that I am a jerk.
~In any case, it is not my problem, and it was a stupid thing for him to do.
~His payoff: I have decided to shop elsewhere in the future.

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
August, 2007. All Rights Reserved.

2 Responses to “The customer is–or isn’t–always right?”

  1. winophite says:

    Indeed, service is a dying art. My experience differs, but the result is the same. I’m not a big spender, but 1-2 thousand $’s a year for several years, all paid for by check. Now because the retailer cant get his employees to follow store policy on who to accept checks from, he decides to no longer accept them from anyone. When I was told of this at the cash register, my first thought was to leave empty handed, however since I had spent over an hour picking out a half case that I wanted, totaling around $88, I went on to use my credit card. He has lost me as a customer for I don’t wish to charge spirits (other than mailing lists). As I said earlier, customer service no longer seems to exist, thus nor does this customer, for him! WP