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Expressing genuine interest pays off

There is a restaurant in my neighborhood named Wine Experience Café & World Cellar. This restaurant is unique in that two-thirds of the space is used as a bar area and dining room and the other third is used as a liquor and wine store.

The owner, Eldon Larson, had a career in wine sales prior to opening Wine Experience Café two years ago. His knowledge of wines, grapes, regions, etc. is extensive and he’s always willing to share and educate in order to elevate a guest’s meal or wine purchase from a transaction to—as the restaurant’s name implies—an experience!

Earlier this year, I took a friend of mine out to dinner for his birthday at Eldon’s restaurant and Eldon stopped by our table to check-in with us regarding the quality of the food and service. Sensing by our questions that we were especially interested in wine, Eldon pulled up a chair and asked our server to bring over a flight of three unique wines. If you’re not familiar with wine flights, they are simply a variety of wines served as smaller, perhaps three-ounce, pours.

Eldon expertly paired the wines with the food we’d ordered. When they arrived at the table, Eldon led us in tasting the wines. He asked questions of us pertaining to what we noticed in the colors of the wines, the scents we were picking up when nosing the wines, and what tastes we were detecting when sipping the wines. He explained the acidity, the texture, and the finish of the wines and, again, moved the meal from transactional to experiential.

After Eldon had left our table, another diner commented, “You two must be pretty important for the owner to spend so much time at your table.” Shawn and I laughed. Then she said knowingly, “Wait until you get the bill.”

And you know what? She was right. Eldon doesn’t give wine away. He sells wine. But more than that, he fulfills experiences. If our number one priority had been price, we wouldn’t have been at Wine Experience Café to begin with. Yes, people are looking for value (in any economy) but not at the expense of fulfilling an experience.

Let’s fast-forward four weeks or so to last week when I stopped by the retail side of the establishment to inquire about a bottle of wine, Earthquake Cabernet. Although Eldon did not stock the wine, he took the time to look the bottle up and told me that he would place a call to his distributor to find out whether or not he could get it in the store.

A couple of days later I received a voice mail from Eldon saying that the wine had arrived. My first thought was, “Oh, I didn’t intend for him to order a bottle. I only intended for him to see if it was available and, if so, at what price?”

Later that day I arrived at the store to pick up the bottle of Earthquake Cabernet, hoping that it was closer to $20 than $40. When I arrived, Eldon greeted me with, “I’ve got your case of Earthquake right here.”

I said, “Case?”

He said, “Yes. You did want a case didn’t you?”

Here is where the relationship that Eldon had been building over time by expressing genuine interest in me as a customer, sharing unique knowledge about wines, and conveying authentic enthusiasm for food and wine, really began to pay off for him.

I said, “I’m not even sure of the per bottle price. How much is it?”

Eldon said, “I was able to get you a really good price from the distributor: $24 per bottle. I actually hired him into the business many years ago.”

My response: “Sold!”

The moral of the story is that, in the absence of the relationship that Eldon had forged, I almost certainly would have said, “Hey, I never authorized ordering the case. I was only inquiring as to whether or not the wine was available and, if so, at what price. My budget is $20 for wine, so that wine’s too pricey anyway.”

In that situation, the vendor is stuck carrying another $288 worth of obscure inventory and depending on how the misunderstanding is handled, could jeopardize future business with the customer. Think about it, we’ve all been in similar situations before. How you chose to proceed as a customer likely hinged on the relationship you had with the vendor.

Memorable service that is customer-focused fulfills experiences, builds relationships, and creates loyal customers who are less price-sensitive, recommend your business to others, and tend to repurchase products and services.

Transactional service that is process-focused and does not add value or build customer relationships, however, does none of these things.

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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