The customer experience in a digital world

Updated title at 5:11 am PST on 9.11.12

First things first: Let the record clearly state that I’m not an impartial observer. I attended the concert (along with five sassy, wine-drinking lady friends); I’m a huge Bonnie Raitt fan; and I’ve been a vocal enthusiast of the Chateau Ste. Michelle Summer Concert Series.

Let’s breeze through the already-stale premise of every vaguely technology-focused article—yes, digital technology is here, and it’s here to stay. Today’s digitally-connected world has had a very tangible impact on how we as consumers interact with brands, and it introduces a new set of challenges and standards for today’s businesses. The aftermath of last night’s power outage at Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery is a near textbook case of what not to do in a digital world.

Bonnie RaittBlues legend Bonnie Raitt played to a sold-out crowd on Sunday evening as part of the Winery’s Summer Concert Series. Just after the show’s midpoint—just before Bonnie really started rocking—the power abruptly went out. It flickered back on for a few seconds, giving Bonnie enough time to launch back into Angel from Montgomery, but as soon as she started up again the power screeched to a final halt.

The show didn’t go on, and the paying concertgoers were hastily ushered out of the venue by event staff who provided little direction or information.

Cut to today. Chateau Ste. Michelle didn’t even acknowledge the concert’s premature ending from their Twitter account. They didn’t email attendees with their apologies. And they waited until 3:23 pm to reference the previous evening’s unexpected events on their Facebook page, and even later to reference it on their website.

To those disappointed concertgoers who called requesting a refund, Chateau Ste. Michelle informed them that while they wouldn’t be offering a refund or credit, they would take 30% off a next wine purchase at the Winery gift shop.

The Winery’s lack of a timely response and customer service got people talking, mainly on its Facebook page and in response to an article posted in Woodinville Patch. Spoiler alert: the talk wasn’t praising the Winery for its reaction.

The sweeping negative response could have been easily avoided. Instead, it’s being amplified with social media. Chateau Ste. Michelle, take note—this one’s for you.

It doesn’t matter who’s to blame, if you don’t make your customers feel valued, they’ll blame you. (And they’ll make that blame known.) No mere mortal can influence Mother Nature—we agree on that, Chateau Ste. Michelle. It was an unfortunate turn of events, completely outside the Winery’s control, that a falling tree branch wiped out the power. But, from that point forward, the Winery was responsible for their actions and to their customers. And, if (or in this case, when) you fail to treat your customers with respect, they’ll reciprocate with blame.

Your customers crave information. We’ve grown so accustomed to information being thrown at us, that we panic when it’s not available. If the artist wants to personally bid her guests farewell, have a better option on-hand than a bullhorn that doesn’t project to all 4,800 attendees. Equip your employees with timely information to share with guests as they’re exiting the venue. And when the dust has started to settle the next day, take advantage of digital avenues—website, email, Facebook, Twitter, etc—to communicate with your disappointed patrons.

In the age of real-time information, later is too late. Because we’re also accustomed to up-to-the-second information, waiting until the following afternoon to post a public response is unacceptable.

You don’t define your brand image—your customers do. It doesn’t matter if you promote your brand as “Washington state’s oldest and most acclaimed winery” which provides an “unparalleled tasting experience,” if people don’t share that perception of your brand, it’s null and void. Your brand isn’t what you write on your website, it’s what your customers say about you to their friends—and countless strangers—via social media and word of mouth.

Your staff are living, breathing ambassadors of your brand. Give your brand ambassadors the tools to succeed. If you don’t instruct them to provide the highest standard of customer service, they won’t. If you don’t have systems in place to keep them equipped with real-time information, especially in the case of an emergency or unplanned event, they won’t be able to make your customers feel safe and informed. And when your brand ambassadors fail, your brand fails.

You have your customers’ contact information: use it. Along with charging its beloved ticket fees, Ticketmaster collects your customers’ valuable contact information. Take advantage of that data! Don’t wait for already-angry customers to contact you; proactively reach out to them via email and offer your regrets.

Be sincere. In situations such as this, it’s not really about the refund, it’s about the sincerity. No, the outage wasn’t your fault, but you can and should acknowledge that the situation was handled poorly. Bonus points if you also offer a goodwill gesture that’s greater than 30% off an on-site wine purchase.

People are social across platforms. We love to talk, especially when we’re upset, and we talk on every available platform—from Twitter and Facebook to Yelp and online comment forums. It’s worth repeating: if you fail to treat your customers with respect, they’ll reciprocate with blame. And they won’t be shy about it.

Truthiness matters. The Internet is a wealth of free information, complete with handy artifacts such as set lists. So when your official statement shares your regrets that the show abruptly ended “just as Bonnie was closing it,” your customers know the full story. (Here, the full story being that she had only finished nine songs of her 17-song set list.) If you misrepresent the facts (or, as the extremists like to call it, lie), you will get called on it.

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10 thoughts on “The customer experience in a digital world

  1. Spot on…..too little too late and even then – no substance to their response….as I have said previously, there is another winery just across the street.

  2. Excellent. We still feel sick that we spent $400 on 2 tickets (not via Ticketmaster, via The Guacamole Fund) and saw half a show. Mostly we, too, are angry with how poorly Chateau Ste Michelle handled announcement of the problem (they didn’t), handled the evacuation of the area, handled their “story” the next day re: her set list. I’m not going to make a 100-mile round trip from Tacoma to buy a bottle of discounted wine. I will, however, let everybody know how ill-equipped CSM is to handle an emergency situation. However, I did notice the lights were on in their building. Must protect that precious wine first, guests second, I guess. How sad. Bonnie was gracious, seemed equally as sad, and in the published video STATES that she was looking forward to bringing us “the rest of the show.” Hardly the words of someone who was shutting it down for the night. Again, thanks for this – nicely done.

  3. Good lessons, too, for all businesses. I experienced phenomenal customer service with ThinkGeek yesterday. I will tweet about it (and, apparently, discuss it in “online comment forums”) and I will shop there again. I even called out the customer service rep’s name on twitter. Because that’s what I’d do if they pissed me off (I probably wouldn’t call out the CS rep unless they were horrifyingly bad, though).

    Customer service has always mattered, but with the ease and speed of communicating customer experiences to other customers (and potential customers), it matters even more.

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