retail news in context, analysis with attitude

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Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

Over the past few months, I've used this space to talk from time to time about customer service experiences that I've found wanting while dealing with companies like Timex and Rosina's Meatballs. The point has been to illustrate both where gaps in customer service can occur, and how, when dealing with one customer, your efforts often can be communicated to thousands, or more.

Today, I'd like to talk about a transcendent customer service experience I've had while here in Portland.

It took place at the Willamette Valley Vineyard, where we went one afternoon for a tour and wine tasting. Now, I'm a member of the wine club there, so I get shipments with some frequency. When I got to the Vineyard, they knew that I was already a customer ... it wasn't like they had to start from scratch to sell me.

But I have to tell you ... the person who greeted us, and who spent well over two hours with us, was a young woman named Wende Bennette. On her card, it says she is a wine "ambassador." And that's not just some sort of affectation (like, say, "Content Guy.") She really is an ambassador ... not just for the wines, about which she was extremely knowledgeable ... but also for the brand experience as a whole.

One of the things that Wende suggested, in looking at my history as a wine club member, was that she could save us money on shipping by moving from six to two shipments a year, and that she'd actually like to start customizing those two shipments so we'd get what we like and need, and not just the standard offerings to wine club members. And she did it all with a verve and personality that kept us laughing and engaged for the entire time, even arranging for Daniel Shepherd, the assistant winemaker, to come over and visit us and bring some straight-from-the-barrel wine that was getting close to being bottled. The afternoon was magical.

Now, I'm not under any delusions here. We got this treatment because we were paying, regular customers. (I don't think she knew anything about MNB.) I fully anticipate that as a result of this visit, I'm to end up spending more money and buying more Willamette Valley Vineyard wines.

But that's okay. In fact, it's the point.

Sure, a vineyard is a somewhat rarefied experience compared to the average retail store. But what is precisely the same is the enormous role that an engaged ambassador for the brand - it can be a department manager, or a checkout person, or the person stocking shelves - can play in creating a connection, creating loyalty, and establishing a bond that is sustainable over the long term.

That's what Wende Bennette did. It was one of the best customer experiences I've ever had.

Funny thing ... the other day I was on the phone with Delta Airlines trying to make a ticket change, and I agreed to take the automated survey at the end. I was glad I did, because the person who helped me was terrific.

But the last question they asked caught me by surprise. And on reflection, it was exactly the right question: "If you had a company or business, did you think enough of the customer service representative that you dealt with that you would hire them?"

Great question.

In the case of Wende Bennette, the answer is a resounding "yes."

That's what companies should aim for. Hire the right people. Empower them. Create effective brand ambassadors. And then watch them soar, and generate all sorts of new business.

Anyway, that's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

KC's View: