Wilfred Wong has, for as long as I can remember been one of my hero's. I loved the way he evaluated wines across the board with class and honesty without ever being nasty in a review. Ever. Not once. I had a huge amount of respect for that. That class and compassion I then applied to one of his employers BevMo. I shopped there religiously and without fail - confident that if Wilfred Wong was a class act then BevMo must be too. For years our relationship grew, we went through the Court of Masters classes together, BevMo got me through my wine tasting groups and even my occasional first growth binges.
Life became predictable and the years went by, until one day the decision was made that I would move to Oregon. Southern Oregon, where I am based now - is three hours from the nearest BevMo located in Redding, CA. Now we all know that long distance relationships are hard to make work but I refused to give up on us and was committed to making an effort. Trips for work and family alike were planned around making that stop in Redding. We saw each other infrequently for the next few years but every time we did life felt right again.
Until last month.
On our way back from our annual pilgrimage to the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers event in San Francisco my human sweetheart & I made the requisite stop. His errand was to pick up a 1.5 liter of Jim Beam for mom who has just crossed over into being an octogenarian. We occasionally like to enjoy an old fashion before dinner together. After having two surgeries on it in my youth, I had recently thrown out my right knee again and as such was marching to the beat of my own drums as we walked into the store. Huny being tall and able bodied walked briskly into the store and banked right headed toward his favorite corner filled with beer and booze. I unattractively hobbled into the store towards the left wondering if I should spend more time in the Sherry or the Madeira section (long story on why that we'll skip). Somehow, I find myself magnetically drawn to the Alsatian section & moments after I start browsing for something my cellar doesn't have I see Huny out of the corner of my eye, Jim Beam in hand headed to check out. So I start hobbling to the front of the store.
This is where we enter the Twilight Zone.
By the time I am 20 feet from the counter although I can not hear the transaction, I have watched Huny give the female clerk behind the counter his ID (he was born in 1966) and his BevMo card. He is waiting for her to scan the one bottle of Jim Beam and she is staring at me. By the time I have mentally assessed all of this (mind you, we did just spend a weekend in "Zin") I am about 10 feet from the counter and can hear her asking me from ten feet away for my ID & BevMo card. Huny, confused because I had nothing to purchase and thinking she forgot she had his ID & Card already (both of our names are on the BevMo account) gently reminded the clerk that she already had what she was asking for. Well, apparently she didn't.
The clerk then proceeded to ignore Hunys reminder and turned immediately without another word to either of us and without waiting for a response from me; to a man we believe was her supervisor. Who was conveniently hanging out at the register behind hers...the register wasn't open, we were the only ones in the store but there he was ready and waiting. Without a word exchanged between them, he walks up right behind the female clerk and very aggressively tells us that it is corporate policy to card every person in the group for every purchase. Bad move.
1. As BevMo customers in multiple states for multiple years, we know this not to be true
2. As returning BevMo customers of that particular store, we know this not to be true
3. The situation did not escalate, no one was upset, no voices were raised...why is there a manager involved?
4. If this was in fact the policy, why couldn't the front line clerk who is given the responsibility of selling the booze (the biggest factor that can get a company into huge trouble) present and explain this policy?
Poor Huny at this point is just in shock and awe. Rightfully, as neither of us had EVER been in a situation remotely like this before. I was simply horrified that I was being jilted in a relationship that had lasted so long.
Trying desperately to understand what was happening (he is very left brained and needs the logistics to work out in his head) Huny asks what if he were to come in with his two year old child, would they ask for an ID from the infant? With new found bravery even though she wasn't able to speak for herself moments ago, our female clerk cuts her supervisor off and quickly replies, "She is clearly not your daughter, sir." (Duh, I was born in 1977) Until the day I die I will never forget that sentence. They then both point (no really, both of them...2 fingers in unison) to the text on the counter as if the little letters under the plexi-glass were the holy grail of life. I realized then that I was on breakup lane and it was a one way street. Brokenhearted, I quietly told Huny to retrieve his ID & his American Express Business Card. We left buying nothing.
Breaking up is hard to do but businesses today need to be careful. In today's competitive economy it is a consumers infatuation of your customer service, love for your brand & the for integrity of the way in which you do business that will determine your success. Rebounding is easy for the consumer with so many other companies waiting to court our pocketbooks....case in point:
We get in the car and hit the freeway with probably about 15 miles of interstate behind us before Huny can even speak. "I'm not going over the border without Jim Beam", he says. As if the cosmos felt bad for our recent experiences, at that moment we pass a sign for the Liquor Expo in Grenada, CA. We pulled off and had a very nice experience purchasing our 1.5 liter of Jim Beam. The staff was very helpful, kind and compassionate - something they put a big emphasis on in their business model judging by the sign on the wall outside of the employee restrooms.
1.) Businesses that are run in only states of black or white are going to become extinct through natural consumer selection in an era of commerce based vastly in the technological world.
2.) If your front line people can not patiently explain (and defend if necessary) your policies to the guests that frequent your business, they should not be on the front line.
3.) A businesses policies are only as sound as the manners in which they are applied.
4.) Take the HEAT:
- Hear your guest
- Take action
- Thank the guest for sharing their feedback
6.) The definition of the word guest is "a visitor to whom hospitality is extended ".
7.) Businesses should respond to the customer concern correspondence.
Breaking Up Is Not Hard To Do
We have loved you for years, trusted your guidance and enjoyed the beautifully bottled poetry you have brought into our lives. I fear we write you today to tell you that we can't love you anymore. You have hurt us without explanation and treated us as if we were trying to break the law without cause for suspicion. You treated us as if you didn't know us after our long relationship and we just can't take it anymore. We vow to never shop at your stores again. The $5,200 we spent on you last year we now plan to spend on supporting the local Southern Oregon wine industry by buying direct from the local producers. We hope that you will in time find someone else and when you do we hope that you will treat them better.
Great Online Resources On Customer Service
Church of the Customer
The Ten Commandments of Customer Service
Customer Service Zone
I hope that the business owners that read this blog piece will realize the power of hiring the right people. I still love Wilfred Wong and his integrity remains in our minds 100% intact. I projected Wilfred's integrity to include the BevMo organization. This demonstrates that embracing the class and integrity exemplified by your employees will bring like minded consumers to your tribe. Not maintaining that integrity and class only sets everyone up for heart beak. I would encourage these business owners to cherish the newest members of their tribe and never take them for granted. The easiest customer to keep is a happy one.
In conclusion, I learned after my 44 year old sweetie was denied the ability to purchase booze for his 81 year old mom because he was accompanied by his 33 year old significant other, who was asked but never given the opportunity to present her ID - that it is better to buy local. The wineries in Southern Oregon appreciate the money we spend. Although many would like to believe that we're from such a small area we don't know much, I can tell you that we know better that to treat our guests like that. Shame on the mega-corporation that should have had the experience we lack to know better and shame on them some more for not responding to the letter I sent over a week ago. It's a shame when love stories go wrong for lack of such simple gestures as respect, patience & compassion.