What Makes an Outstanding Guest Experience?
apologies for my absurdly blurry photo. The session itself was unbelievably clear!
Wivi Central Coast hosted a session considering the question what makes an outstanding guest experience, looking primarily at how tasting rooms at wineries can offer exceptional hospitality. The discussion was led by Barbara Talbott of Glen Larkin Advisors and moderated by Morgen McLaughlin, the executive director of the Santa Barbara Vintners. Previously, Barbara helped build the Four Seasons brand defining its exceptional focus on service and hospitality. She has since turned to consulting, speaking and writing about how to translate such experience to direct-to-consumer brands. Her ability to share a depth of insight through clear examples and tips for the attendees was impressive.
In making sense of the guest experience, Barbara suggests thinking of it in relation to three primary stages of experience. Doing so helps you define how you want to uniquely approach each stage of the guest’s time with you in the tasting room. The three stages are the Arrival, the Tuning In, and the Closing Experience. In thinking of each of these stages you can ask what you want to define that stage of the guest’s time with you. Answering that question can be guided by thinking of your job in the tasting room as providing hospitality with a purpose. The wine is a very important part of it but as direct-to-consumer sales have increased more and more the wine has become simply a vehicle for creating a larger interaction. The question is to ask what you want to offer.
In determining what you want to offer, Barbara says, be authentic, be real. She emphasizes that hospitality is offering a memorable experience. Consumers know what is real and what is genuine and in today’s market that is what people are looking for. It is also what will make them want to invest in your brand to return again or join a wine club. She explains that, “Hospitality is knowing just a few things. It is knowing who we are and what we want to offer.” Seamless hospitality comes from understanding our own values, interests, and strengths and how we want to offer those to the guest. Her favorite expression of this idea is the known saying, we should be who we are because everyone else is taken.
The goal in defining your experience in the tasting room is answering this is who and what we are, and this is what we are offering in just a few words. As one of several examples she mentioned, the Sonoma winery Gundlach Bundschu, affectionately called GunBun in the region, uses the simple statement, “Come slow down with us.” In one phrase they have delivered a picture of what their guest experience is all about. GunBun comes from the idea that “we take our wines seriously but ourselves not so much.” The guest experience they offer is unpretentious, friendly and family oriented, also hosting a regular music festival as the head of the winery today loves music. The choice to integrate music into their winery experience reflects what the family cares about.
A second example Barbara listed was Scribe, just around the corner from GunBun. There the brothers behind Scribe refer to their experience as a visit to “our farm.” The experience reflects their own background growing up on a farm, gives a sense of spending time in nature, and is defined by being leisurely, outdoors, and at the same time with a lot of interaction with host. It is a very beautiful while also simple, rural experience. Barbara then went on to describe an experience at Nicholson Ranch winery. There everything is grown and made on site, and the family has chosen to create a true estate experience offering in depth exploration of the soils and vineyards, or a relaxed tasting alongside the vineyard, or a sit down tasting inside. The owner-winemaker is often there pouring the wine. In each case, the experience is one of being next to the winery/vineyard and in that way part of where the wine being tasted originates. Finally, Barbara referenced Domaine Chandon. There the signature experience revolves around sharing with people the process of making methode traditionelle sparkling wine while enjoying the wine made there. In this way, Barbara offered four distinct examples that were each shaped by the wineries answering what they can uniquely offer.
In deciding what it is your winery can uniquely offer Barbara suggests thinking about a few simple tips. In a few words, what is the feeling of the experience that you want to stand for. How do you want to bring it to life for the guest. Do you want to offer a place to relax? A place to borrow the rural lifestyle? To travel vicariously? To deepen wine knowledge? She points out these are all things one can offer beyond a mere wine tasting while the guest is tasting wine. In designing a tasting room and the experience offered there, there are numerous decisions that must be made from what kind of music will be played, to how the space will be designed or decorated, to whether or not food will be offered and if so what kind. She clarifies that if you know what feel you want to bring to life for the guest all of these other questions can be answered much more easily.
Another key point to answer is what exceptional basics do you want to offer – what things in your guest experience do you want to do really well?
Finally, she emphasized the importance of visual elements within the tasting room, be they photographs, videos, or maps, as examples. She suggested that visual elements should be present in the tasting room but that the key is to make sure they are authentic to the winery and the people there. Once they are in the tasting room then they can be used to connect visitors virtually to the experience and the place, and referred to throughout the tasting as a means to do that.
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