By Ellen Seeley

Winemaking is at once an art, a science, and a business. Every great wine tells a story, which enhances its appreciation; yet, also important is the story of the person drinking it. This is where familiarity with and interest in the customer – their story – becomes integral to a winery’s success.

To this end, seasoned marketing guru Elizabeth ‘E’ Slater will be moderating a panel at USBevX titled, “Quality Experience = Customer for Life”, in which she’ll elicit insights from a bevy of customer-care experts from all areas of the wine industry. Herein, the focus will be Customer Relationship Management (CRM) 2.0: crafting a customer-centered experience.

E’ is excited about this panel’s potential to help the Eastern wine industry bring the focus toward the consumer, “For one thing, it’s a terrific panel of people.”

With the up-and-coming nature of the East Coast and Midwest AVAs, this heightened valuation of the customer experience couldn’t be more timely. Many states in the region lack a wine-oriented culture (though some have developed their own); for instance, “Delaware only has a handful of wineries. People there don’t always think, ‘Hey, let’s go on a wine-tasting vacation!’”

However, when consumers do develop such an impulse, area wineries must be crystal-clear on the elements that will provide these customers with an unforgettable experience. The key word? Relationships. “The most important thing is this: if we don’t learn how to treat people well, we aren’t dealing with the crux of the issue. Yes, they want to learn something, but if you can demonstrate interest in them, they’re much more likely to come back! Usually, we spend all our time telling them about the wine until their eyes go glassy, but we end up knowing nothing about them as customers and as people! Then they go to another winery, and another, and not a single one stands out. It’s about how we treat people: welcoming them, learning about them, saying, ‘We know you like this kind of wine, but what do you like to eat, what do you like to do, etc.?’”

For winemakers who want to distinguish their winery from the rest , she emphasizes, “One of the cardinal ways [to stand out] is to make customers feel welcome and give them a different, more comfortable experience from what they find anywhere else—especially for people who are new to wine.” If they feel comfortable and valued, they’ll be open to learning.

Another vital facet of nourishing such relationships is the customer record; tidbits, anecdotes, and personal details that, accrued over time and incorporated into a customer’s profile, will help wineries deepen these customer connections and boost sales. “It is all about their experience, and how important they’re made to feel. If they sense they’re important to you, they will be back. It’s like ‘Cheers’—where ‘everybody knows your name’.” Hence, she encourages winemakers to invest in the best CRM software they can afford.

Further, small wineries (perhaps with limited budgets) can take heart, “It’s fun to visit a big, lavish winery, but it’s also great to tour the small wineries with very personal qualities… because the personal stuff is primary. You can have the most amazing tasting room and gardens, but if you don’t offer that personal touch and investment in the customer, you won’t get them back. If you look after the small things, the big things take care of themselves. In short, look at the details. It needs to be clean and friendly, basically. All the rest is fluff.”  

Indeed, this panel itself promises to be a high-quality experience. Wine-industry professionals including Jon Decker, VP Sales for vinSUITE, Steve DiFrancesco, Winemaker at Glenora Wine Cellars, Leslie Frelow, Founder of Vino 301 Wine Concierge and Jeff Plack, Director of Business Development with Biltmore Estate Wine Company will share the tools and tactics for turning a first time visitor into a brand champion.

Attendees of all types are sure to come away with priceless insights and fresh perspectives on the secrets to cultivating lifelong customers. New brand champions (and their enthusiastic referrals) await. For more information on this session or other workshops at USBevX, visit our website: