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March 28, 2011


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I'm honored :)

This was very interesting.

Any business owner who didn't respond to that e mail based on the fact that it didn't look 'real' is in serious defense mechanism mode. If nothing else, just put an auto reply message up if you are closed stating your hours of operation and say 'Cheers'.

Anyone can run their businesses they way they want to. But the benefits of responding like those two sample e mails are clear. I am a consumer of wine, outside the industry, but I can sincerely tell you that if the wineries think I choose which clubs I am in based solely on the taste of their wines, they are really misguided.

When I visit the winery, I like being greeted like Norm on 'Cheers' where everyone knows my name (Clovis Point or Roanoke). When I need to rearrange my shipping since i am out of the area or have my relative pick it up for me, I never want hassles, which is why I love Lenz and Paumanauck. And I like the fact that Hearts and Hands writes me a nice hand written note of thanks when I buy something.

There are many wines outside of those from the NYS region that I love, but if anyone thinks I am willing to put up with unanswered e mails when I am trying to stop a shipment because I am away, I don't have the time. I definitely don't give them as much business.

A great exercise but I think it should have been done during the season. We were in the Finger Lakes a couple of weekends ago (in fact, we were the first visitors to Heart & Hands this season!) A few of our favorite places were still closed for the winter. I suspect that's the reason the overall response rate was lower than I would expect.

We've made multiple trips to the Finger Lakes and northern Virginia so we have an idea of what to do and where to go in those areas. We do most of our research on the internet when planning a trip to a new region.

ITB.... as a Consumer!

Lenn.... love the little test you did.

I'd be super curious if some of the wineries that gave you instant flack for this experiment were the same wineries that didn't respond to "Brian" (or brushed him off with lame responses). It would be sad to think that the everyman (Brian) didn't get the same level of attention as the wine critic/media (Lenn).

Anyway... I'm a big email correspondent. I often email wineries about hours, events, picnic facilities, and group policies (if I'm traveling with more than 4 people).
My emails are primarily directed to the North Fork and I have to say that responses have historically been prompt and helpful. (I know wine staff can be super busy at different times of the season, so my definition of prompt would be within 48 hours - - - if I needed a response sooner than that, I would call).

And from my experience, it is often the smaller, low-key wineries that provide more detailed, thoughtful responses…. so I don’t want to hear excuses of “staff size” or “budget”.

If anything, I hope some of the non-responders in this experiment come to realize that the Brians of the world are as important as the Lenns.

I work at a winery in Michigan and I would like to think we would do better! But I have to admit that I would have responded better on some days than others. There is a difference between being informative about our wine, being welcoming, and gracious and being a concierge or travel bureau. The email sent was asking a lot of the winery. If your emailer had been a 'real' person I would have assumed he was a bit lazy or unskilled on the web to have asked so many questions that he could easily find the answers to in a few clicks. I truly would have thought the email odd, which might give a clue to some of the uneven responses. YOU are a writer, and might not be intimidated by having to write the answers to so many questions. Most people email us for the answers to quick questions... Not for blogs or article fodder ;-)

Ed: With all due respect, potential customers are potential customers -- regardless of season. I'd be more inclined to agree with you about doing this in the "on season" if so many of those that DID get back to us weren't closed. There were a good number of "We're closed, but here is where you should taste..." emails. And to Steve's point -- if you're closed and won't be checking email, put an out of office on. Besides, one could argue that winery staff is busier during the high season and has less time to respond (well) to emails.

Dave: You'd be surprised. There are winery folks who did respond quickly and well who still didn't like this project. There really doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason behind the response. It's really impossible to generalize at all.

EJB: Thanks for the comment, but I don't agree with you that my email could be seen as lazy. It's of course very easy with a Google search or a wine trail website to see what other wineries or restaurants are around -- but how do we know if they are any good? I always ask winery employees where else I should taste and where I should eat. They always know the best places. Always.

You may find the email "odd" but I've sent this very kind of email -- as myself -- to wineries in NY as well as other states (VA, CA, PA) in the past. If an interested inquiry from a wine lover who is definitely going to be buying wine on a trip to a new wine region is odd, then so be it.

$$$ suffering in Japan $$$ melting polar ice $$$ middle east uprisings $$$ endless wars $$$ cholera epidemic in Haiti $$$ it's march, I'm bored $$$ let me mess with some wineries $$$

"If an interested inquiry from a wine lover who is definitely going to be buying wine on a trip to a new wine region . . ."

Lenn, nothing in your e-mail indicates a definite sale or that the you are a wine lover. In fact it reads quite the opposite to me. I would assume from the e-mail, based on experience, that you represent a group of tourists looking to kill an afternoon (yours and mine) as cheaply as possible. Also do you have any idea how many people send inquiries like this and turn out to be no-shows? (Perhaps I can now assume they are all just part of some make believe marketing survey?) I still respond to them all politely but again, in my experience, the majority of these inquiries are fruitless and EJB's comments are spot on.

You say "If I owned a winery, I'd want every single email like this to be responded to in a timely, well-considered fashion."

And I say if you owned a winery you might see things a little different.

Andrew: Thanks for the comment. Always great to get fresh perspectives.

In this case, you pulled my quote a bit out of context. I said that right after mentioning that I -- a wine lover and someone who spends way too much money on wine -- have sent emails very much like this before visiting a new wine region.

I should also mention that I receive quite a few emails like this every month from people visiting New York wine country -- Long Island in particular. As far as I'm concerned, if I can take the time to answer each one of these emails thoughtfully and thoroughly, then wineries should be able to.

I'm sorry to hear that so many in the wine industry assume that these types of inquiries aren't worth their time. I'm surprised by that, actually.

"In this case, you pulled my quote a bit out of context. I said that right after mentioning that I -- a wine lover and someone who spends way too much money on wine -- have sent emails very much like this before visiting a new wine region."

Nothing in the original e-mail you sent to wineries indicates that you are either a wine lover or wine buyer.

"I'm sorry to hear that so many in the wine industry assume that these types of inquiries aren't worth their time. I'm surprised by that, actually."

In my experience the majority of these types inquiries, no matter how you play them, do not translate into sales.

Andrew: I'm sorry if 'm not being clear. I said that I -- a wine lover/buyer -- have sent emails like this one. Thus, an email like this very well can come from a wine lover/buyer. Period.

If these types of inquiries don't translate, why accept emails from your website at all? One would think that the main reason for enabling people to contact you is to learn more about your winery with the end goal (from your perspective) of a transaction.

Lenn-this isn't Shakespeare, although the title of one of his stories might suffice..."Much Ado About Nothing". You're defensive because few people are taking your blistering expose on wineries email responses less than seriously. Don't show your insecurity by responding to every post here...rather, write something more compelling. Educate me on what people like Andrew are doing when they aren't responding to tire-kicker emails like yours.

For the record we respond to all customer service e-mails, politely and hopefully informatively. All I'm trying to get across here is that in our experience generic, non-specific e-mails like the one Lenn sent out that make no reference to any of our wines or even our winery tend not to result in visits or sales.

Also the e-mail, again, due to its generic format, could easily be mistaken for one of the many scam e-mails that we receive, literally, on a daily basis and that may have something to do with the low response rate Lenn received.

Anyway, that was fun but I need to go cut some firewood.


local wine lover: I can't tell if you're a comments spammer or not -- you left a comment earlier today that leads me to believe you may be. But all I'm able to learn from you, because you are posting anonymously, is that you, like EJB, are from Michigan. Or at least are commenting from Michigan.

Regardless, I'm not being defensive at all. Not sure why you'd think or say that. I have no reason to be defensive here. I answer every NYCR-related email that I receive.

Andrew: We'll have to agree to disagree here. No one who responded to my email agrees that it looks/looked like spam. The only people who are saying that are those who didn't reply as part of this project.

Why bother to have a web page with contact info on it if you are not going to answer ? You never are sure who the e-mail is from and if it correlates to a visit or sale. No matter how big or small you are, not just as winery, but as any business, if you put yourself out there on the world wide web answer the e-mail.As along as it's not someone wanting your bank account numbers or your social security number.

Why is everyone making Lenn out to be the bad guy in this scenario?

Seems to me that this is pretty simple. If a business lists an email address on its site it should expect people to use it and it should reply to those emails.

If you are one of the wineries that did not reply to Lenn's email from a fake name, it seems pretty pathetic to make excuses and direct your anger at Lenn.

For whatever reason you didn't respond to an email. Accept it, own it and move on.

I have to agree with John here--strident reactions to this exercise are unwarranted. If winery operators consider the Brian Sedgwick project invalid, then either 1) educate other NYCR readers about why it is invalid, or 2) ignore it. This has never been billed as some sort of "blistering expose"; it's a conversation starter, which is very much in line with the NYCR mission. Named wineries were only given plaudits, so there is no need for a winery to be defensive.
I find it interesting that both here and on the initial post, most commenters identifying themselves as consumers have expressed support for the Sedgwick exercise, even if they (like Ed) would have liked something to be different about it. I would assume that the majority of NYCR readers are at least semi-serious about wine, so if we care about the e-mail responses, then perhaps they matter at least a little. I, personally, am unlikely to send such a generic e-mail now. Five years ago, however, I might have. All wine drinkers have to start somewhere. And some of my friends whom I encourage to visit the region might send such an e-mail. Their experiences with wineries are likely to influence my own views. If they mention how pleasant and informative the staff of a particular winery was, that means I am more likely to visit there as well.
I do not doubt, as Andrew says, that most of these generic, exploratory e-mails do not translate to sales. More informed consumers are more likely to buy wine. It therefore makes sense that an e-mail more specific to the winery would receive a more thoughtful response. (I learned long ago that asking the right questions is a golden ticket as far as tasting rooms are concerned.)
All that being said, I think it is important that visitors to NY wine regions have a positive experience. E-mail responses are a small part of the picture, but anything that leaves the consumer feeling good about the region is helpful, even if the consumer ends up going to other wineries and never visits the one that sent an e-mail response. Ninety out of 100 e-mails might never pan out, but those other ten might make a difference--especially if a couple of them bring back friends. Even the courtesy of an auto-reply can be appreciated.

"The biggest mistake I made when planning and executing this project was incorrectly thinking that four questions could be used for every winery. Some of the questions simply didn't apply to some wineries ..."

Lenn, I disagree with your assessment of this as a mistake. Certainly not all the questions apply to all the wineries -- but would someone coming from out of state or another region know that? I think people might send out a lot of identical e-mails to wineries they're interested in and not bother to individualize.

I'm enjoying the discussion, but really perplexed that anyone would not answer these questions to their business. I must give wineries a pass and just say that they are acting on defense mechanisms. Are these questions really so tedious that you read them and ignored them?

That would so such disdain and rudeness to your clients that I cannot believe you all really would be like that.

Resent the exercise as a 'gotcha'. Fine. But arguing that these questions were so off base to not respond to? You don't want to go there.

I am not a winery owner but I'd have to imagine that the ones who did not respond probably regret that they couldn't/didn't. Even if most inquiries do not result in sales why would you not respond? It just seems like a bad business practice. Customer service is one of the top reasons I buy wine from a winery. If I am treated poorly then I will not go back regardless of the wine quality. I don't think that any one winery could be criticized for not responding because there can be many reasons why they missed the email but it is troubling that such a large number didn't respond. There are wineries where the tasting room employees state they don't like wine and can't tell me anything about the wines they are pouring and it blows my mind that these are the people that the owners have representing their wines. Impressions are extremely important and not having a strong customer focus is a mistake.

I think Lenn's exercise will help all of us improve customer service. There really isn't a practical way to determine if any email inquiry will result in sales, as someone stated above. There are many emails and many visitors with no way to correlate them. The only thing we can do is respond to each inquiry promptly and completely. Measuring what we actually do is the only way to find out where we need to improve. Lenn, I hope you continue to run this test.

Thanks Len, for a great read and love the comments. Was a good project we all learned. To those who answered Brian, congratulations and well done. To those who didn't, lessons taught. I'd imagine that 90% of the non answers had honest reasons they didn't. We all will try harder and nice to know folks really want us to! This is the point of all of this.

And yes, we did answer.

I think Ted has the proper spirit of response to this endeavor. I'm not sure why some of the early comments were aggressive toward Lenn, but I know the NYCR has heard from dozens of people on this site and on Twitter / social media. The vast majority find this to be a worthwhile idea that can help bring about a productive conversation.

When I think about all of the tasks winery owners must do, I'm amazed. Some are owners / winemakers / janitors / marketers, all rolled into one. Can't be easy.

But I'll never understand how someone can be upset with this kind of post. Naming names would have been an entirely different story. Instead, Lenn is trying to improve the communication between customers and wineries. If the knee jerk response is to attack Lenn, there's probably a little more introspection that needs to take place.

I love the highlighted response, Lenn. From Peconic to H&H, there were so many strong replies. If we're simply looking at emails like this and deciding there's no money to be made, we're lighting opportunities on fire. Good service is the seed that can grow into a long-term business relationship.

Many industries pay to have their customer service skills tested like this.

I was reading through the comments on your post about the 'Brian Sedgwick experiment' and I could not believe some of the feedback that you were getting.

We respond to everything no matter how busy the shop is, no matter how many direct to consumer orders need to be filled, and no matter what else is going on.

The first thing the retail shop manager does in the day is go through and respond to all feedback, requests for information, and comments.

Excluding spam, I do not know of any objective criteria that can be laid out to determine if the person that sent the email will be a potential buyer. Regardless of a future sale everybody deserves a response because that is the polite thing to do.

We are in the business of providing a service and product to the consumer. The consumer is demanding and has many different options out there to choose from. We are not perfect 100% of the time but we always try our best. So anytime somebody can provide us with feedback, no matter who they are, we want to hear it. It helps because we are always improving the wines and services we offer at the individual consumer level, the wholesale level, and retail level.

What a wide range of responses. I think Francis C. hit the nail on the head.

The first thing I do when I get to my office in the morning is check my email. I then respond one, by one to any inquiry and then start the rest of my day. An email especially with only 4 simple questions like "Brian" posed are quite quick to answer. I can't imagine why you would not take the 3 minutes out of your day to answer a customer who is going out of their way to ask about your business because they have an interest in it. I can agree that some emails do not generate sales, but all you need is that one that surprises you and they buy 10 cases for their wedding or visit you winery and become life long lovers of your product. I do agree that everyone who does not answer an email is potentially losing money especially if you are in an area with 100 other wineries for them to choose from.

I think everyone should take their own results from this project and use it to improve themselves if necessary. Lenn did not call out any wineries that did not respond or had an unfavorable response. Everybody should take this expecerience and use it as a free tool to improve for the future.

I look forward to further inquires from "Brian" or "Larry" or whom ever is next and hope that he gets a better response next time.

This test was very helpful for me in confronting the tasting room staff/management about our customer service and obviously show how we fall short in comparison to other wineries. I work at a vineyard that grows wonderful grapes/makes wonderful wine, but the energy from our vines and cellar do not transfer to the room in which we sell and I feel like I have been harping on this ever since I started but haven't been able to "prove" anything. Our staff doesn't know much about the greater wine world outside of our building and I wish more "tests" such as this one would take place! Its a tough position to try and convince certain folks that the world around them has progressed and not only are we being left behind, but also aren't selling enough wine because of it. Thank you very much for this study and please please please do more like it, we always have things to learn, and the awareness and results shared are extremely helpful to us who may not have much of a say in the general running of our respective wineries outside of the cellar/vineyard.

I think it would be pretty neat if there was some sort brian sedgwick going into tasting rooms at random and rating them...publishing results anonymously as was done in this study, but letting the winery know how it stacked up...

Just ideas, anyways, thanks a bunch for all of this, it is nice to have some material for proof...

Evan: I think it's natural, at first anyway, to lash out when confronted with this sort of information.

I'm glad that as the week has worn on and people have been able to take a step back and look at the situation and take it for what it is the responses have been less defensive.

The thing that has made me most happy about this project has been getting the emails from winery owners wanting to know "how they did." Many are treating this as a 'secret shopper' sort of thing, which was the goal.

Amanda and frustrated: We will definitely be doing this sort of thing again, expanded. And if we can work our the logistics, I'd love to do an in-person edition in New York tasting rooms.

Can I be the Brian Sedgewick in the tasting room? :)

I related to your project closely. Many more than myself are self-sufficient when it comes to visiting wineries. The vast majority of my visits have been independent rather than organized through a service or the like. The chances of visiting a winery that did not respond to my inquiry is very low, and I think your questions were on point. I do call sometimes, but e-mail is my preferred means of communication. What bothers me about those that didn't respond at all is that there are plenty of "auto-reply" services available that, while impersonal, could be utilized with little effort to give a person minimal information (season, hours, etc.) while requesting a preferred means of communication, perhaps by telephone. I have a hunch there's a correlation between the less informative responses and face to face customer experience as well, which is also unfortunate. Those that do respond and interact, thank you. Seeing as I want to give you my money to taste your delicious wine, learn a little, and have a nice afternoon, I appreciate you very much, and thank you, Lenn and NYCR.


Thanks for passing along this link.

Nothing here surprises me at all. But that doesn't mean I think the non-responses and the less than enthusiastic responses are valid or customer service done poorly is justified.

Several commenters to this link and the story introducing the project have offered ideas similar to mine on the bad website article. And your responses were somewhat the same, disagreement about what was right and what should be expected. In what world though? An ideal world or the real world?

I agree with your ideas of what businesses should aspire to, but how can we judge what the poor performance of some wineries means? We don't know why it wasn't responded to and only when we did could we be sure that their wasn't a specific decision made, however the person justified it, not to respond.

I'm not letting anybody off the hook here, but trying to better understand the point at which those businesses are at in their life cycle. No company can be a model company every day they are open for business.


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