How to Blow Millions of Dollars in Less Than a Minute

The Customer Experience! It is a phrase I like to use to remind my clients what they are creating every day for the consumer. That was the theme of a past company retreat that I facilitated in the beautiful Willamette Valley wine region in Oregon. It may rank as one of my all-time favorite events; combining a morning classroom session with an afternoon field trip to two sensational wineries. Did I mention that the attendees were all talented, enthusiastic professionals from the design world? And that they were all women? It was a fantastic day.

The irony of this perfect day of education occurred less than 24 hours before. My lovely bride and I rendezvoused in Portland and enjoyed a rare day off together by visiting several wineries. We have many favorites in the Willamette Valley and decided to return to one particular winery that we had visited many years prior when they were just opening. I won’t share the name, for reasons that will soon be evident. I will say that the winery is stunning; sitting in the middle of rolling vineyards, impressively appointed with granite, marble and art work. When you walk in, the opulence is so prominent that you feel more elegant merely by being there. It is the kind of winery that influences your pinky finger to extend when you grasp your wine glass. Framed acclaim for their winemaking skills was featured on the wall. I imagined the amount of money that had been invested by the owner/winemaker to purchase this land, construct this building and design it so handsomely. I thought, “This would be a wonderful place to bring my group tomorrow to show off the customer experience.”

That notion was quickly dashed when we met the tasting room employee. She could not have been less enthusiastic about our arrival if we had come in carrying a sickle and dressed like the grim reaper. A barely cordial greeting accompanied her sour demeanor and she offered us wine only when it was clear that we intended to linger. What made her attitude all the more curious was the location of this winery. As is the case with many Willamette Valley estates, one must work very hard to find them. They

are strewn about the countryside, connected by a spider’s web of narrow country roads. The fact that we had arrived at her winery was clear indication that we had done so with a purpose. But, for her, we were an irritant; an unforeseen diversion from the far more important task she was involved in on her computer. Our dog Bob shows more interest in the patterns in our rug than she showed us (see photo for evidence).

For all I know, she had received some very bad news that morning. Life can turn quickly and perhaps we arrived at the worst possible time for her. I also know that consumers don’t allow for such possibilities. What is certain is that her employer had invested millions of dollars to create an experience that was compelling, exciting and conducive to the purchase of wine. And her frumpy apathy had destroyed it in seconds. Not only had my lovely bride and I formed a newly negative impression of the winery, but I decided not to endorse them to an entire group of potential customers. The impact of that one interaction is immeasurable (but certainly all bad) in future business.

If you own or run a business, never underestimate the importance of your employees’ contribution to the customer experience. You must monitor it relentlessly and train people thoroughly. And if you are an employee, be careful not to flit away the valuable investment of your organization because of a bad choice of your behavior. You never know who writes blogs these days.