Letter to the editor: SA wine needs to improve service levels
By Christian Eedes, 25 November 2020
The following received via email from Jacques Steyn, general manager of Jordan Wines in Stellenbosch:
I refer to your article Brand South African in need of some TLC published on 10 November 2020.
I want everyone to imagine a scenario where the most esteemed wine journalists and influencers in the world simultaneously communicate to the international wine public to “Buy South African Wines Now”. Imagine also that part of this communication involves listing the factors why they should and we all have a rough idea what those factors would be: quality vs price ratio; diversity of styles; biodiversity & sustainability, etc.
I am not convinced that we will see the growth in sales if a scenario like this would to happen.
Our current wine industry is stuck between being production-orientated and being consumer-orientated. I would compare our wine industry to a restaurant with the most magnificent view, a rock star chef that coaxes impeccable flavours out of local ingredients but with very bad front of house service. A place where you have to keep on calling a waiter to take your order and then he gets it wrong. The waiter is very friendly and accommodating but lacks the required attention to detail to make the experience memorable.
In my dealings with other producers – and I can speak for many of my industry peers – I often find that I have to follow up on an e-mail when requesting information – or sometimes even an invoice for payment. There is a general sense that those e-mails disappear into a black hole and we have to keep on checking to see if there is someone on the other end. If there is someone that eventually gets back to the request, half of the information that was requested is missing and another trail of e-mails follow to get all the necessary info. Fact sheets, pricing, vintages, packshots, logos, opening hours, drinking windows. These are the building blocks in establishing important relationships and if Brand South Africa cannot answer an e-mail properly, timeously and send the necessary info we will never get to the top!
I often think the fact that many wine producers who choose to have a sales and distribution partner who acts as a middleman between the consumer and the producer, struggle with that responsibility and thinks that it is not important to spend more time and resources on it as they have “outsourced” that function.
The best front of house service in the world acknowledges the request, listens very carefully, concentrates on the details and anticipates the needs of their customers in order to match the food and setting and make the experience unforgettable. The best restaurants are seamless in their integration between back of house (production) and front of house (the consumer) and one can in many ways argue that they are an extension of each other. The best service is always born out of everyone working together to meet the needs of the customer.
Brand South Africa – producers, industry bodies, sales representatives – needs to sort their service out as this is an integral part of becoming aspirational.
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