Wine.com is the nation’s leading online wine retailer, earning $355 million in revenue during 2021. While the pandemic has changed consumers’ purchasing habits, Wine.com has been bringing the tasting room to people’s homes since 1998. Wine.com offers several unique programs on its platform, including StewardShip, a premium membership program that includes VIP perks and free shipping for an annual fee.
In fact, Wine.com features live chat sommeliers—wine experts with years of experience—alongside its customer support agents to help visitors make wine selections. Wine.com has been a Zendesk customer since 2019, and as part of Zendesk’s CX Moment virtual event series, we spoke with Wine.com's Director of Brand Marketing, Addie Wallace. As a graduate of Harvard Business School, Wallace brings her business savvy to the esoteric craft of wine selling, overseeing Wine.com's brand strategy, customer insights, and public relations.
The more wines, the merrier
When browsing in a neighborhood grocery store or wine shop, consumers are often overwhelmed and make purchasing decisions based on label design, price, or haphazard store recommendations. Often, these have little to do with the quality or value of the wine itself.
“The beauty of shopping with us is that you actually get to learn about what you’re purchasing. You can read about what the professionals say is in the bottle, what the winemakers say about it—and make a much more educated decision.”Addie Wallace, director of brand marketing at Wine.com
Wine.com carries over 15,000 varieties of vino, while many local stores or liquor aisles stock only a couple hundred. Moreover, those shelved wines don’t come with detailed information. When visiting Wine.com, customers are greeted by what appears as an automated bot but is actually a human sommelier.
“Our chat experience is actually populated by a real-life person who is truly a wine expert,” says Wallace. “And best of all—they’re not commissioned. They are there to help you figure out the best thing for you, your taste, and your needs.”
Agents, not wine, drive satisfaction
In addition to the credentialed wine experts working in the trade for more than a decade, Wine.com also has customer service agents who can answer more general questions. Even so, everyone on the customer service team is considered to be a “super agent.”
“These agents can answer and help address virtually any problem, question, or comment that comes up,” says Wallace. “I think it’s pretty powerful to have somebody who is a jack of all trades and also be a really great representative of the brand and the company.”
These agents traverse the space between detailed inquiries for sommeliers to being able to provide an update on shipping.
“The North Star metric for our customer service team is CSAT,” says Wallace, whose customer satisfaction scores are measured on a scale of 1 to ten. The team looks at whether consumers are waiting—“How long does it take for us to respond on different channels? That all really ladders up to CSAT,” says Wallace.
Wine gets personal—and personalized
Wine.com’s ultimate mission has always been to make it easy for customers to discover and enjoy wine. No one needs to live near (or travel to) wine country to do that. Even so, strong brand identity and excellent customer service are integral to the experience.
Connecting as humans is key to a successful interaction, and the customer service agents at Wine.com use data to help personalize the experience. Agents have access to a list of customers’ past purchases, and whether or not the customer is a member of StewardShip.
Even when armed with this information, Wallace acknowledges that there’s room for improvement—especially when it comes to customer preferences. There’s more to discover about what customers want that lies beyond what the brand currently offers.
“That’s actually on a roadmap for this year—to connect those data points,” Wallace admits, to make customer preferences even more visible and actionable to customer service agents.
One strategy that has improved the customer experience at Wine.com has been involving the leadership team in reviewing support interactions. “Everybody receives our NPS (Net Promoter Score®) survey results in the feedback,” says Wallace. “It’s really a great way to rally the team and also [serves as] a great ‘canary in the coal mine’ to identify issues that we might not be aware of.”
Not just on autopilot—from one connoisseur to another
Personalizing the experience at Wine.com is a core tenant of the brand—and Wallace is considering adding automation to improve the customer experience.
“There’s a lot of pretty standard customer service questions that are not recommendation-focused where the customer would probably be best served in a more automated fashion,” says Wallace. “It’s not an attempt to make anything less personal, but rather, ‘How do we get the customer the best answer most quickly?’”
Automation can be key when consumer questions reach a fever pitch during the holidays or any other high-volume time.
Automation can be key when consumer questions reach a fever pitch during the holidays or any other high-volume time—when leveraging a knowledge base is ideal. Wallace explains that the team holds training sessions every week in peak periods to get agents up to speed and to transfer knowledge between agents.
Wine tastes the same anywhere you drink it
Like any and all wine retailers, Wine.com was forced to reimagine its in-person tastings when the pandemic hit in early 2020. Instead of bringing wine producers and customers together across the country, Wine.com pivoted and began to stage virtual tastings. By now it’s safe to say that this move has been a smashing success, even if it looks a lot different than bare feet in an exceptionally large wine barrel during harvest.
“We launched virtual tastings in mid-April 2020 and we haven’t stopped since—we do at least three or four a month,” says Wallace. “You get to sit there and hear from the winemaker who’s sitting in Italy, drinking the same wine—they made it for you. That’s pretty cool.”
It’s certainly proof that we can transport ourselves, not only through taste but also through connection and shared experiences, and—ultimately—through a shared love for wine.