communication is to schedule it. Make checklists for daily, weekly, and monthly meetings and for special occurrences. For example, when a new spirit is released, every single employee should be versed in its brand message and flavor message — and having a release checklist can help ensure that happens. It may be surprising, but it’s entirely possible to have gift shop employees who don’t know who the head distiller is or don’t know anything about the spirits they sell — even if they’ve been with the company for years. Keep a communication items list and read it at every appropriate meeting. Items should stay on the list for at least two weeks. Yes, some employees will get tired of hearing them but remember that not everyone attends every meeting. People get sick, have rotating shifts, take vacations, etc. Schedule celebration, too! If you get media coverage, win an award or complete a major distillery project, be sure to include it in the communications list. Communication needs to touch every employee. Tour guides, support staff, gift shop, management and even janitorial — everyone is a potential brand ambassador. Don’t allow a guest asking the question ‘What makes your product special?’ to be met with a blank stare — by anyone. Finally, remember that communication is two-way: listening to concerns is the best way to identify problem spots so you can address them. If your staff knows when you will be available to them, they’ll be less likely to interrupt your day with nonpressing items.
TRAINING, REHEARSALS, AND REVIEWS Was your first fermentation or still run the best? Of course not. That first attempt revealed unexpected problems and opportunities for improvement. The same is true with visitor services systems, especially tour and tasting experiences. Rehearsals will allow you to discover possible fail points in the guest experience. Bring in volunteers to create groups as large as you expect to take the tour, then solicit honest feedback. (You’re offering free spirits tastings, it should be easy to come up with people to volunteer.) If your tasting room is an echo chamber and a large group can’t hear your guide at all, then the tasting will have a negative impact on the experience and your sales. Guests will lead their own tastings and who knows what the message will be! Remember that each new employee will need focused education. ‘Tag-along’ training tends to drift from the culture and system you’ve worked so hard to establish. And schedule reviews, especially with tour
guides. Without monitoring, scripts can drift, too. Staff training is an intentional approach to ensuring return value for the expense of employees. It’s also boring, slow work. The end result is nebulous and insubstantial. But it matters. All of the time, effort, and money spent on spirit production and brand development can be wasted if staff culture and visitors program systems aren’t given the same intentional emphasis or are left to develop on their own. Staff management requires:
»»Clear brand and
»»Explicit metrics »»Intentional culture »»Specific systems »»Constant communication Plus a regular investment of time, effort and focus to maintain it.
A CLOSING THOUGHT:
All of the negative examples included in this article are real experiences that I’ve encountered at distilleries. And — every single time — none of the owners or managers were aware that there was an issue with their distillery’s guest experience severe enough to turn visitors off of their brand. Read back over them and ask yourself if you’re actively preventing those types of problems.
Tim Knittel is a bourbon educator, writer and event specialist in Lexington, Kentucky. He formerly managed the culinary and VIP hospitality programs for the Woodford Reserve Distillery. He now runs Distilled Living which provides private bourbon education, brand representation and distillery consulting services. He holds the title Executive Bourbon Steward through the Distilled Spirits Epicenter.
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