Back to News

For Immediate Release

Six 1-Star Reviews (And Counting!)

An Open Letter

We have received six 1-star reviews (and counting!) from an interaction over Spring Barrel Saturday. From one group of 13 folks. Five are on Yelp, and one is on Google. You can check them out if you want.

These folks left the winery very upset, and have voiced their displeasure. This post, honestly, is not about this group. I respect their opinions (and I ask that you do the same). Regardless of whether or not we agree with the facts as stated, we take all feedback, good or bad, and digest in order to improve. I don’t think that ignoring customer feedback is a recipe for longevity.

For the first week or so, my mental dialogue went a lot like this: “The sky is falling! Nobody is ever going to visit again after reading those reviews! I’ve ruined the business!” This video helped me stop wallowing, and I’ve watched it a half-dozen times now. I love it. (It's also a good example of how not to respond to negative feedback as a business owner!)

I’ve spent a LOT of time thinking about this, and what to do about it. Long story short, you’re reading my “what to do about it.”

We are not owned by a hedge fund or a publicly traded company. The Williams family has spent three generations and more than 40 years to make Kiona what it is today. All of that work, ALL of it, would be for naught if we didn’t put particular emphasis on customer service and excellence. The vineyards can be great. The wines can be top notch. But if the person working behind the counter is an A-hole, it doesn’t matter.

So here is my promise to you, our customer: It’s our goal to be the friendliest, most consumer-centric winery that we can possibly be. While I understand that we cannot please everyone, we have to conduct business in such a way that 100% satisfaction is our goal. This is an open letter to the other approximately 16,987 visitors we will welcome to the tasting room this year (and the 13 folks too, if they want to come back!).

Your satisfaction and delight is worth paying attention to. Here are just a few things that I think we do a little differently in order to stand apart from the crowd and really deliver a top-notch experience:

  • We do not pay our tasting room staff commissions or kick backs of any kind. We do not set sales targets or goals. We do this because it introduces a level of friction into our interactions that we don’t want. Our emphasis is, and always has been, on education, not outright sales. The tasting room staff will also not mention the wine club unless asked first. We want your experience to be authentic and genuine.
  • Six times per year we have “Wine School” with our staff, a multi-hour deep dive into the world of wine. I do not want our staff to be experts on only Kiona and Red Mountain. If a customer walks in and says “I like to drink Loire Cabernet Franc,” I want my staff to know what they are talking about. In 2017 alone, we have tasted Washington Malbecs, Pinot Noir from around the world, and demonstrated our blending philosophy with 2016 Riesling and 2016 Gewürztraminer components.
  • We have two fantastic team members that head our ongoing internal training program. One is a retired 16-year Staff Sergeant with the Marines. Her leadership skills are off the charts. The other worked pretty high up in Alaska Airlines management for more than 20 years, and worked specifically in the realm of customer engagement, interaction, and relationships. The very same Alaska Airlines that consistently tops customer satisfaction charts. Approximately 1/3 of the curriculum is practical (here’s how the cash register works), and the other 2/3 is customer-service oriented (body language, greeting customers right away, smile while talking, ask open questions, etc).
  • We do not have a phone tree. If you call us during business hours (9-5, M-F, PT), a real red-blooded human being will answer the phone. We get probably 30 calls each day, and more than 20 of them are solicitations or robo-calls. Still, it’s not worth it to us to have our customers dial through a machine to talk to a person.
  • Starting early April, we started providing a portion of Two Sisters Isabella Gouda to all of our tasting room visitors as a complimentary (and complementary) part of the experience. We wanted it to be the “cherry on top” of the tasting. We did not raise pricing on the wines or increase the cost of the tasting ($10 if no purchases are made) to offset the expense.

My hope is that this does not come off as self-congratulatory. I value transparency with you, our customers, and I want you to know that our appreciation of you is not merely a marketing line or hollow words. We walk the walk.

Are we going to be everybody’s favorite winery? Nope. Are we going to be some people’s least favorite winery? Certainly. But we will do everything we possibly can to be awesome, and to make your tasting as good as it possibly can be.

That is my promise to you. Thank you.

- JJ