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4 customer service tips to surpass expectations

It’s always easier to keep a customer than to create a new one—but what are the distinct steps to retaining a regular? For Cakebread Cellars, a family-run winery in California’s Napa Valley, it’s all about making visitors feel welcome, wanted, and appreciated.

“Each winery is sort of a reflection of the owner and their property, and the Cakebreads are very approachable—very welcoming and down-to-earth,” said Brian Streeter, Cakebread’s culinary director. “Nothing makes them happier than sharing the winery with their guests, and that’s really our approach to how we treat hospitality.”

At Cakebread, customer service extends beyond the one-on-one interactions customers have with a server. It’s the feeling they get when they walk around the grounds, the “surprise and delight” of a crostini with their glass of wine, and the summation of every conversation they have with each staff member. Each experience comes together to create a very specific environment.

Below, Brian and one of Cakebread’s loyal visitors—Yelp reviewer Jamee S.—share their insights on customer service that surpasses expectations.

1. Hire the right people 

Customer service starts during the hiring process. Cakebread’s people managers prioritize the organization’s values throughout the process, which helps them find the right people for the job. “We want to have a really good fit,” Brian said. “We don’t want to waste an employee’s time if it’s not a good fit for them. It’s a detraction from the company if it’s not a good fit, so we really try to take our time.” 

Hiring employees who are engaged and enthusiastic about customer service not only makes for a better team, but also directly contributes to the energy visitors feel when they interact with the culinary staff. “We work very closely together,” Brian said. “We have great respect and communication for one another. We do work together and support one another. I don’t think anybody feels too proud to help in whatever way, whatever needs to be done.”

2. Take your cues from customers

Unlike some upscale wineries, Cakebread’s owners pride themselves on being family-run and down-to-earth—a value that also informs the culinary team’s approach to customer service. “There’s a phrase we use a lot: friendly yet professional,” Brian said. “It’s friendly like you’re hanging out with your friends on your back patio, but that might be a little bit too casual for work. So there’s a way you project yourself and conduct yourself that is approachable and friendly, but still professional.”

And if a guest shows up in a bad mood, Brian said the team is trained to pick up on those cues—getting them a glass of wine or a bite to eat as soon as possible: “You can turn that [around], as opposed to letting it fester until it’s too late. We’re all human. Our goal is for everybody to leave here happy and tell their friends.”

That careful attention pays dividends in customer satisfaction and experience, as evidenced by Cakebread’s many Yelp reviews praising the atmosphere. “Cakebread, in comparison to other wineries that I’ve been to, feels welcoming and warm,” Jamee said. “They were not stuffy or snooty. They wanted you to feel like, even though [they] have an upscale reputation, [they’re] still approachable in the way they talk to you.”

3. Make relationships, not sales

Many wineries rely on wine club memberships for repeat business. And while Cakebread has an extensive wine club membership with unique perks—including an exclusive tasting experience on the patio—the team does not push customers to become members.

That’s something that impressed Jamee, who herself is not a member. “I feel like if you know that you have great wine, you don’t need to push your membership on your customers,” she said. “I liked feeling that I could just sit here and enjoy tasting your wines and I’m going to buy a bottle or two, and perhaps I will join if I feel like I’m ready to join, versus having them hovering.”

As Brian said, making that sale is less important than fostering strong relationships, which continue to pay for themselves. “You love it when people become wine club members because then your relationship with them is direct when they’re buying your wine on a regular basis,” he said. “But you’re also developing that relationship, and then they become ambassadors, ideally, —which it seems like Jamee’s friends are because they brought their friends here—and then all of a sudden, we’ve got more ambassadors.”

4. Aim to surpass expectations, not just meet them

“Everybody comes here with high expectations, and you want to meet those expectations, but you really want to surpass them,” Brian said.

One of the ways that the Cakebread team does this is by taking advantage of their natural assets: the winery’s extensive grounds and vegetable garden. As servers pour a glass of wine for wine club members on the patio, they also put down a plate of amuse bouche—typically, crostini topped with seasonal vegetables fresh from the garden.

“That sort of wakes your taste buds up,” Brian said. “It’s a little surprise and delight… That’s just something that they’re not expecting. And it’s some sort of a gift placed on the plate to welcome them and start their tasting as part of the wine club.”

Photos of Cakebread Cellars on Yelp; editorial by Emily Moon & Jenna Spray

These lessons come from an episode of Behind the Review, Yelp & Entrepreneur Media’s weekly podcast. Listen below to hear more from Brian and Jamee, or visit the episode page to read more, subscribe to the show, and explore other episodes.

The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.

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