I really love Catavino – it’s such an informative and innovative source of information on Spanish & Portuguese wines. The food of the region is key, but it’s just as vital to know about the great wines available too. This is the place to find out!
Jose Pizzaro http://www.josepizarro.com

What’s that “Customer Service” Thing you Speak of?

Over the years, I’ve tried to accept that customer service is a very foreign concept here in Spain. Unless I’m shelling out hundreds, if not thousands, of Euros for a service, the likelihood of my getting someone to greet me with a smile (even if it’s hokey and completely disingenuous), listen to my concerns without being defensive, use problem solving skills, work in a quick and efficient manner, and generally place my needs as a customer before theirs as a provider, is as likely as my being able to recreate Michaelangelo in my apartment. And if you’ve seen my stick figures, you’ll know how improbable this truly is. So you’d think I’d be used to this, but unfortunately, I’m not.

Why can’t I let go? Why can’t I abide by the AA principle of learning to accept the things I cannot change? In short, because I feel like I can change the situation, even if that means a simple post on what good customer service means to me.

I bring this issue up today, because I had the unfortunate experience yesterday of talking to a representative of Castillo de Perelada, a large Cava producer in Villafranca de Penedes. While planning a visit to the area last week, not only to meet with the Denominacion de Origen, but to also visit wineries that we could potentially recommend to you, I made an effort to contact them.

So what did I do? I sent a few emails over the course of two weeks, giving them a full report as to who we are and why December is such an important month for Cava producers at Catavino. What did I receive from them…nothing! Plan 2: I jumped on their website and tried to search for a working telephone number. Once again, nothing because the phone number was incorrect. Plan 3: I contacted DO Cava for a potential contact at the winery, or a number was even functional. What I did I get when I finally got through? A highly sarcastic woman on the other end who made light of the fact that I wanted to simply visit their winery! Not cool.

“Hello, my name is Gabriella Opaz from Catavino.net. Catavino is a website… I’m called to ask if your winery might have some time next Monday to visit with us. We’re interested in writing a profile on your winery, spa, hotel and restaurant for our readers based in the US, UK and Canada…”

“Excuse me, but we don’t set up visits by phone. So I need to you to send in your request by email.”

“Sure, I understand you must get several requests, but I’ve sent two emails and haven’t received a response. So I thought this might be a more effective way of scheduling a visit.”

“Ma’am” (a word that should be banned from all languages), if we haven’t contacted you by email, we’re obviously not interested in your request.”

Incredibly long silence from complete shock.

“Excuse me? Did you just say that you’re not interested in having us visit your winery!?”

“If we haven’t contact you by email, then once again, we are not interested.”

Having spent a decade supporting myself through an undergraduate and graduate education in customer service related jobs, I believe that customers should always treated with some semblance of decency, respect and professionalism. Therefore, if I email or call a winery, I would hope they would do their best to communicate their position in clear and kind manner, rather than spreading on a thick layer of sarcasm. I’m perfectly happy with a rejection, telling me that they don’t have time or interest in our visit, but let’s remember that I am more than business owner, I’m also a wine buyer. I, too, peruse the wine shelves looking for wines that interest me. I also share suggestions with my friends and family as to wines I enjoy, beyond my writing for Catavino. Hence, my frustration doesn’t only stem from my being a wine writer, but it also originates from my being a wine buyer. And maybe I wouldn’t be so frustrated if this were the first and only time this has happened to me in Spain, but unfortunately, the number of similar experiences are too numerous to count. Now, to be fair, I have received great service on several occasions from Spanish wineries, but it’s never been consistent.

Portugal, on the other hand, follows the beat of a completely different drummer. Regardless of our manner of communication (telephone, email or visits), we have almost always been attended to quickly and with the utmost professionalism. Come to think of it, we’ve had more people bend over backwards for us in Portugal than we’ve even experienced in the customer service kingdom of the USA. Sure, there have been mishaps here and there, but in general, we’ve walked away feeling as if we had a positive interaction.

Spanish wineries, government agencies, tourism companies and every other service oriented enterprises in Spain need to learn a little thing or two from their neighbor to the west: treat your customers with respect. Beyond respect, open your doors so that people can learn about your fantastic product. And by people, I’m not only referring to world famous wine writers, wine tasters and wine investors, but also the little folk who want to buy your wine. Remember that these people are your bread and butter.

Cheers,

Gabriella

PS: There is a side chance that Castillo Perelada wasn’t interested in having two bloggers come visit their bodega. Blogs are still a bit confusing, and I understand their hesitation in scheduling time for us; however, I think it would interesting for them to understand how far reaching a blog’s influence can be. So if you have a free moment, may I kindly ask for your help. Send an email letting them know that you read this article and feel that blogs are an important resource in researching wineries, their wines and their services. Maybe together, we can offer another perspective as to the importance of independent media.

Email Castillo Perelada at: perelada@castilloperelada.com

And please leave a comment below telling us you forwarded your thoughts on to them~!

  • Anna

    This is so familiar your whole story. I buy wine both as a private person and for our customers and sometimes when i call a winery that has caught my interest i really think that they do not want to sell. Maybe they have difficulties separating from their precious grapes…..for me it is a total mystery how you can totally neglect someone who leaves 10 messages telling them you are interested in buying their wines, but it happens all the time over and over again. Sometimes i think they get scared when they hear a foreign accent, and they already then believe that they will not understand you (even though you speak perfect Spanish). I would love to hear the reaction from the winery about above blog

  • http://www.excelwines.com Anna

    This is so familiar your whole story. I buy wine both as a private person and for our customers and sometimes when i call a winery that has caught my interest i really think that they do not want to sell. Maybe they have difficulties separating from their precious grapes…..for me it is a total mystery how you can totally neglect someone who leaves 10 messages telling them you are interested in buying their wines, but it happens all the time over and over again. Sometimes i think they get scared when they hear a foreign accent, and they already then believe that they will not understand you (even though you speak perfect Spanish).
    I would love to hear the reaction from the winery about above blog

  • Gerant Rivera

    ¡Ay, Gabriella! Being Puerto Rican and directly descendant of Spaniards I can attest to your remarks. Many times I have volunteered to work in the field of medicine in several Latin America countries and remain perplexed at this same behavior. I recently had to cancel a trip in Mexico due to the San Diego wildfires and, so far, have not received a response from Mexicana's customer service regarding re-scheduling. So, basically they kept my money and await the next customer to come on board! Gene pool? Sociology? Environment? All? I sometimes joke in PR that it is the water and the heat that makes us behave that way. But I am perplexed when I see the same people driving crazy on city streets but then being exemplary drivers while driving on US military bases. They also wait in line, which is an aberration in our society. You know that! I have found that in our culture usually the ones that can not give are the ones that are most generous with the very little that they posses. We are very kind people with great hearts. We also have high levels of tolerance and our daily lives are full of humor. Our food is delicious and our beauty, exuberant. That's why we live as long as other societies do. I can also attest to all of this! By the way, I very much enjoyed your recent comments about corks in Dr. Vino. Un abrazo, Gerant

  • Gerant Rivera

    ¡Ay, Gabriella!

    Being Puerto Rican and directly descendant of Spaniards I can attest to your remarks. Many times I have volunteered to work in the field of medicine in several Latin America countries and remain perplexed at this same behavior. I recently had to cancel a trip in Mexico due to the San Diego wildfires and, so far, have not received a response from Mexicana’s customer service regarding re-scheduling. So, basically they kept my money and await the next customer to come on board!

    Gene pool? Sociology? Environment? All? I sometimes joke in PR that it is the water and the heat that makes us behave that way. But I am perplexed when I see the same people driving crazy on city streets but then being exemplary drivers while driving on US military bases. They also wait in line, which is an aberration in our society. You know that!

    I have found that in our culture usually the ones that can not give are the ones that are most generous with the very little that they posses. We are very kind people with great hearts. We also have high levels of tolerance and our daily lives are full of humor. Our food is delicious and our beauty, exuberant. That’s why we live as long as other societies do. I can also attest to all of this!

    By the way, I very much enjoyed your recent comments about corks in Dr. Vino.

    Un abrazo,
    Gerant

  • Gabriella

    Anna: Great to hear from you! One important lesson I have learned while living in Spain is that one gets much better results if your business is done face to face, as opposed to email or telephone, so that trust and confidence can be solidified. In many ways, I respect this form of interaction, finding it to be a much better way of sifting through what's authentic and what's not. However, being from the culture I am, I am laden with cultural norms, ideas as to what is effective, and strategies to achieve those ideas. Therefore, I fear that my impatience and lack of tolerance for situations like these, occasionally gets the best of me. But cultural norms aside, there is a powerful element of pride weaving throughout Spain, and I do feel that this particular characteristic may get in the way of potential business opportunities at times. Just a thought. Gerant: Thanks so much for commenting. It is without a doubt that there are plenty of positive elements within this culture. You mentioned food and humor as intricate parts of the society, but I would also mention their powerful exuberance for life itself, taking every moment in stride. There are numerous points to mention, and my frustration with the level of customer service I have received takes these points into context. I have had to learn patience and tolerance while living here, no doubt, but if Spaniards want to break into other markets, such as the American or Canadian, than we need to a have conversation as to what type of customer service will work, and what will not. This is not a question of what's right or wrong, it's a question as to what your end goal is. If your end goal is to sell wine outside of Spain, then a new approach may need to be adopted. And thank you for the compliment on Dr. Vino's site. I am very passionate about the topic and love the opportunity to chat about it :-)

  • http://www.catavino.net Gabriella

    Anna: Great to hear from you! One important lesson I have learned while living in Spain is that one gets much better results if your business is done face to face, as opposed to email or telephone, so that trust and confidence can be solidified. In many ways, I respect this form of interaction, finding it to be a much better way of sifting through what’s authentic and what’s not. However, being from the culture I am, I am laden with cultural norms, ideas as to what is effective, and strategies to achieve those ideas. Therefore, I fear that my impatience and lack of tolerance for situations like these, occasionally gets the best of me.

    But cultural norms aside, there is a powerful element of pride weaving throughout Spain, and I do feel that this particular characteristic may get in the way of potential business opportunities at times. Just a thought.

    Gerant: Thanks so much for commenting. It is without a doubt that there are plenty of positive elements within this culture. You mentioned food and humor as intricate parts of the society, but I would also mention their powerful exuberance for life itself, taking every moment in stride. There are numerous points to mention, and my frustration with the level of customer service I have received takes these points into context. I have had to learn patience and tolerance while living here, no doubt, but if Spaniards want to break into other markets, such as the American or Canadian, than we need to a have conversation as to what type of customer service will work, and what will not. This is not a question of what’s right or wrong, it’s a question as to what your end goal is. If your end goal is to sell wine outside of Spain, then a new approach may need to be adopted.

    And thank you for the compliment on Dr. Vino’s site. I am very passionate about the topic and love the opportunity to chat about it :-)

  • JM

    Hi gabriella, i just spot your experience in meneame web site..and i will explain how things works in spain and not only. The big problem there is that there is not customer service at all, not only in wine but in all the sectors. Just think that the person that spoke with you is a secretary that doesnt care nothing about her job, she have a fix and low salary probably and she will not gain nothing selling or not, as her job is only reply on the phone. Normally in Spain the face to face is the only thing that works..first because you can skip that kind of people and speak directly to the responsible person and not a merely proxy. Also the majority of companies are so far from the internet world and they do not care about bloggers or webpages that speak of their products (they only care when they receive bad critics and they're really fast to sue somebody if they care). Specially if they have enough market and sell they do not care so much…(also happened to me in other countries when i found a product that i can really introduce in a large market and 100% sell and the company told me..sorry we have enough market in our country we are not interested)…i am spanish and i live since long time outside and i can tell you that the "promotion" and the "sell abilities" are not the strongest point of spanish companies.. And if you want to count on government and public entities…just forget it, they are slow slow and inefficient dealing in the real world. The fact is that Spain despite of their good products as oil, wines etc have a very little market outside compared with other mediterranean countries like italy or france due to the lack of marketing of the companies. Good luck for the next time:)

  • Pingback: meneame.net

  • JM

    Hi gabriella, i just spot your experience in meneame web site..and i will explain how things works in spain and not only. The big problem there is that there is not customer service at all, not only in wine but in all the sectors.
    Just think that the person that spoke with you is a secretary that doesnt care nothing about her job, she have a fix and low salary probably and she will not gain nothing selling or not, as her job is only reply on the phone.
    Normally in Spain the face to face is the only thing that works..first because you can skip that kind of people and speak directly to the responsible person and not a merely proxy. Also the majority of companies are so far from the internet world and they do not care about bloggers or webpages that speak of their products (they only care when they receive bad critics and they’re really fast to sue somebody if they care). Specially if they have enough market and sell they do not care so much…(also happened to me in other countries when i found a product that i can really introduce in a large market and 100% sell and the company told me..sorry we have enough market in our country we are not interested)…i am spanish and i live since long time outside and i can tell you that the “promotion” and the “sell abilities” are not the strongest point of spanish companies..
    And if you want to count on government and public entities…just forget it, they are slow slow and inefficient dealing in the real world. The fact is that Spain despite of their good products as oil, wines etc have a very little market outside compared with other mediterranean countries like italy or france due to the lack of marketing of the companies. Good luck for the next time:)

  • Miguel

    I'm a bit surprised with this article. Each company has his own ways of working, and maybe they just don't care about you and your website. I don't think there significant differences in doing bussines in Spain than in other places, is just they don't know you, and don't want to spend time. By the way, I'm afraid that speaking about all Spain according to a single anecdote is not too brilliant. Do you think you can go all over world calling to wine companies saying, "hey I've got a website, show me your winery" Ok, do you think so, that's obvious… but can you accept a "no, we are not interested" as a response? Maybe a little bit of humility helps sometimes.

  • Ryan

    Miguel you seem to be missing the point. We have no problem with the answer "no, we are not interested" this is not an issue. We get this a lot and do not care if you don't want to talk to us. What we don't understand is ignoring someone. We are a customer. We buy wine everyday, by you not even taking the time to say "sorry we are not interested" you are in effect saying that we are not important to you, as a possible press contact or as a wine buying customer. "By the way, I’m afraid that speaking about all Spain according to a single anecdote is not too brilliant. Do you think you can go all over world calling to wine companies saying, “hey I’ve got a website, show me your winery”" Actually we do go all over Spain asking to talk with them, it's what we do for a living, and when someone does talk to us, they get free press. Having done this for 3 years now, it is a problem that I'm sure other countries share, but in Spain, it seems to be exaggerated. In the end, companies that are polite (this one was not) and who take the time to answer requests instead of ignoring them, no matter what their answer may be, are companies that will have better results. One thing we do have after doing this for 3 years is TONS of humility, but sometimes, the company needs to be called out. A return question, when is it okay, in your mind, to complain about customer service?

  • Pilar

    I quite disagree with Miguel. I think that we should differentiate from a "NO" answer and not being polite. Perhaps Gabriella got to the wrong person that day and the wrong person just had a wrong attitude but after having spent three years of my life in Spain, mainly in Barcelona, I must say that I have encountered this kind of impolite attitudes towards customers many times. It is not a matter of what is said but how it is said, a matter of manners. Once I was at a well known restaurant in Gràcia and after having waited more than 40 minutes for my meal I dared to call the waitress and ask whether my order was going to take longer… the answer I received as a customer was pathetic, she said: "i don´t know because it's not me the person who cooks," and went on with her work. I waited until i decided it was enough, I stood up and went away. Nobody cared about a customer who didn´t receive the order and left the restaurant quite disappointed… not even the owner who seemed to be flirting. Some would say that this is just another anecdote, others perhaps that waitresses are bad paid so they don't care … true, but this kind of things happened to me many times in Spain and the feeling I got from these experiences remain strongly in mind. Stronger than those times I've been treated correctly and politely. It's a pity. Pilar from Uruguay, South America

  • Miguel

    I’m a bit surprised with this article.

    Each company has his own ways of working, and maybe they just don’t care about you and your website.

    I don’t think there significant differences in doing bussines in Spain than in other places, is just they don’t know you, and don’t want to spend time.

    By the way, I’m afraid that speaking about all Spain according to a single anecdote is not too brilliant. Do you think you can go all over world calling to wine companies saying, “hey I’ve got a website, show me your winery”

    Ok, do you think so, that’s obvious… but can you accept a “no, we are not interested” as a response? Maybe a little bit of humility helps sometimes.

  • http://www.obiscoito.com Ryan

    Miguel you seem to be missing the point. We have no problem with the answer “no, we are not interested” this is not an issue. We get this a lot and do not care if you don’t want to talk to us. What we don’t understand is ignoring someone. We are a customer. We buy wine everyday, by you not even taking the time to say “sorry we are not interested” you are in effect saying that we are not important to you, as a possible press contact or as a wine buying customer.

    “By the way, I’m afraid that speaking about all Spain according to a single anecdote is not too brilliant. Do you think you can go all over world calling to wine companies saying, “hey I’ve got a website, show me your winery””

    Actually we do go all over Spain asking to talk with them, it’s what we do for a living, and when someone does talk to us, they get free press. Having done this for 3 years now, it is a problem that I’m sure other countries share, but in Spain, it seems to be exaggerated.

    In the end, companies that are polite (this one was not) and who take the time to answer requests instead of ignoring them, no matter what their answer may be, are companies that will have better results.

    One thing we do have after doing this for 3 years is TONS of humility, but sometimes, the company needs to be called out.

    A return question, when is it okay, in your mind, to complain about customer service?

  • Pilar

    I quite disagree with Miguel. I think that we should differentiate from a “NO” answer and not being polite. Perhaps Gabriella got to the wrong person that day and the wrong person just had a wrong attitude but after having spent three years of my life in Spain, mainly in Barcelona, I must say that I have encountered this kind of impolite attitudes towards customers many times. It is not a matter of what is said but how it is said, a matter of manners.
    Once I was at a well known restaurant in Gràcia and after having waited more than 40 minutes for my meal I dared to call the waitress and ask whether my order was going to take longer… the answer I received as a customer was pathetic, she said: “i don´t know because it’s not me the person who cooks,” and went on with her work. I waited until i decided it was enough, I stood up and went away. Nobody cared about a customer who didn´t receive the order and left the restaurant quite disappointed… not even the owner who seemed to be flirting.

    Some would say that this is just another anecdote, others perhaps that waitresses are bad paid so they don’t care … true, but this kind of things happened to me many times in Spain and the feeling I got from these experiences remain strongly in mind. Stronger than those times I’ve been treated correctly and politely. It’s a pity.

    Pilar from Uruguay, South America

  • ben

    I think in this case you got a very ignorant person on the other end of the phone. The most likely thing is that they hadn't even looked at your email or, as you suggested, weren't switched on to the whole internet / blog thing. Most companies in Spain probably aren't interested in the press unless you can get a version of the publication in question from the local kiosko. But the point is of course that customer service in Spain does suck, anyone what has lived here for a while knows that. To be honest I just laugh at it now and see it as another curious thing about this wonderful county. So the waiters are grumpy and people on the other end of the phone are rude and/or useless? Maybe, but I don't think that's going to change in a hurry, and there are enough other wonderful things about the country to keep me happy. I do agree though that it is unbelievably frustrating to have to deal with at times, and I often shake my head in disbelief at stories like this, wondering just why companies don't want to do more to help themselves.

  • http://www.notesfromspain.com ben

    I think in this case you got a very ignorant person on the other end of the phone. The most likely thing is that they hadn’t even looked at your email or, as you suggested, weren’t switched on to the whole internet / blog thing. Most companies in Spain probably aren’t interested in the press unless you can get a version of the publication in question from the local kiosko.

    But the point is of course that customer service in Spain does suck, anyone what has lived here for a while knows that. To be honest I just laugh at it now and see it as another curious thing about this wonderful county. So the waiters are grumpy and people on the other end of the phone are rude and/or useless? Maybe, but I don’t think that’s going to change in a hurry, and there are enough other wonderful things about the country to keep me happy.

    I do agree though that it is unbelievably frustrating to have to deal with at times, and I often shake my head in disbelief at stories like this, wondering just why companies don’t want to do more to help themselves.

  • iñaki

    As Spaniard myself, I am a bit sorry to admit, that although taking one negative answer as a standard for the whole country must be unfair, the experience related here is quite common in this country. After living several years abroad, it was much easier to realise the extend to which how we the Spanish conduct relations with ourselves, lets not count how many times we all have left a restaurant feeling we ought to thank the owners or staff for letting us spend our money on their business. Same for business, there is a set tradition of no answering if the issue at stake is not of their interest, saying no to a proposition is fine, acceptable and understandable, but for the same reason that we wouldn´t turn our faces away if someone stopped us on the street to ask about something, I do not get to understant this god given right of ignoring emails, faxes etc… Spain must be a country of great wines, restaurants and feature very highly in many worlwide guides, but if there was ever to be one about customer service I am afraid we wouldn´t make it in the top 100 countries. Iñaki from Madrid

  • iñaki

    As Spaniard myself, I am a bit sorry to admit, that although taking one negative answer as a standard for the whole country must be unfair, the experience related here is quite common in this country.
    After living several years abroad, it was much easier to realise the extend to which how we the Spanish conduct relations with ourselves, lets not count how many times we all have left a restaurant feeling we ought to thank the owners or staff for letting us spend our money on their business.
    Same for business, there is a set tradition of no answering if the issue at stake is not of their interest, saying no to a proposition is fine, acceptable and understandable, but for the same reason that we wouldn´t turn our faces away if someone stopped us on the street to ask about something, I do not get to understant this god given right of ignoring emails, faxes etc…
    Spain must be a country of great wines, restaurants and feature very highly in many worlwide guides, but if there was ever to be one about customer service I am afraid we wouldn´t make it in the top 100 countries.

    Iñaki from Madrid

  • Troy

    the person with the comment about the secretary on a fixed salary with no motivation to help is probably spot on. her vested interests have nothing to do with yours or with the company's. an interesting comparison is in Sweden, where you cannot be fired for incompetence and salaries are high. there is just no reason for anyone to put the slightest amount of effort into pleasing the customer. it is a shame that this person at the winery is such a dismally unhappy person, but that winery will have to do without the good publicity. we all know that there are many vibrant and charming folk in Spain; that's probably why you moved there. do business with the nice people and forget about the fools.

  • Troy

    the person with the comment about the secretary on a fixed salary with no motivation to help is probably spot on. her vested interests have nothing to do with yours or with the company’s. an interesting comparison is in Sweden, where you cannot be fired for incompetence and salaries are high. there is just no reason for anyone to put the slightest amount of effort into pleasing the customer.

    it is a shame that this person at the winery is such a dismally unhappy person, but that winery will have to do without the good publicity. we all know that there are many vibrant and charming folk in Spain; that’s probably why you moved there. do business with the nice people and forget about the fools.

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