Conversations with customers


I spent this weekend doing something a little out of the ordinary for me. Instead of being a code monkey/entrepreneur behind the keyboard, I spent a few days near Plattsburgh, NY helping to run wine tastings at a vineyard.

No, I haven’t changed careers (although the abundance of freely available wine is pretty tempting). This was just a one-time gig, helping close family friends get through a wine tour. Even though it seemed like a totally unrelated job, I found that running the wine tastings had a lot to teach me about communicating with customers.

It’s all about the customer

In our world, communication with the customer before they purchase is often fairly limited, and it’s almost always from afar. At the winery though, communication with customers is paramount—it can make or break a sale in the instant. Because it’s a traditional retail business, the customers were right in front of me. I could hear directly from a customer what she liked (or didn’t like) about our wines. As I ran the tasting, I was able to guide customers toward wines they might be more likely to purchase, based on their tastes. And of course, we bantered and swapped stories along the way. I acted as a concierge of sorts, guiding the customers through the wines and providing a human face they could relate to.

The experience running the tastings showed that communication with customers is paramount; indeed it can make or break a sale. On the web, we tend to focus tightly on getting our potential customers “into the funnel” so we can measure them. Customers are data points, and if we do enough A/B testing and SEO optimisation, we can acquire customers like a kid does with baseball cards. We forget that—at the end of the day—simply communicating is the most effective way to learn from your customers.

Communicating on the web

You have the power to make your business feel human-powered, friendly, and personal. Contact your leads and ask if they have any questions. Make yourself available for phone calls and in person meetings. Spend time learning about their needs, so you can do a better job fulfilling them.

The Internet is primarily a method of communication, but we can often take it for granted. We forget to communicate and end up broadcasting. Customers don’t want to be yelled at. They want to know that you care about them and their needs.

Take care of your potential customers, and they’ll be more invested in you and your business. You can’t afford to do anything less.

Published by Chris Van Patten

I'm an entrepreneur and product lead, and owner of Tomodomo, through which I help companies build their digital publishing platform.

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1 Comment

  1. Nice article Chris.

    The mentality you explain here reminds me of the approach 37signals is taking with their latest service, Know Your Company ( They walk the customer through the entire process, instead of having it be automated, as most of their products are. The customer has to sit through an orientation walkthrough, and not just any customer is allowed to use the software.

    You can read about their approach here:

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