Wine Country Gift Baskets Focuses on Personal Connection with its Customers

While the past year has certainly piled challenge upon challenge on small and medium-sized businesses, many have been able to continue to harness the power of technology to thrive and grow. Building sales through e-commerce, these businesses are relying more than ever on their contact centers, cloud contact center platforms and software, and the people who connect their customers every day—their contact center agents.

Wine Country Gift Baskets has been selling gourmet gift baskets to individuals and businesses for more than 30 years, perfecting the “wine gift basket” by partnering with growers, wine makers and wineries in its home state of California. From local roots, the business grew nationally, then to Canada and is on track to expand worldwide. Obviously, the company’s quality products have made it a favorite to customers who return to purchase again and again.Group of friends celebrating Christmas at home

But it’s more than its products that keeps Wine Country Gift Baskets growing. The company’s philosophy informs its everyday practices, which are built around a family-based culture, relationships, the quality of its interactions with customers, and the tools it provides to workers. And with baskets being ordered by and shipped to customers all over the world, the company’s contact center is central to its customer satisfaction and success.

The CXone cloud contact center platform has helped Wine Country Gift Baskets stay nimble and responsive to market conditions—not only easily scaling to meet peak holiday demand but also  being ready and able to adapt to unforeseen events. And all the while, the company continues to meet its customers “where they are,” with choices in communicating that include an increasing number of digital channels. 

Knowing the customers

Wine Country Gift Baskets General Manager Al Niemuth says customers are literally everyone—family and friends, business associates, vendors, customers. “Over half the population orders some gourmet food gift in any year,” he says. “So it can be anunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters…Our customers run the gamut …from a small family-owned business to a large bank or brokerage—all the way to the special gift I sent my dad because he loves Ghirardelli chocolates. [People and businesses] use our gifts to convey a message and a sentiment that they care. And we love being the ones to provide that service for our customers.”

In terms of how they interact with the company, Niemuth says customer expectations have changed over the years and have evolved rapidly over the last six months. The company continues to adapt to meet their needs. “They want to be able to chat, not necessarily by picking up the phone, but still knowing that an agent is there to assist them immediately,” he says. “Or maybe they prefer email. Or they may just have a quick question.”

“The contact center is really the lifeblood of our business,” Niemuth says. “It is the front line for the consumer to reach out and really talk to us and let us know how we're doing, both from a manufacturing standpoint, from a delivery standpoint, as well as from a customer service standpoint. [When the Internet came along], some of the volume shifted over to our website. But the contact center is the place where our customers really want to reach out and have that personal connection with us. And it gives us an opportunity every day to make to deliver on our message and our promise to our customer.”

Niemuth says that being on NICE’s CXone cloud platform is what makes that connection possible. “The great thing about the platform is that we are able to answer every call and make our customers immediately happy,” he says. “They have questions, we have answers, and connecting the two is the most important part. If your technology is getting in the way, you're not servicing your customer to the best of your abilities. Our agents are on-staff agents, including those that come with us seasonally. This is a family environment. And we believe in our product. We want that message to come through to the customer. And I believe the customer hears it loud and clear.”Customer service agent at laptop

Going digital—in step with the customer

The case for companies giving customers digital-first omnichannel choices for communicating gets stronger every day—due first to a generational shift in expectations for digital-first service and then an acceleration of digital usage during the pandemic. Younger generations, like millennials and GenZ, almost unanimously want to connect for service via digital channels. But other generations, from Gen Xers to Boomers, are quickly catching up and are likely to choose channels based on the type of interaction. A recent NICE Customer Experience (CX) Transformation Benchmark confirms that customers not only want choice, but they also want  a seamless journey between those channels, especially when solving an issue or getting complex information

Niemuth sees this evolution in the Wine Country Gift Baskets business. “More and more of our customers like to use different modes of communication,” he says. “They may start off with an email, get a response from us, maybe open a chat and have a different type of interaction with us. And then finally they may say, ‘Well, I’m ready to do some business now.’ There’s also a text component to this but we’re not quite there yet. We’re looking at it strongly. Our customers do a really good job telling us how they want to communicate with us, and we follow suit.”

Chatbots: a welcome addition

When customers are looking for common or routine information, they want to be able to get it quickly, easily, and accurately. The solution for Wine Country Gift Baskets: chatbots, which Call Center and Training Manager Jeff Fawcett says were suggested by NICE. “We implemented chatbots just recently, and it’s turned out to be beneficial because it’s helped both our employees and our customers get quicker responses,” he says. “Chat is one of our fastest growing channels—the chatbot answers a whole list of common questions. For example, customers may want to know if you can ship wine to New York – and they quickly get a preprogrammed response. We’re finding that 75% of customers using the chatbots are getting the answers they need without having to interact with an agent. But they still get the service they’re looking for. It’s also reduced our agent interactions collectively by about 50%—and frees them up to be available for other customers who need the personal interaction.”

Ready for anything

Agility and adaptability top the list of attributes that enable contact centers to respond to changing market conditions and to quickly adapt to unforeseen events, all the while being responsive to customers, helping their agents and protecting operations from risk. On the CXone cloud platform, contact centers have these advantages are built in. Wine Country Gift Baskets has experienced this first-hand: When the pandemic struck early in 2020, the company was able to quickly and seamlessly move to a work-from-home model.Smiling woman with headset and laptop

But CXone also gives the company the flexibility to meet other, more predictable, changes with ease. One of the company’s greatest challenges is managing huge swings in seasonal demand that trigger a need to scale up with hundreds of additional agents. Not only that, but agents also need to be able to deliver the company’s signature customer service—something it accomplishes by combining CXone with its family-like culture. 

“Obviously, we sell gift baskets year-round,” Fawcett says. “But fourth quarter—moving into the holiday season—is our biggest time. We also see spikes at other holidays—Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Easter. Halloween is actually becoming a very popular holiday with us!

“We have a fairly small permanent staff that's with us all year, but especially in November, we scale to as many as 600-800 employees to take orders and process orders,” he says. “Many come back and work with us year after year; once people start working here, they just don't leave. CXone is so user-friendly that with a lot of our rehires, especially, we can send them out through one of our mentoring programs and they learn it on the fly, many within a matter of hours. We get similar responses from our seasonal and permanent employees: ‘Wow, this has really made our jobs easier.’ We’ve found that it makes all of our interactions better—with our customers and with our employees, especially our seasonal employees.”

From ‘cloud never’ to CXone 

Niemuth says NICE and CXone have more than met the company’s expectations. “One [outcome] has been profitable growth; the second is operational excellence,” he says. “The decision to go with NICE has ticked both of those boxes for us.”Teen girl checking mobile phone

“Obviously, the pace of technology is advancing,” Niemuth says. “You just can't stay competitive in this landscape unless you get the tools that you give your give your people the tools they need.

I can remember our director of the contact center would ask things like, ‘Hey, can I warm transfer? ‘Can we have the agent whisper?’ ‘I'd really like to have a more sophisticated call menu and IVR.’ ‘Hey, chat is coming online. Can we put chat into this product?’

He continues: “…we were what I would call ‘cloud never.’ But when we started looking at the numbers coming in for the next generation on-premises solution, we're not talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars, we were talking about millions of dollars of investments in CAPEX [capital expense]. 

Niemuth says that the results were immediate after switching to the CXone platform. “Our OPEX (operational expense) costs went down,” he says. “Order of magnitude about 50 percent. CAPEX became non-existent for telco outside of supplying simple headsets for our contact center. And from an operational standpoint, a training on the system went to almost nothing.”

“Once it was time for rollout and onboarding, [no one] could believe how easy it was to transfer a call, how easy it was to log in, to assist someone, to move back and forth from chat to email,” he says. “It was just a solution that we had been wanting for so long and the previous platform just could not provide. You know how to use a web browser? Great. You can use the platform. It's that intuitive and straightforward. And because it’s web-based, it opens up opportunities for us that had not previously been available to our business.”Opening-box-delivery

The CXone cloud technology is key. But Niemuth also circles back to the importance of relationships to Wine Country Gift Baskets. “Our organization is built on relationships—

relationships with our customers, interdepartmental relationships, divisional relationships and really, relationships with our partners,” he says. “[NICE] is a relationship that was built from day one…when our sales manager came in, sat down at the table, and started talking about our needs… [it] felt like family immediately.”

“We're expanding worldwide,” Niemuth says. “And what we find is going to be most helpful for us is keeping that continuity of software and contact that we've enjoyed here domestically and extending that throughout the world. We feel very, very strongly that [the CXone] platform is going to support us in whatever we want to do moving forward.”  

Staying connected with your customers has never been more important. Let NICE's CXone solution help you build relationships that last.