Austria is a beautiful country, full of surprises. I enjoyed my brief visit there, just a few days ago. As I trekked through the countryside, stopping by at towns, I also learnt a few lessons about what creates customer delight. This is the story of my visit to a small Austrian town, and some of my learnings there.
A warm reception at Krems I travelled from the capital city, Vienna, into the Danube Valley, which lies in Lower Austria. I got off my train at a town called Krems, located on the northern bank of the River Danube, and surrounded by vineyards on the hills. Krems is a small place that has been the centre of the wine trade for centuries. It has a huge Gothic Church with baroque leanings, and its own University. I stayed in the University Hostel at the Kolping Campus, which is let out to visitors during the summer break.
I was pleasantly surprised by the warm reception I got there. By the time I arrived at the hostel, walking through very long cobble-stoned streets, the people at the hostel reception had a small hot cup of “Brauner” coffee and a sweet biscuit waiting for me, right there, along with an illustrated map of the town, and the keys to my room.
This was perhaps the best reception I could have hoped for, because a nice drink to quench my thirst, and a map to show me where to go trekking, were exactly the things I was looking for. I thought to myself, understanding a customer’s need in a given context, and catering sharply to that need with spontaneous gestures, small or large — that is what creates delight.
Signposts on the Wachau Trail Using the map to good effect, I located a long walking trail that would enable me to see the hills and the countryside. This is the Wachau Heritage Trail, with scenic paths that follow hills, ridges, rugged cliffs and, at some points, also the free-flowing Danube River. It passes through forests, sun-kissed vineyards and fruit orchards, and climbs to an altitude of 800 metres above sea level.
I had only one problem to solve, as I set out on this trail. As everything in this country was written only in German, which I did not know, how would I find my way? Would I get lost somewhere on the Wachau Trail?
Once again, like the folk at the University reception, the people who made this trail appear to have anticipated this very need. Across this entire trail, which spans 180 km, there are signposts with a single colour and marking — every signpost is yellow in colour, and features the letter “W” written in a unique font. As I kept walking on the trail, this clear “W” mark would appear everywhere, sometimes in surprising places, such as on the walls of orchards, or bridges, or even painted on trees. This single letter was adequate to help me safely navigate several kilometres of the trail which I joyously walked that afternoon, with no fear at all of getting lost on the way. Once again, this was a lesson in customer delight, and one that we can certainly learn from, in India.
Austria knows that its tourists come from across the world, speak diverse languages, and it has learnt to cater to their need, even on its remote walking trails. I have not seen such signposting on Indian trails which I have walked in the Himalayas. Sometimes I miss clear, simple signposts even in our retail stores.
Delightful evening at a Heurigen Later that evening, I went off in search of a Heurigen. Heurigens are cosy wine taverns, quite unique to Austria. They have their own rich history, dating back to the Middle Ages. These establishments have the absolute right to sell wine which they have themselves made, from their own premises, located in wine-growing regions of the country.
They also serve cold meats and cheeses to accompany the wines. They are open only for short bursts of time during the year, and a Heurigen calendar is published detailing the dates on which each of these taverns remains open.
After a little bit of asking around in Krems, I found a Heurigen open for business, not far from the University hostel where I was staying. It is a small, old place with several wooden benches, run by the Pichler family, which has its own vineyards. When I reached the Heurigen around the time of sunset, it was already packed with local people, enjoying their wine and conversation. There was not a single seat empty.
Old man Josef Pichler, the patriarch of the family, aged more than 70 years I think, saw me standing outside the door, and immediately came walking out, with his cane in hand. “You are our guest from far away,” he said in German (and a bystander translated into English for me), “so you don’t wait, you come in just now and I will find you a seat.”
He seated me on a bench amongst some locals who knew halting English, and then came across once again to tell me that his best wine of the season was a Riesling white wine, the grape grown entirely locally. “You must drink our Riesling, these grapes are a late harvest, and it has the flavour of apricot. Our grapes are watered and nurtured with love by our own Danube,” he pointed out. Despite not knowing English, he explained the characteristics of this special wine in German, and had one of the locals translate all this for me. He then gave me a big glass of Riesling, which tasted sweet and delicious.
The care he took, and the details he narrated, made the wine and the evening at this Heurigen very special.
Stories of apricots My last stop in Krems was at the Apricot Festival. By sheer chance, my visit had coincided with the harvest of apricots, for which the town is famous. I had earlier seen apricot orchards on the Wachau walking trail. Now here, in the midst of the city, was a huge gathering of people celebrating this wonderful little fruit.
Here again, I experienced the delight of a wonderful story told very well. I headed to a large banner which said “Bailoni” and discovered that this was the stall of the Bailoni Company, the first and largest apricot distillery of the Wachau region. The girl at the stall immediately began telling me the story of Bailoni.
“You must taste our Bailoni Gold Apricot liqeuer,” she said, and gave me a small tasting glass. After I had consumed the nectar-like drink, she spoke about the origins of Bailoni, dating back to 1872. She told me about the thousand apricot trees from which their fruits were plucked.
The number of trees added a unique touch to her story, as did her flowery description of how apricots were harvested. She spoke about how Bailoni provided a touch of constant, unchanging tradition in a fast-changing world. There was both pleasure and philosophy in her story, and I marvelled at how well she narrated it to me.
Every product we market holds a delightful story for our customers. Josef Pichler at the Heurigen in Krems told the story of his wine wonderfully well. The lady at the Bailoni stall told the story of apricots equally evocatively.
This re-emphasised to me how important the art of storytelling is, in creating customer delight. Customers seek and consume interesting stories, not products alone. How ready are we, as marketers, to tell the stories of our products really well? Can we learn, from the small and distant town of Krems?
HARISH BHAT, MEMBER, GROUP EXECUTIVE COUNCIL, TATA SONS