It’s important to be aware that service begins when a customer comes in contact with you–it doesn’t always wait for you to make intentional contact with the customer.
For example: suppose you’re the manager for the suburban superstore below –
Suburban superstore – broad view from sidewalk approach
and a customer has just pulled up in front of it. When and where will her welcome begin? Well, probably we’re overlooking important parts of her welcome that happened even before she pulled in: She googled the store to find the nearest location and related information. How smoothly and appealingly did that interaction go? Was she able to see a professional, appealing photo of your store (and, if appropriate, you) in the search results? Were your hours and services clearly stated?
Then, as she pulls up to your store, she begins to contemplate what doing business with you is going to be like. And, she infers your traits from a thousand things around her: the condition of the asphalt, the condition of the buildings and objects that abut your store (why are some of the newspaper dispensers full of garbage, apparently months-old, some of it wrapped in a bag from that self-same superstore?), the condition of your store’s facade window (“Why is it so dark in there? Why is so much of their window space obscured with boxes leaning precariously?”) Clearly, her visit with you has already begun — and you haven’t met her yet! If bad first impressions are building up, you’ll have a bear of a time undoing them–once you finally meet her.
Suburban superstore (detail from sidewalk approach)
Of course, often, the sources of these first impressions are unfair. Your business is quite possibly a tenant, and the responsibility for the upkeep of, for example, the parking lot may be the responsibility of someone else. But you can’t take finger-pointing to the bank. (The prototypical American merchant, Benjamin Franklin, organized street-sweeping in Philadelphia because of the boon he knew it would bring to the businesses fronting the sidewalks, not because he had any legal responsibility over those sidewalks.)
Try instead taking a cue from carefully-managed resort hotels: They pay attention to the guest’s arrival sequence: the flowers, the signage, the friendly security guard at the gatehouse, the doorman. By the time the guests get to their room, they should feel gently transported to another world. That’s not a bad way to think of warming up your customers in a storefront setting –or an exclusively online operation — either.
A bonus post from the College of the Customer archives
By Micah Solomon – keynote speaker, customer service speaker, customer service consultant, and author of “Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization.” Visit with Micah at http://customerserviceguru.com