Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Customer Expererience: better create a good one

As Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s long-time partner and VP of Berkshire Hathaway, once said -You want to deliver to the world what you would buy if you were on the other end. … Everything is a design problem. Maybe problem is not the right word? Maybe we should all should consider these not ‘problems,’ but opportunities? Opportunities for improvement. When it comes to customer experiences this is always true. We design environments to provide great customer experiences. As designers we’d like to think that our environments are the biggest thing to contribute to that experience. But realistically we know it’s just the backdrop or the stage for the players to fulfill on the promise of a great show, the experience.

Sometimes we forget that the things that are free and easiest to do, are the very things owners and management fail to do well. The first thing we must all consider is what is the promise we’re making to our audience or, our brand? If you’re a restaurant is the food the thing you feel is what sets you apart? If a store, is it your products? If you’re car company it’s got to be the cars. But what is it about your cars? Price? Design? Quality? You get the point.

A few observations from our experiences that we hope might offer some insight into what can be done to make all of our experiences a little better. Some sales associates think it better to overwhelm us with “help.” It is important to recognize the type of shopper you’re dealing with. Some shoppers are ‘self-shoppers’ who know what they’re looking for and are happy to seek it out on their own. Some shoppers, usually with the confused look on their face, do need help. There’s nothing worse than walking through a store especially a large one only to be accosted by every associate asking if “there’s something I can help you find?” I’ve left stores without what I needed after half a dozen did so. Or what is with the question at check-out “so did you find everything you were looking for?” I found myself standing there with a puzzled look on my face and wondering – did she mean in the store, in general, or in life? Seriously? This is the same store that 13 people asked if they could help me find something and here I am at the cash-wrap with all my stuff – you tell me. Ok, again, you get the point. In my opinion wouldn’t it be better to just let customers know that “if there’s anything I can help you find just let one of our associates know.” This is why I’ve only ever shopped for a car on Sunday -when they’re closed. Of course the flip-side to this is the associate who just couldn’t be bothered. No one has to tell you how to deal with this problem.

In bars or restaurants it’s often hard to gauge how much service is enough versus the over zealous server who genuinely means well. The best bartenders, in my opinion, are those who are attentive and available but never constantly on top of you. Bartenders are professionals and great ones hard to find. Owners of bars and restaurants who don’t understand this do so at their peril. People will frequent an establishment usually because the servers make them comfortable, remember their names, and their friends as well as the drinks they like,. A bar with a great design, good wine or martini list, excellent food can often find itself empty because they over-think it. Sometimes they play the wrong music during dinner, or too loud. Maybe the food’s great but just takes too long to get it. Or maybe the appetizer list is lacking what people really want? It’s important to find out what it is your customers really want and give it to them.

Did you ever see the popular television show “Undercover Boss”? While the premise to some may seem contrived, it really is a valuable tool and one that more owners and management should utilize. This is often why they use ‘secret’ shoppers. When we design environments for banks, for example we always sit down first with a range of people who work at the bank to find out who they are and how they think. I’m often shocked to find when I ask upper management if they’re ever really experienced how their branches work or what the experience is from their customers’, and employee’s point of view they really haven’t any idea. They’re never really seen their environment with “customer eyes.” Now this of course can be impossible for a CEO or a Senior VP to go into a branch unnoticed. But I always recommend they just experience the environment for themselves without actually interacting with staff. Sit in every seat in the place and see what the customer sees. Stand where tellers stand. Sit in the break room. The feedback we’ve gotten from them after this experience is invaluable – for us as designers and more importantly for them. I suggest owners and senior managers all do this. AND do this for your competition. There’s a lot to learn out there from just experiencing and studying what works. As designers we do this all the time. Sometimes the best lessons aren’t just what works but often what doesn’t.

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