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November 1st: Torsten Jacobi, CEO of Creative Weblogging, joins host Anita Campbell. Sponsored by Six Disciplines. Show details.
Tuesday, September 07, 2004
Creating a Great Customer Experience
Editor's note: we are pleased to present another article by expert guest blogger, John Wyckoff. We talk frequently here at Small Business Trends about retail trends and how even though the big guys keep getting bigger, small businesses today are competing by being smarter and better. Creating a terrific customer experience is one way they do it. I've had readers ask me what I mean by "customer experience." John gives us the short answer: it's emotion, not intellect, that creates a great customer experience.

By John Wyckoff

If you deal with or sell to the end user or consumer you should know that all decisions are emotional, often passionate and not intellectual or cerebral. Sure, we all make emotional buying decisions and then apply a rationale to our choice to assure ourselves that we made a pragmatic, informed and educated decision.

Well, here's what's real.

The human animal responds to specific stimuli. The response is emotional. The stimuli consist of some very basic components. They are: color, contrast, shadows, motion, sounds, touch and smell. OK, now you have the data. In order for you to take any form of action that date must be converted into Information, then to knowledge and finally into an understanding that can lead to implementation.

Let's take a very short look at each.

Color - Displays need to be colorful. A display of goods, apparel for example, should be arranged to aid eye scanning by the viewer. That is the colors should not be scattered but grouped. Start with light colors on the left and proceed to dark on the right. The middle range should replicate a rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green blue, indigo, violet. The far left white and pastel shades; the far right dark to black.

Display areas are not two-dimensional. The colors of the floor, walls and ceiling along with accent colors, stripes or designs must also aid the viewer. Light green is soothing. That's why most hospital waiting areas are either white signifying purity and cleanliness or green meant to have a calming effect on patients and their families.

Contrast - Light and dark areas and products should be arranged to create drama. Bright areas highlight attention-getting products. Even the term beige is, well, beige. However, beige, when contrasted with vibrant adjacent colors is no longer beige. Even the name will change to adobe, sand, earth tones.

Shadows are very important. Without taking up the rest of this article with this one subject consider this: Take your digital camera out the front door of your place of business at high noon. Take a picture. Go out again about 45 minutes before sunset and take another. Compare the two. The noon photo will be flat and boring. The photo taken shortly before sunset will be considerably more dynamic. Confirm this by showing both photos to family or fellow workers. You'll be pleasantly surprised.

Before I go much further I'd like to discuss fluorescent lights. This form of illumination was created to eliminate shadows. It began as office lighting. The advantage of this form of lighting is the cost of operation and the fact that the bulbs run relatively cool. Unless you pay close attention to the type of bulb fluorescent lights can make everything look two-dimensional and dead. If you can avoid fluorescent lighting in a showroom or display area and substitute focused lights to create shadows I recommend you do it.

Motion means there are real people involved. If it's in a retail environment there are many forms of motion that will stimulate action. Moving signs, displays and mobiles help. A non-static staff helps more. The staff should not be relegated to stand motionless behind a counter but active on the floor.

Sound means someone is there. Music in the background is expected. Select it carefully and make the selection from the customer's perspective. Sound should not be distracting. For example, I hate paging systems in stores and offices that constantly blare the name of someone. Eliminate this sound by switching to vibrating belt pagers to notify a staff member of someone attempting to get his/her attention.

Touch is a touchy subject. Our society is ambivalent. However, a waiter or waitress will tell you that the tip increases if that person puts their hand on your shoulder at some point while they are serving you. Of course, shaking hands in our society is positive. Like James Bond says: "shaken not stirred." I'd add, not squeezed and not long.

Smell is too often overlooked in businesses that are not involved with the food or fragrance industry. You may have noticed, however, that companies that have a coffee pot on and available attract people to stay longer. I believe that in the morning, coffee smells better than it tastes. Considerably more than half the people in the US love chocolate. The next time you visit a trade show look for a booth that has a bowl of chocolate and you'll see more people with a few feet of that habit-forming stimulant. Chocolate also has an intoxicating smell.

Please note, all of the foregoing are best described as emotional stimulants not intellectual reasoning. As long as we are people dealing with people let's keep in mind that emotions precede intellectual or pragmatic concerns.

John Wyckoff is a highly successful businessman who got his start in sales and built a company by knowing the value of a great customer experience.
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