While I was traveling for work recently, I stopped in my favorite coffee shop. As I went to place my order and pay, I noticed smudges and fingerprints on the display case and a layer of dust along the front of the register -- in a store that sells food.
Meanwhile, behind the counter, where the coffee and food was prepped, was perfectly clean. So it's not as if the staff didn't know cleanliness, it's just as if the staff there had never come to the other side of the counter.
That's when it struck me.
They haven't been around to the other side of the counter. The staff stays so focused on servicing customers from their side, that they have never stopped to look at what it's like from the other.
It made me realize that when you run a business, you can't always come through the employee entrance. Every now and then, and perhaps even regularly, you have to come through the front door and see what your customers are experiencing.
I'm a big believer that your brand is an experience, and in fact it's your customers' experience with your products that make up your brand. It's certainly what gets posted, tweeted, Instagrammed and shared. It's how customers feel about interacting with your brand that determines how successful you will ultimately be. I didn't feel so great about that coffee shop's brand that morning.
So if you don't know how your customers are experiencing your brand, then you don't really have an understanding of what your brand is all about. You're not witnessing your brand from their point of view.
Walking through your front door might give you quite a surprise. What you might think is clean and tidy from the back end may not be that way from the front. The amazing service you think you're providing may not be enough to overcome other aspects of your brand experience from the customers' point of view.
So pretend you're a customer one day and walk through your front door. Experience your brand the way they do, and see how you feel. Ask yourself if you are delivering the kind of experience you think you are, from front to back.
So how did my coffee experience end? Since I was in town for a few days and just didn't like the "ick" I felt at my favorite place, I found another one down the street and walked to that one in the morning instead. It was a little out of the way, but worth it.
You certainly don't want that happening to your customers coming through your front door, do you?
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Jim Joseph is the North American president of New York-based communications agency Cohn & Wolfe, part of the media company WPP Group PLC. He is the author of three books, including the latest, The Personal Experience Effect (Happy About 2013). Joseph also teaches marketing at New York University and blogs at JimJosephExp.com.