I took my little nephew to Meadowhall (one of England's largest shopping venues) a few weeks ago. Through the usual Saturday madness, and after spending what felt like two lifetimes finding a parking spot, we decided to head over to Krispy Kreme for a doughnut or 12. Don't tell his Mum.
A shopping center like Meadowhall is always busy on a Saturday, yet the traffic in one store struck me. Out of hundreds, this store was markedly busier than any other. Not only that, but the people going into that store seemed to be spending more time in there just browsing than they would in any other store. They were just playing, tinkering and really just getting a feel for the place and the products it offers. I made a mental note of that and didn't think anything more of it.
A week or so later, I went to Meadowhall again, this time for a last minute birthday gift -- don't judge me. This was a late night trip. After a long day at work, I got there around 8 pm. Because of the late hour, I got a close parking spot and ventured into the mall to hunt down the perfect gift.
The place was empty, relatively speaking. But as I walked past the very same store that I mentioned above, I noticed that it wasn't empty. It was thriving, bustling and had only around 30 percent less people than at the peak time on a Saturday afternoon. This really piqued my interest. What is it about this store that makes people gravitate towards it? What makes it so attractive to people who are not only seeking the store out for something specific, but to those who are simply walking past? What makes these people enter the store and, more importantly, what makes them stay there for such a length of time?
What creates the "stickability" of this store?
The store is, of course, the Apple Store. As I thought about this further, a number of things stuck out to me:
- Despite what you think of their recent offerings, for the last decade and more, Apple has pioneered products that provide amazingly simple interfaces and intuition led interaction.
- Apple is famous for creating a huge brand buzz around any release. So much so in fact, that even if the company releases a feature that is present in other products, it is often lauded as an innovation.
- The company is regarded as expensive; as a premium product provider; as a company that understands exactly who it targets and that endeavors to make its customers feel like they're a part of something special, something elite.
There are so many more reasons Apple fans can give to describe why the company is the company to spend your hard-earned cash with, but in short, all of the above points lead to deducing one specific goal for the business -- give customers an amazing experience. Make them feel something special.
I remember reading the fabulous Steve Jobs biography and being struck by Jobs' development process for Apple stores. He was so dedicated to giving Apple customers the perfect experience, along with generating maximum ROI from the stores, that he had a mock Apple Store constructed in the middle of nowhere so that he could personally visit it and walk around it. He made tweaks and changes to the layout as he went, in order to really tune and dial in the customer experience.
You don't need to be Apple to focus on experience.
We all want the very best experience from the companies that we buy from. Heck if we feel even a little wronged by any company at all, we take to social media to express our distaste at how they're "mistreating" us.
So many businesses focus on talking about customer experience but few, especially on the 1-5 person scale, focus on actually delivering it. I believe that this is thanks to a few specific misconceptions:
- Customer experience is for "airy-fairy" tech companies.
- Customer experience is expensive. I must need more people for that.
- New sales are more important.
I'm sure you have more.
The fact of the matter is that a high-quality customer experience should be the focus for every single business, from one-person enterprises by early-stage entrepreneurs, to larger organizations with many more moving parts and much higher budgets.
As an early-stage entrepreneur, though, how can one focus on delivering the very highest standard of customer experience with limited budget, resources and time? Simple. Make it your sole focus to pleasantly surprise every single customer, every single time that they interact with you and your business.
Secret: it's super easy, too!
Why is it that mobile phone service providers, ISPs and TV providers have such a bad rep? It's because they don't always deliver what they promise. And when there is even the slightest query with your service, you go through a world of pain to speak to someone. And it's not just these person-to-person interactions either. Often, these types of businesses have terribly confusing websites and convoluted processes. Overall, the experience of dealing with them is awful.
Here's where you win. As the owner of a small business, you have control. You have to put something out there for people, whether that's content or replying to customers verbally or via email, or in the way of products/services. Why not, every single time a customer has to interact with you, make that experience so very, very surprising in its quality, its delivery and in its outcome for the customer, that they are instantly surprised at just how satisfied, happy and well looked after they feel?
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." -- Maya Angelou