Consumer Experience Reveals your Brand

March 25, 2010

Regardless of your business, you should consider the experience your customer will have throughout the entire sales process. This includes any online portals, brick-and-mortar stores, conversations with your receptionist, your waiting room, conference room… you get the picture. Even employees walking through the office discussing whatever it is they discuss needs to be considered, because these things tell a person about your company.

Brand is more than a logo – it’s your company’s attitude, font, phone voice, furniture… these things communicate something to your clients and prospects. Consider the experience of your firm, be it a phone call, online shopping experience, or in-office visit from the perspective of a stranger. Take notes. Ask yourself if the experience matches your brand.

These thoughts came about during a recent shopping trip – read about the experience below, and weigh in on your thoughts regarding your experiences where a brand revealed itself through the sales experience…

I’ve been shopping for a little black cocktail dress for my best friend’s upcoming wedding. Because I am a member of the bridal party, I needed something slightly more upscale than just the typical little black dress. Living in an area with many department store options, and due to the importance of finding just the right dress (flattering, but not so flattering that it upstages the bride) I visited Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, JC Penney, Macy’s, and Sears. My budget was $200.

I haven’t been shopping purposefully in a long time – I don’t usually visit department stores back-to-back (I have a young son, so shopping trips tend to be one and done) and so had an interesting experience comparing the shopping experience at each store.

You can tell an awful lot about the brands being sold at a department store based on its dressing room, and the organization of the store’s clothing on the racks. At Nordstrom and Bloomingdales, arguably the most upscale of the visited stores, the clothing was evenly spaced on the racks, allowing me to actually move the dresses to check sizes. No dress draped off of the hanger, and all the hanger hooks faced the same direction (even on the sale rack). The dressing rooms had ample space, and even had a lounge area with mirror in case you were shopping with a friend and didn’t want them with you in the room while you changed clothes. Decor included soft carpets and chairs for shopping companions. Partitions between dressing rooms held up to the dressing room door closing, and locks on those doors always worked.

Not so with some of the lower end stores… While dressing rooms at Macy’s were roomy, the fluorescent lighting was not as flattering, and the clothing on the sale racks were bunched together and not easy to navigate. Sears was the worst of the lot – the dressing room walls shook as the door closed, and I tried three dressing rooms before I found a lock that worked. Staff infrequently clear out the rooms of past visitors’ discarded try-ons, making it challenging to figure out if a room is in use. Tiled floors offered a cold experience when walking to the three-way mirror (not located in the tiny dressing room). There were no shelves or chairs in the dressing rooms, meaning my clothes sat on the floor.

Sales clerks at all the stores greeted me and offered to help me, yet at the lower end stores the clerks resumed their conversations when I declined. Clerks shouted across the floor at one another, sometimes while standing next to a customer. I’m not saying clerks shouldn’t have conversations amongst themselves, but perhaps they should consider talking about health issues so loudly?

A store selling lower priced goods doesn’t necessarily have to mark itself as low end. Upgrading the dressing room, staffing the fitting rooms to frequently clear out unpurchased merchandise, and training staff in social graces like not shouting across the floor can go a long way to improving the shopping experience.

To translate this to other industries – a professionally produced website does not have to break the bank, and a small investment in a graphic designer to create templates and a style guide can vastly upgrade the impression your company makes. Be sure your receptionist has a good speaking voice, and avoid one that says, “huh?” Ask your staff to speak in “inside voices” especially on days when you have a guest to your office. Make sure your office is clean, including staff work stations. Ask a friend to call your office at various times during the day, visit the office unannounced, or play “secret shopper” and schedule an appointment to visit just as a prospect or client would.

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