Have you given much thought to the message that your environment sends? This could be the space that you invite the public to enter, whether that’s a storefront or your website. It could even be your personal workspace. Recently I had two interactions that brought this to the forefront.
Last year I had lunch with a friend at Petit Louis, a small French restaurant in Columbia, MD. It was a delightful meal, and we both commented on the relaxed and inviting environment. An added plus was the tile floor we both shot photos of.
Because of that experience, I read with additional interest a business article in the food section of the Washington Post about Cindy Wolf, one of the owners of Petit Louis. She was nominated for the sixth time for a James Beard award for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic for Charleston Restaurant in Baltimore. Cindy, along with her partner and former husband Tony Foreman, own Foreman Wolf, a restaurant group. The group owns and operates six restaurants and two wine shops, and the two owners also host a local radio show weekly.
The article mentioned Cindy’s business management studies at the University of Indiana at Evansville, and a friend recalled that Cindy would describe in detail the restaurant she wanted to own someday. “She talked about how intimate she wanted it to be, how she wanted everyone to feel it was dinner just for them,” said her friend Stacey Kamphius. “She was describing Charleston.”
The next day I had a routine visit with my doctor. In updating the list of specialists I saw, he noted that my ob/gyn had retired. I wasn’t too surprised because I knew his age. My doc then asked if I knew that two of the doctors from that ob/gyn practice were now practicing out of his office. (My doctor had decided years back that the current state of medical care wasn’t for him and opted to create a wellness practice to spend more time with his patients.) Nice to know I now had more health care options at one place.
When I left, I ended up sharing an elevator with one of the women who was now practicing out of my doctor’s office. An elevator ride is short, so we ended up chatting for about 10 minutes in the lobby of the building. The old practice had been merged into a large, hospital-based system. What stayed with me was her comment, “You know the feeling you had at Capital. We didn’t see that with the new group, so that’s why we left. We want our patients to have that homey, caring feeling.”
Both experiences reminded me about how important your environment is, not just to you but to the people you come in contact with. How do you go about creating an experience from your environment for your customers? Here are some ideas.
Describe in detail what you want your store to look like. Does this vision translate into what is in front of you? Try to look at your own store with fresh eyes to assess this. Does this vision translate in the classes or events that offer your customers?
Pay particular attention to how you want your customers to feel when they are in your store. That’s what struck me about the examples of the chef and the doctor. Both were concerned with how they wanted the diner/patient to experience the service. It’s easy to get caught up in how you want to feel and not put yourself in the place of the customer.
Share your vision with your employees. It’s one thing for you to have a vision of what you want your store to be like or how you want your customers to experience it. It’s probably more important that you share this with your employees. They are the ones who have the most — and often the first — contact with your customers. You know the old adage, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” Be sure it’s the one you want.
Do some market research. Ask some of your current customers to describe the environment of your store. This may give you insight you didn’t have. You might also try asking a business friend to be a “secret shopper” and share their impressions.
This shouldn’t be a one-time exercise in your storefront. It should be something that you evaluate on a regular basis to be sure your vision and the experience is in place. It’s about selling your brand.
And, even if you do not have a storefront, this is still something to evaluate. If you are an online business, it’s the message you want your customers to get when they visit your website or receive your product in the mail.
It’s your turn!
What is the experience you want your customers to have? What do you do to see that it happens?