Mano a Mano, Cara a Cara, and Feet on the Pavement: MCE Steps Out

100% Pure Shoe Leather

One of my goals for the blog this year is to have a more direct connection with what smaller business owners and managers are facing right now in creating Maximum Customer Experience. I recommend a lot of strategic research for clients, including one-on-one interviews with stakeholders, customers, and prospective customers. So on my own advice, I’ve been hitting the road for the 2008 Interview Series. To take part there’s one criterion: you must be a Delaware or Pennsylvania small business owner.

I live and work north of Wilmington, Delaware. Though clients are not always local, this is where I am both a practitioner, and like you, a consumer, of Experience Design. I have my eyes and ears open everywhere I go. If I spot changes within a business, see new signage, or if a whole new business pops up, I’m taking notes and checking into it on the Internet, as a designer and as a curious local. I read the local business paper, the newspapers, I keep an eye on local blogs. Staying sharp on local companies is part of my job.

The first article in the Interview Series is a piece on encouraging word-of-mouth in the real world. Most of the interview subjects I chose because I am a customer and a fan of the company; some, simply because I have followed their story and want to know more about their progress.

In early April, I started (driving and) walking. For every business on my carefully chosen list, I walked in and introduced myself: [Ask for owner by name, then] “Hi, I’m Kelly Erickson. I write a local blog called Maximum Customer Experience, and I’d really like to interview you.”

Why me?

This tickled some folks pink, and made others skeptical. Why me? Easy to answer, since I really meant it. I explained exactly why them. For most that was enough, and they too moved to the tickled pink stage.

Great so far. I’ve done quite a bit of interviewing, and I know most people are happy to be asked their opinions about their work. (How do I do as an interviewer? I’m enthusiastic, friendly, and a nervous wreck. It’s a thrill.) With nothing “in it for me” except a genuine interest in how they do business, most owners accepted the invitation.

So, what happened?

Only one said, “Now’s a great time.” We sat right down and began. Good thing I prepped before each visit!

About two-thirds set a date and a time, and I returned to do the interview.

The other third set a date to get back to me with a time that worked for them, or agreed to email me their responses. I don’t care for the email option because you can’t take a conversation in a new direction as you talk, but I have great respect for the time these owners are taking for me, so of course I said yes.

Having chosen my time of day wisely, only a few owners were not there when I stopped in. For these I left a card with a member of their staff, printed with the Interview Series information, and a handwritten note on it explaining my interest in interviewing them.

Ready to wear out your own shoe leather? Remember these lessons:

All of the people I made an appointment with, were there and ready to go on the day I came back. I told everyone I would take up less than thirty minutes of their time (and had material for only a twenty-minute interview to make sure I respected that), yet each interviewee thought of more and more associations, and every one kept me for longer than the time I’d promised!

Lesson 1: Get brave and get out there. Face-to-face works!

 

None of the folks who said they would get back to be with a time or an email interview, did so. After the date we’d agreed to had passed, I sent a polite email asking if they were still interested in participating. Still, none of these owners got back to me.

Lesson 2: “Get back to you on that” is probably NO, in code.

 

Of the owners I was not able to personally meet and express my interest to, not one contacted me. Again, I sent a polite, personal email as follow-up (and in case they’d never been given the information), and still received no responses.

Lesson 3: See Lesson 1! If you need a YES, you need to be face-to-face with the decision maker.

 

All of the owners who chose the “get back to me” or email-interview option (and then didn’t) were men.

Lesson 4: I don’t know lesson 4. This is the part that has me baffled. If you’re wondering, the introductory conversations I had with these owners were just as warm, they were just as pleasantly surprised, and seemed just as eager to be part of the interviews.

 

I know, you don’t want to do interviews, you want to interest prospects in your store, your product, or your service. You want to make your company better known. Networking in this personal way will make your company better known. Do your homework, find an engaging way to introduce yourself, and make your first visit to a prospective customer a time for you to find out more about them. Ask for permission to stop back again, and repeat the process. Be knowledgeable, be interested, and be creative. Do not try to sell while introducing yourself; try to learn.

Remembering that this was a small sampling of local business owners and very unscientific—IS there a lesson 4? Do you think there is a reason why male owners (a) mainly chose the “get back to me” option, and then (b) to a man, didn’t? Is it gender or coincidence?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

 

Brand Propheteers: 10 Ways to Get the People You Already Know to Rave About Your Firm, first in the 2008 Interview Series, is coming up at the end of April.

Don’t miss the series! Subscribe to the Maximum Customer Experience Blog for free, and get email or RSS updates using the subscription area at top left.