A Not-Quite Fable of Customer Experience

Once upon a time there was a lady who wanted to buy a new hat.

A baseball cap, to be exact, but one that no ball player has ever worn.

Something extraordinary, something remarkable. A cap with meaning, a cap with zip. A cap with the verve of the giver and the class of the receiver.

Rarely has a ballcap been asked to be so much!

But the lady knew zilch about ballcaps. She did know something about the convenience-laden land of franchises in which she lived, and knew that no such gem would be found near home. She did a little research on the wild, wild web to find out about remarkable haberdashery in Big Cosmopolitan City, where she frequently travelled, and got addresses for purveyors of artisanal head-finery that would make a wonderful gift for a king… if kings wore baseball caps.

1.

At the appointed hour the lady drove in to the city and approached the first address. Their website hadn’t been much, but they came well-recommended.

They were also out of business.

Such are the times, folks, and I feel for you, really, but if you’ve gone out of business, either mention that on your site or take the site down, okay?

2.

The next two addresses were near each other, in the artsy-tony section of town. The lady parked, paid her 73 quarters to feed the hungry meter, and headed off to the closest one. The shop was tiny, immaculate, sun-filled, cleverly arranged, staffed by one, possibly the owner, who greeted her and her Kid pleasantly, and full to the rafters of all manner of hats. This was hat heaven. She was sure they’d go nowhere else. Oh, the prices stung a little, but she wanted to own twenty things for herself, they were so beautiful and unique, she’d spotted gifts for everyone she knew… she was almost distracted from the task at hand, finding The Perfect Gift for her friend.

At last, having gone through shelves, tables, and racks, nothing at all had truly grabbed her as belonging, perfectly, to her noble friend. Her standards were very high for this gift. Sadly, she thanked the smiling man still sitting behind the register, and wandered out as another customer wandered in.

Surprised there hadn’t been a match in such a wonderland, she peered longingly through the windows as they planned to make their way toward the next shop, when—she spotted The Hat! “Oh, yes, I like that one too, Mama,” The Kid agreed. They hurried back in, excited to tell the smiling man that they’d take the one in the window, no matter the price, please. “I’m sure those are on a shelf,” he said, still smiling, and among his vast array, he did find the cap displayed on a table.

“I’m so thrilled!” said the lady, noting the $86 price tag and swallowing hard, but grinning at the thought of the hat on its recipient. “I have a friend who loves….”

Between “I have a friend” and “who loves,” the smiling man had walked away from her, leaving her holding a very expensive ballcap, a rapidly fading grin, and a funny feeling, as he walked up to the only other customer in the store, who was admiring himself in the mirror, and asked if he’d like any help.

The Kid tried the hat on and turned to the mirror. “I don’t think I like it anymore,” she said.

“Me either.”

As they shuffled up the street they made up little things that were wrong with the hat once they’d closely examined it. The exact shade of olive was just a bit off. The shape was… well, it was a little too avant-garde, wasn’t it?

Eighty-six bucks lost today, who knows how many in the future, because… please tell me it wasn’t because I’m a woman? My money’s the same shade of green. Let’s just assume it was because you’re a jerk.

If that was a staffer, the lesson is don’t hire jerks, and if that was the owner, just remember what happened to the first hatter. Near-perfect Experience totally destroyed. I wouldn’t return to buy the twenty hats I loved if I won the lottery.

3.

They stopped at a few little shops for indispensable this-and-thats on their way down the street. At the final hatter’s that she had scoped out on the web, a place that was far more artsy-grungy than artsy-tony, a pleasant greeter took their bags, firmly but a bit apologetically, on the way in. She misunderstood for a moment, not having been mistaken for a thief at any other shops, but with an understanding laugh, she gave up her bags in exchange for a charmless clothespin, scribbled on in Sharpie. (Should’ve branded this, and should’ve used something cleverer, she thought to herself. Opportunity to turn my frown upside-down, missed.)

The shop had only one, large wall of hats, but there were only ballcaps, which meant plenty to look through. With nowhere else on the itinerary, surely they’d see something here.

If only they could see something… the wall of caps was behind an enormous cash-wrap area, at the opposite end of the counter from the sole register. The space behind the cash-wrap, plus the counter itself, put the lady and The Kid at least eight feet from the caps. They couldn’t tell if any of them were what they had in mind from that distance. A friendly-looking salesperson was hanging t-shirts on a rack near the ballcap end of the counter. “I can get something down for you,” she said.

“Well, I can’t see them to know what to have you get down. Can I get closer?”

“Oh, sure. You can get a little closer,” she said, returning to her hanging duties.

Relieved, the lady told The Kid to stay still and went round the end of the counter, quite far from the cash register, and of course, without her dangerous bags. She laughed again in camaraderie. “Thanks, because it’s really hard to choose one without being able to see them. Awful that they made this so inconvenient, huh?”

She stood at least two feet from the hats, not wanting to seem as if she might touch or disturb the grunge (dis)order of the store.

“Not that close,” said the exact same salesperson, with clear menace in her voice. “You can’t be behind the counter.”

The lady backed out. From the edge of the long counter, of course, the view was twice as bad—at a distance, plus now at a very acute angle.

“I cant buy them if I can’t see them.” It was a statement, not an argument. No point in that. She was already walking away.

“Mm. That’s how it is.”

They were back at the front door, waiting to be handed their bags in exchange for the cheesy clothespin, before the greeter had done whatever he usually did with people’s bags (they were still in his hand). The entire shopping experience took less than thirty seconds. Behind them she could hear baffled grumblings from all four of the staff, as she walked out, incensed.

If shoplifting is such a problem that everyone must be assumed to be criminals, you’d better find a way to make that mighty amusing. I don’t often pay money to be treated that way.

Your floorplan is a major player in creating, or destroying, the Experience.

Don’t let your staff grumble at anyone. Some folks are bloggers who seriously considered naming names today.

Once upon a time…

… there was a hot, frustrated lady, who just wanted to buy a cool doggone hat, wandering one of the most fascinating areas of Big Cosmopolitan City, attempting to talk straight to The less-annoyed Kid so her muttering would not be mistaken for insanity: “Can’t even throw my money at people. I’m going to write a post about this. I should take pictures… make a collage… ‘these are all the places I couldn’t buy a hat.’ I can’t believe how stupid this is…” when they wandered right by an unremarkable-looking store, ominously marked something boring to do with Hats.

Without looking at the bag I can’t even tell you the name. Big yawn.

The lady almost didn’t go in, because of the blah name, but she wanted a doggone hat, and doggone hats were here. She gave it a shot.

It wasn’t too well lit, but the store did have yet another incredible selection of hats. (Big Cosmopolitan City should be renamed from Sweatsuit Capital of America—sad but true in spite of all these cosmopolites—to Hat Capital of America. How does one city support four—okay, three—hatters in such a tiny area, and I suspect many more that the lady didn’t discover in other areas of the city?) The walls were lined with bookshelves, artfully displaying wares, and there were too many trees full of hats to count, dancing down the center aisle of the store. It took more than a half hour to peruse all the possibilities, to try on a few for fun, but mainly, to get the bad taste of the other shops out of their mouths and prepare to attempt human interactions. The Kid put one hat in the lady’s hand, insisting that they buy it for her, if ever a gift were located for the noble friend. As The Kid had endured quite a bit it was agreed to, as a reward for her help and patience.

Then The Kid noticed a hearing impaired man, attempting to make his interest known—a hat too high on the wall for him to reach. She pointed out to her mother how kind the cashier was, stepping out from behind the counter, coming closer to listen to broken speech, working with him through patient gestures, never once looking like this was something he didn’t deal with every day. The lady’s eyes teared up, just a tad, watching the elegant interactions between the customer and an unlikely, t-shirt-clad 20-something cashier. She put another hat in her hand that might look darling on someone.

Still, the perfect cap eluded them.

As she was about to give up, she noticed one last tree that she hadn’t examined the first time through the store. Ballcaps! and every one a delight. Soon she had several to choose from. Off to the mirror, to model them herself and let The Kid model them, trying to imagine which was right. The Kid took the caps back to the rack, carefully replacing them where they’d been, and the lady noticed a floorwalker, watching with a smile. She hadn’t “seen” him before but then remembered that for as long as they’d been in the store she had seen him… never pushing, never intruding, never helping (which they clearly didn’t need), nor warning in any way. Simply, and discreetly, there, letting them take their time to fall in love with the store. Almost falling…

The Kid walked back with one last cap from that one last rack, and from six feet away the lady knew it was The Perfect Gift. The Kid was already smiling, and they both began to laugh at how perfect it was. “But I can’t understand the price tag….”

She hadn’t said it very loudly, but the store wasn’t very big. The associate on the floor looked toward them and gave a half-smile. Still not pushing, only inviting.

“How much is this cap?” The lady knew that it did not matter at all what his answer was. When The Perfect Gift has been found, asking the price is only for curiosity. But she took careful note of his welcoming tone and friendly answer. She nearly sighed out loud with relief, and she walked with him to purchase all the hats she held. He’d even remembered which one The Kid fell for straightaway—though by then it had been in the lady’s hands for twenty minutes—and without so much as a wink, quietly offered to cut the tags off that hat if she’d like to wear it out of the store. Which she did. And for the rest of that hot, hot day.

At the risk of repeating myself—your floorplan plays a critical part in creating your Customer Experience. Make it a logical, but never boring, voyage of discovery.

When you’ve designed a floorplan for lingering, integrate it with customer service that encourages the lingering.

Hire human beings. Some folks say there are none to be had “these days,” but I say that some Mamas raise their babies right in every generation. Find those people, because you can’t train for empathy.

Discretion is underrated and in desperately short supply. Demand it of your help. Works for hats as well as it does for Mercedes-Benz. Just because you don’t sell high-ticket items doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat your customers as if they’ve come to find a gift for a king—it’s your payday if they’re delighted.

And one more… get a website. With a fine enough web presence, I might have gone here first.

So ends the tale of the three mad hatters, and the one who got all my business. A not-quite fable of useful Customer Experience tips for you.

Had any fabled Experiences yourself lately? Meet me in the comments…

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson