Are You Treating Customers as Treasured Guests?

My phone may have failed me on my recent vacation, dear reader, but Québec of course did not. From spending time with my favorite Pen Man, to the refreshingly intimate Kevin Parent concert (backed up by the rollicking guys from the Porn Flakes), to the ice-fishing trip that wasn’t (whew!), and at last the amazing Carnaval in Québec City—and yes, even including the harsh discovery that my car has become a wimpy warm-weather lover and refuses to start on its own during Canada’s frozen February—it was a wonderful week.

Today, since I seem to have left my heart in La Belle Province, another lesson from (and for) QC: How to welcome your customers as treasured guests to your business.

I’ve traveled many times to English-speaking Ontario and I love it passionately, but only in the last year have I been visiting French-speaking Québec. I’ve had warm, chilly, and icky receptions, just as you might when traveling anywhere. Some folks are glad to see visitors and some aren’t. In some parts of the province, at least, folks want to project a more open, outsider-friendly image to encourage tourism, and everyone’s got advice on how to accomplish that.

My word of advice will work as well for you as it can for Québec—


I heard it at the border the first time I crossed from New York into Canada, and I’ve heard it here and there since, but not nearly enough. It’s as simple as it sounds: both words run together in greeting, bonjourhello. The funny thing is, anyone who’s stronger in one language than the other seems to process it as their own and instantly responds in their own native tongue.

What’s so great about bonjour-hello?

It’s a signal that the speaker can handle anything I might say next (unless of course it’s “hola” or “ni hao,” but we’ll keep it simple here)

It’s a sign not just of fluency, but of acceptance and welcome

It’s non-judgmental

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my travels all around the world it’s that natives have ways of picking tourists out from subtle clues. In Toronto, an American laugh may give you away before your accent; in Spain… ah, well, we can’t all have smouldering looks; in various places in the U.S. your style of dress may give you away as an outsider, even if you’re only a hundred miles away from home; in Québec—yep, there too, they notice a non-native right away.

Bonjour-hello says “I’m not looking.” Even if the speaker’s already got me pegged, they’re pretending they haven’t noticed anything funky about me. And that, folks, is a great relief.

Think about the last time you went into a store for a gift you’d never buy for yourself. Let’s say, a motorcycle vest for Uncle Ralph, a… *ahem*… toy for a bachelorette party, a crochet pattern for your mother, or a nose ring for your niece’s 18th birthday.

Did the staff give you the evil eye and a grunt of barely tolerating you?

You shuffled through the store awkwardly, wishing you were done. You got what you came for and maybe even a little less than what you came for. Something else caught your eye, but you couldn’t get over the feeling that your money wasn’t as acceptable, as an “insider’s,” so you didn’t stop to admire.

You breathed easier when you were outside.

Imagine instead, they’d welcomed you in with their own version of bonjour-hello. You’re a bit awkward, but the staff puts you at ease; you ask questions, and they don’t make you feel stupid or n00b; they never betray that they can tell you don’t know what you’re doing.

When you get outside, you smile and think, “Hey, I really pulled that off! They had no idea I’d never been in a shop like that before! And look at all the extra goodies I got for myself when I only went in for Uncle Ralph. Better remember this place so I can tell him about it…”

We’ve talked before about overt exclusion and saying no to the wrong customers. That’s still one of the strongest secret-weapons in your Experience Design arsenal. Knowing who not to attract is critical to figuring out who you should be talking to.

But if that customer is in your store, on the phone, or emailing you—she’s not your Ideal Customer, but today, she needs what you’ve got—say “c’mon in!” in a way that works for her.

Match her tone or language if you can

Don’t just allow her business, welcome it

Be non-judgmental in your enthusiastic upsells and interest in her needs

This isn’t the Ideal Customer you’ve been targeting in your marketing and overall Experience, but this is the customer of the moment. Welcome him or her as a treasured guest. Guests aren’t staying forever, but you want them to feel great while they’re with you. In the case of your business, some may turn into the Ideal; some may know someone (or many someones) who is the Ideal Customer; some may just feel so comfortable and relieved that they buy a little this or that they wouldn’t without your welcome.

In Québec? Oh, sure, intellectually I know I probably never fooled anyone. But the bonjour-hellos—where folks pretended, for just a minute, that they couldn’t tell and wouldn’t care if they could—I remember every single one with a smile.

For a great big province, or a small company like yours, that’s how to project a more open, outsider-friendly image, and attract more business to you.

Whether it’s a regular haunt for you or you’re a fish out of water, how does being treated like a treasured guest affect your shopping? Are you giving that Experience to your customers?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson