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.

And How to Find the Right Level, to Improve Customer Experience Daily

Why do the most common musical chords include three notes?

Because one or two is boring and repetitive, and more than three may be asking for trouble unless you’re a seasoned pro. Too much “noise” for your brain to process!

Yesterday, we talked about letting go of micro-management for an afternoon. Whether you work solo from home or manage a staff of fifty, sometimes the best way to see your business’ needs clearly is to step away, considering your direction in silence, without the distraction of daily tasks.

When you’re fresh from this mini-sabbatical, it’s time to turn up the noise level, but only in the right places.

What three notes should you practice in Experience Design?

1. Always Be Checking. This won’t be a full-blown Experience Audit daily—just keep your eyes wide open for the little details that make a big difference to customers. First impressions last.

2. Prioritize from customer point of view. Listen to your customer, and be responsive to their interests and their concerns.

3. Measure results over time. This is the only way you will know if you’ve Pinpointed the right goals and whether you’re on track to achieve them.

Take a little time with this. Many of your daily tasks already fit in one of these three “notes,” but you may not have been viewing them in this way. When you look at your to-do list in terms of Experience Design, you can approach these tasks more deliberately—and more important in an overcrowded day, you can let go of the tasks that are just pointless noise.

With the noise level adjusted, look at the big picture. For instance:

How does viewing your website affect expectations for your store? [Checking, prioritizing.]

How does a constant parade of discount ads in the local paper affect the sort of customers who call you? [Checking, measuring.]

Do surly staff take care of those little details in your interiors as if they want your business to grow? [Checking, prioritizing.]

Don’t see these as separate interior design, graphic design, customer service, and marketing issues. This Experience Design chord can help you to look at your business as a whole. In a customer’s Perception, the elements of Experience will cross boundaries.

Checking, prioritizing, measuring. 1, 2, 3, strum.

That’s the background noise for your day. After a short while, you’ll be good at playing that chord, but watch out! As any musician will tell you, when you’re overconfident, you can hit a few sour notes. So stay focused.

At some point you may be working on a complete Experience re-Design, in which case there are certainly more than three notes in the chord. Jazz! With professional help, there’s a team to keep things swingin’. On an everyday basis: you’ve got just three notes to look after. Checking the details, prioritizing for the customer’s needs, measuring results. When it gets too noisy, it’s time for another silent afternoon.

Which note do you need to hit harder?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

How to Turn Down Time Into New Business Opportunities

What could your Restaurant do with down time?

Could you:

Invite a mothers’ group

veterans’ group

book club

seniors group

to meet?

Could you blindfold yourself to smell your space, and listen to your space, for fifteen minutes?

Could you send staff out to local businesses where staff will really need a stretch in a couple of hours:



insurance agents

financial services

with bite-sized samples?


What could your Office do with down time?

Could you:

Get a list together, and start sending birthday cards to past and present clients

or their spouses

or their dogs?

Could you watch your Mom navigate your website, looking for spots that trip her up, and ask her what’s missing from the Experience?

(No? Could you gather together the team and the information you need, to finally create that website you’ve been meaning to do?)

Could you email four trusted advisors:

your lawyer

your real estate agent

your insurance agent

your accountant

with a story or a bit of news to benefit them, just because you have this down time and you’re thinking of them?


What could your Store do with down time?

Could you:

use a wheelchair for an hour

come with a toddler

do a walkthrough not as the Ideal Customer, but the tired spouse of the Ideal Customer

to really understand how the Customer Experience could be improved?

Could you ask every guest who comes in today, “How Did You Find Us?”

Could you arrange to be a guest speaker at a monthly meeting for



small business owners

women business owners

with information that will make them more successful, and also touches on your specialty?


What if your business is mainly Online (or in a zillion categories I didn’t mention)? See where this is going?

Could you:

get out on foot and get in touch

get inspired by a new Perspective

be of service to other professionals?


Do something fresh with an hour of down time this week. Maybe you’ll shake your head (“wish I’d known that before”); maybe your hands will shake, if the new activity is scary enough. Maybe you’ll make a new habit, maybe you’ll make new friends. Maybe you’ll turn your marketing on its ear and discover whole new ways to grow your business. Try it this week. Then maybe next week, it’ll be harder to find an hour of down time!

What happens when you step outside your comfort zone during down time? Is it better to rock the boat, or twiddle your thumbs? Tell us what you think!

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

What’s Scent Got to Do With It?

In my last post, I said that scent is “… probably the first thing I consciously examine when I am in a new place.”

Why take note of scent first?

First scent impressions are more accurate (before forming a visual impression). For instance, if the space is beautiful (or wretched), the answer to “how did it smell” changes without realizing it.

The nose gets used to a new smell very quickly, so there’s only one chance to notice it vividly.

Scent impressions on your customers are immediate, incredibly strong, mainly subconscious, and make-or-break for your business. Scent is strongly tied to memory; like other first impressions, it’s very hard to change the first impression of scent.

I can take my time to do the rest, but that’s got to be done right away.

You can try it, too, by walking in first thing in the morning and focusing only on your sense of smell, but I have to tell you: “fresh” nose or not, you are used to what your place of business smells like. You have your own associations (hopefully good ones) with the smell. You aren’t going to notice what an outsider does.

Have you ever been to an office, store, or restaurant that smelled like a flower you remember at your Grandma’s house? Like the basement you dreaded when you were six? Like a locker room? How did it affect your purchases?

Has smell ever caused you to linger at a business, or to race out?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Does She Know the Secrets of Maximum Customer Experience?

At VisionPoints, we are huge believers in getting outside Perspective on your business. Plans, individual projects, and all aspects of completed Experience Design deserve a cold, hard look from a disinterested party—someone who doesn’t eat, sleep, and breathe understanding of and passion for your Vision.

Don’t get me wrong. I love your Vision (well, I would if I knew it), and I am the biggest believer in you and your staff being completely immersed in that Vision. It’s just that for you, it’s hard to imagine that anyone doesn’t “get it,” right?

Enter: Your Mom.*

When you were six, she was never afraid to tell you that your fly was undone. You need that more than ever right now. Tell her you’re a big kid and you can handle it. She does not have to like what you offer, whether it’s wine or camping supplies or Internet games or retirement communities. If necessary, tell her you know she’s not your target market, but you want her to try to think like [insert Ideal Customer profile here].

Do not prep Mom too much: She doesn’t know your company workings, just like potential customers do not know you. See? Fresh eyes.

At some point you’ll need professional Perspective, but maybe you’re not at that stage. Okay, then bite that bullet and call Mom, because you need a direct, in-person audit of your Customer Experience.

What Mom’s Going to Audit

Your company’s name

Business concept—Idea and execution

Look and comfort of your physical space (Signage, exterior, interior…)

Look and usability of your Internet presence (Website, blog, other…)

Look and feel of your logo and graphic materials (Yes, how your business cards, stationery, brochures, menus actually feel as well as how they look)

Service and other human interactions (On telephone, in person…)

What she’s seen, read, or heard about the company (not from you)

How would she search for [what she thinks you offer—no prompting with keywords!] on the Internet if she had a need, and does she find you? How long does it take her to find you (without actually typing in the company’s name)?

Mom’s Deliverables

Her understanding of what your company does or provides (Just a few sentences, no more)

Her quick impressions (first thoughts) and final (considered) thoughts on each audit point above

Does Mom think your company is Remarkable—worth talking about?

An easy way to achieve this, without making Mom do a write-up, is just to hook her up to a mic with a portable recorder. Record Mom thinking out loud to herself, to a staff member, or to you as she goes through this process. (For the service audit if your staff doesn’t recognize Mom let her walk around on her own, because—I hope—they do recognize you and will probably treat her differently knowing she’s the boss’ mother.)

Your Takeaways

Does she understand the company?

Can she make use of the company? (Find you on the Internet, find your office or store, make an appointment/reservation/order, find what she’s looking for in the store, get fabulous service… etc.)

How does she think the idea(s) will catch on?

Any other thoughts? Let Mom be free-form here: any thoughts may help you focus your direction

*You had to ask: “Why Mom?” It appears there is heated debate about the phrasing of The Mom Test. I knew I didn’t invent it, so I did a search on Yahoo!, and let’s just say there are believers in the phrase(more believers), and non-believers. Much of the discussion centers on the use of the term in the tech industry, where “ask Mom,” to some, is akin to making sure a caveman can do it.

I do not think your Mom is an idiot or a newbie. I do not want you to ask her because she is old, or female, or out-of-touch in any way. I do not know if your Mom is any of these things.  Loyal readers may know that I am a mom myself. I want you to ask Mom because 99% of mothers will not turn you down, like a buddy might; they will put 110% concentration into it, if you make sure you work it into Mom’s busy schedule; and (after you remind them a few times not to sugar-coat) most can give you the truth straight-up, with love and without an agenda. Remember your fly, the tag sticking out on your shirt, the time when she helped you finish your science project at midnight? Mom spots the littlest things, she knows how to pitch in, and she’s not afraid to be blunt, in a good way. For many people, Mom is their most Trusted Advisor.

Can your Dad do this? Yup. Give him the same tasks and he’ll be great. (Even if he thought burping was funny when you were growing up. He won’t think it’s funny when your staff does it.)

Your Mom wants you to succeed. The Mom Test is an audit that can help your company spot opportunities to improve your Customer Experience.

Have you used The Mom Test before? How did that external Perspective help your firm?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Create Maximum Customer Experience Before You Kick It?

The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, came out on Christmas Day in larger cities. I hoped to go see it that week but I didn’t have the chance, so tonight for a little belated Happy Birthday to Me, I went. (What’s that? Oh, thanks.)

A lot of folks are writing their own Bucket Blogs lately, and having privately done variations of it a few times before, I am now NOT going to offer another Bucket List to the ether. That would be way too off-topic for the MCE Blog.

Instead a few quick takes on the Experience I had tonight:

My local mega-theatre has installed convenient automated machines for purchasing tickets if you are paying by debit or credit card. This, apparently, is very handy when the lines are enormous, as they were tonight. The only problem is, they are hard to spot, and when a managerial-type walked the line yelling to use them if we weren’t paying cash, there was no way to get out of the line to do so (ropes keeping us snaking toward the front) unless you were a limbo artist. So most of us heard the call, looked around, and gave up and continued to wait, now frustrated at the sight of a faster way that we couldn’t get near.

The Bucket List was packed. This was its opening day here in Delaware (who knew?). What the room was packed with surprised me, also… I had expected to be just about the youngest person in the room (and if you’re wondering, it was not a terribly young birthday I just celebrated), but the crowd around me was as multi-aged as any I have ever seen in a theatre. In front of me there were four just-about-twenty year olds on a double date. Next to me were a couple who were in their early thirties. The room went from late teens to late… well, let’s just say all the way to very late. There were a lot of couples, but also a large number of groups, mainly of women. This is probably not too surprising, but the range of ages really was a surprise to me.

The ads and promos went on forever. I do go to the movies a few times a year so I know this isn’t big news, but this was the worst ever. I felt like throwing tomatoes, but alas I had none, and it would have done nothing to alleviate my suffering anyway. I’m sure there’s no human deciding when to start the show based on number of tomatoes being tossed.

What can you take from this moviegoer’s Experience?

1. If you offer conveniences, make them convenient! Trapped in line for tickets, I felt like the snowman in Pixar’s Knick Knack.

2. Bridge generations with your product or service. I would have loved to interview a few of the younger people who came, because really I can’t tell you what brought them in, but I was a bit too teary to look professional.

3. DO. NOT. IRRITATE your customers! The thing about the ads is, a couple of ads lets stragglers get in without missing the first minutes. Fifteen minutes of them encourages everyone to become a straggler, because they know the start time is not the start time. Don’t do this to the people who give money to you.

Last: Go see The Bucket List. The film Experience was as good as I hoped it would be.

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

You Can’t Afford to Miss This One

Thriving firms, look out—this post is geared toward brand-new businesses. (Okay, more established businesses may benefit from these ideas also.)

As the owner of a startup company, you may feel like you can’t afford to hire a designer.

Quick plug for the entire design world (you know what we’ll say): Often, you can’t afford not to hire us. Sometimes we can save you money in costly errors; often we can save you time—which gets your party started faster; well-directed money is always more effective at launching your company than scattered efforts. If you can’t hire a designer (naturally, I recommend an Experience Designer) for your entire project, sometimes a very focused consultation can give you insight that guides your efforts and saves you from spinning your wheels.
Ahem, I had to do that. Guild rules or something. Back to the article now.

Now, if you’ve just got to go it alone, how can you best implement just a few elements of Experience Design that will boost your startup now and long-term?

Top Three Musts for Startups

1. Research and write down an Experience Design plan

Vision (Your “destination”)
Ideal Customer/ Ideal Solution
Goals (Points that help you know when you’ve reached your destination)

2. Start with a great name

As I wrote in Key Concepts, quite simply—your company’s name is the most important ad you’ll ever write.

3. Get some help—see your company the way others will see it

Some advise getting opinions of friends and family (some advise against it!); some suggest an advisory panel of business associates; these days, some suggest Internet help.
Even if it’s the coworkers at the place you moonlight with while you begin, get some in-person (not Internet, they can’t see your place), objective (this may rule out family…) opinions on your name, your basic business concept, your look (I mean your site but if they have opinions on your personal appearance take those opinions gratefully, too), and your plan.

If you’ve gotten this far, you’re in love with your idea—get someone who isn’t, to tell you what works and what definitely doesn’t.

If possible, get this advice from a few people who are similar to your Ideal Customer profile, so they can give an informed opinion, but don’t fret if they have no connection to your field. Very fresh, outsider opinion is also quite valuable, as long as the person can put him- or herself in the shoes of a customer. [If Granny says she doesn’t get it, is it because she’s not your target market and isn’t trying to imagine being in their shoes (not a good advisor), or is it because the idea or execution of the idea stinks (a very good advisor)? Know your Granny to answer that one.]

Bonus “Must”:

Quick impressions are very useful. After all, most potential clients, like potential suitors, are going to make very quick judgments when deciding to accept or reject your company. Periodically clear your mind and do a “quick look” at your brand-new baby business. Whatever you notice first is the area to focus your attention on. Have advisors do this too. If a color glares at them, or clutter or (heaven forbid!) dirt is what they notice, if they drive up and can’t find your signs, if they can’t remember your name or it has bad associations in their mind… these are the things prospects will catch, too.


When I sign these postings, I really mean these last few words. If you are the owner of a fledgling startup, then I wish this for you *double* today:

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Trickle-down Customer Relationship Management?

At a restaurant this evening, one not especially known for its personal attention, my eight-year-old and I heard the manager introducing herself and discussing the meal with patrons in the next booth.

My daughter says, in a low voice:

Very nice manager.

It affects how her customers feel.”

Why? I ask.

Because. It makes them cheery.”

(You know you talk about your profession too much at home when…)

From the mouths of babes, today’s lesson in Experience Design.

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

You Really Need to Get Some Air

This is part two of 13 in the Experience Design 101 series. For links to all the articles in this series click here.

Why do high-powered publishers need editors? Best-selling authors like J. K. Rowling or Maya Angelou, Jakob Nielsen or Keith Ferrazzi, they’re inspired and creative and masters in their fields. Why edit?

Because even an expert needs outside perspective when they’ve been knee-deep in their own thoughts for months or in some cases, years.

My father sometimes read papers for me in high school. My mother used to look at my math. A fresh pair of eyes can catch the easy boo-boos, and that’s great. What fresh eyes are best at, though, is being… fresh.

Call it the duh! factor. [Liz Goodgold does; check out her Duh! Marketing Awards.] If your concepts can’t pass the duh! test you may be headed for trouble. When Dad didn’t think a paragraph made sense, or when Mom couldn’t get the same answer as I did on the math, it was time to go back to work, clarifying and focusing.

You need to step away from your business, on occasion. If you’ve ever held a dinner party at home you probably know how this works: with a half-an-hour to go, you walk the house—What have I forgotten? Any clutter I didn’t spot earlier? Did I chill the wine? Is there a knife for the cheese?

When you step away from your business you perform this same check. Get a little air, gain fresh Perspective on what you offer and how you present it. Is my website too busy? Does it inform enough? Are my ads pulling in the kind of leads I want? Do my staff look pulled-together? Are sales trending up?

All those talented authors step away from their work plenty before they send it off to the publisher. Their magnum opus goes off to an editor, who as gently as possible, hacks it to bits. Or so it feels, because no matter how constructive, criticism can hurt.

Bring it on!

Whether it’s a book or a restaurant or a law firm or a liquor store, your work won’t be its best until it’s made it past the Perspective of an outsider’s eye.

You need an outside eye to watch for nonsense terms and overblown rhetoric like “best in class,” “guru,” and “top-notch” in your materials. [For more, read the uniquely fascinating, top-notch Gobbledygook Manifesto.] You need an outside eye to tell you the colors you’ve chosen for your executive portrait studio scream “hospital,” or the chairs in your reception area are only comfortable to you, or your signage is driving people away. You need an outside eye to tell you the staff you regard as family need to brush up on their manners when you’re not looking, or your prices are upscale but their attire is downscale. You need an outside eye to tell you when your concept needs a little gentle editing.

Get your mom, your dad, a friend who is not afraid to tell the truth, or just stop six new customers today. What strikes them first about your concept, your name, your location, or other aspects of your customer experience? What would bring them to your company? Are they using your offerings in the way you intended? Do they “get it”? Would they recommend you to a friend? Why or why not?

Take your time with this. Don’t wince when you hear their answers, or you’ll hinder the process. Don’t take it personally—this help is literally a gold mine for your business!

Ask for and really learn from this “kick in the pants.” The more Perspective, the better you’ll focus in on creating the Customer Experience that maximizes your growth.

Gather all the information and mine it for the most usable insights right away.

Then, take a break; after all this hacking and mining, you’ll probably need to get some air.

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


Next up in the series: Part Three: 3 Critical lessons learned from the Big Boys

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