In "Are You Confusing Your Customers? Finding Clarity by Seeing Your Business from Your Customer’s Point of View", Michelle Guiles uses her storytelling style to explore the importance of clarity and the customer’s perspective.
Logo emblazoned on the front window, the shop overlooked a busy street with ample walking traffic. If their logo was any indication, I would find a space & coffee experience that was minimalistic, modern, intellectual, & perhaps educational. I’d looked up this particular one on Yelp, so I knew from reviews that they had something different going on here. I crossed my fingers that this would be the respite I was looking for. Holding the door for an exiting patron and his bicycle, I was hit by the aroma of house-roasted beans & entered the establishment with high expectations.
As a business strategist and art director at an advertising agency, I can’t help but analyze every business I enter. It’s my job to find places for improvement, and I think I’m pretty good at it. In my position, I deal directly with business owners from all walks of life—several have hailed from dessert and culinary backgrounds. When it comes to small businesses, typically, a client will come with a tangible request—a website, a print ad, an application, etc., and, oftentimes, our relationship develops into something more when that business owner experiences what having the right strategy can do for their bottom line.
This magazine’s position has always been to empower readers, many of whom are small business owners, with tools to succeed, so as the Managing Editor of Dessert Professional Online, I hope to provide insight into the strategy of business and add to our visitors’ knowledge base. Across businesses and industries, business strategies are quite similar. Before launching a new campaign or investing time and money into an expansion, I recommend beginning with some self-reflection, but from the eyes of your customer.
Send a clear brand message to your customers before they come through your door.
Your storefront and street view should be a reflection of your brand, but too often, there is a disconnect between how a business presents itself and what it actually is. Customers like knowing what they’re getting into before they come through your door. From the street, customers should have a clear understanding of what your business does. Knowing information up front saves customers from any awkward experiences or wasted time. This, in turn, gives you more time to spend with potential customers who are more likely to make a purchase. Use the space you have available to market your product and services to such potential customers. Entice them to enter by representing your products and/or services honestly. This isn’t a way to simply get customers, but a way to engage your target demographic, a key component to seeing an increase in repeat sales.
Ultimately, your brand identity and message must be true to what you actually are. Your customers will develop expectations based on your brand identity, whether your business fulfills those expectations or not. If, for example, a bakery chain prides itself on its sense of warmth and whimsy, its brand identity should reflect that sense rather than showcasing its corporate structure. Effective branding will weave a thread through every way your business communicates to customers.
Entering the shop, the space was cool—high ceilings, polished cement floors, muted greys & teals, natural wood, an overall minimal approach, but I was confused. I was led to shelving with brewing products that I could purchase to take the experience home. Other patrons collected near the front window at upcycled table tops overlain with glass. Further inside the space was a low L-shaped counter with ample space behind & an unintentionally hidden sampling of pastries. Directly across were high wooden stations where other patrons were seated at stools, laptops open. I was looking for a register, a menu, anything to indicate where I was supposed to begin my purchase, so naturally my eyes fell there. Then, I realized that each station had its own beverage, so I looked elsewhere.
Keep the path to purchase simple and clear.
Don’t confuse the customer. When customers enter your place of business, they should immediately understand what they are supposed to do. Interior design in business should never be viewed as a matter of taste, it is a series a visual cues that direct the traffic through your space and relate your brand message. Visual hierarchy, or the order in which the eye perceives what it sees, is tantamount to effective interior design. Engineering the visual elements of your space is a way for you to ensure that customers’ eyes fall exactly where you want them to. In the case above, despite interior design that was consistent with the storefront brand message, the visual hierarchy in the space was off. The visual cues led me to every place in the shop other than where I should have been led—the main counter. Customers shouldn’t have to figure it out. A hanging or chalkboard menu next to the counter or a stand for the iPad-for-a-register would have made the process much clearer.
Eventually, I was greeted by a man in his mid-thirties, who I learned through some polite conversation was one of a few co-owners. He handed me a paper menu attached to a clipboard, the presentation of which became understandable once I learned that the establishment had only been open for seven weeks. Still, I didn’t quite understand the content. The offerings were not your garden variety of coffee shop beverages & the prices were significantly higher—I needed him to explain them to me.
Provide enough information for customers to make an informed decision.
One thing you should never say if you want your business to be successful is, “If customers want to know the answer, they can always ask.” Customers don’t like to ask questions that they shouldn’t have to. From my experience, business owners are often so well-versed in their own products that they have difficulty relating information to a first-time buyer and assume a certain level of “common knowledge” from their customers. As a business owner you will encounter customers with varying degrees of expertise. Never present things in a manner that requires your customers to know as much as you do about your product.
The best approach to showcase your products is the simplest one—be direct about what products you sell or what service you provide and give details that a consumer would want to know. The consumer-retailer relationship is a standard one. Having a novel idea or product can be great in business, but customers have been conditioned to expect certain things of merchants in-store, in-restaurant, or in-boutique and online. Leaving out details or saying “we can do anything” in lieu of actually hammering out a process might be perceived as inexperienced, lazy, uninformed, or even untrustworthy (what comes to mind is the sales practice of baiting with a vague price point). Be sure your business and product information is clear, so that customers know exactly what you do and what to expect, so their questions can be informed ones.
The path that takes a customer from decision to checkout should be clear and require the fewest steps possible. I’ve been in cafés where the distance between the entryway and the ordering counter was empty and immense. There were no signs or indications that you should or had to travel further inside to find a human waiting to help you. I understand that finding the proper amount of attention to give a customer—sandwiched somewhere between overeager and aloof—can be difficult. Clarifying the product, the service, and the purchase process (this includes where and how to complete a transaction) will make it easier for you to achieve that balance.