Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Meet an "experience" library, part 1

In 2002 Cerritos, California opened the first "experience" library. Pine and Gilmore, authors of The Experience Economy, gave this library an Expy Award for its amazing design. Let's take a look at some of its unique features.

The new portion of the building is clad in titanium, the first building in the U.S. to use this material. It shimmers in the light and changes color with the weather.

The building draws you in with welcoming features.

Several water features outside in the plaza invite touch and sensory play.

On hot days this programmed fountain is probably filled with kids.

A creative sculpture shaped like a book celebrates the history of Cerritos.

Tip of the day: The staff and designers wanted to create the library of the future. When planning, they didn't look at libraries, they looked at other businesses that successfully did what they wanted to do, like theme parks, hotels, and cruise ships. Thinking outside their industry allowed them to create a successful new experience. For more on this trend towards experience-based business, download a free chapter of my new book.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

How not to throw an opening event

I was recently invited to a party at a clothing and lifestyle shop. It was billed as a "New Year's Resolution Party," featuring special jewelry and an author who was a life coach. It sounded fun, and I wanted to help promote this store, so I passed along the e-vite to some friends. (It's not my intention to embarrass anyone, so I am not using photographs or identifying the store in this post.)

When I arrived, I found some nice tables of food outside the shop door, and a girl who seemed like a server asked me what I wanted to drink. So far, so good. Two women I had invited were there, so I chatted with them. My other friend arrived. The server had disappeared, so I showed my friend her drink and food options. We wandered into the store, which is pretty small. A few people were there, who all seemed to know each other. No one said hello to us. We looked at the merchandise. We wandered back outside. After a few minutes, we decided to leave.

My friend told me later that she had felt very unwelcome, like she'd "crashed a party." So I asked the other friend what her impression was.

She wrote:
"I didn't get a great first impression. Here's why:

1.) We were there when the party was supposed to start and they weren't ready. They seemed disorganized. So we went for a walk and came back 40 minutes later.

2.) One of the items they promoted in their invitation was New Year's Resolution jewelry. When I asked to see it, it was literally hidden behind the counter in a baggie. One of the shop keepers had to dig around in the baggie to show me some samples. This didn't entice me to buy any jewelry.

3.) Since they billed this event as a party, I expected activity, like some of the stores at the South Park Walk-About. The food was nice, but it was hardly a party. No music, no games, no authors, no demonstrations.

I'm sure you know that what people remember most are first and last impressions. I probably won't go back and am unlikely to tell my friends to rush over there."

Tips of the day: What can we learn from this event? This shop owner didn't intend to throw a party where people felt unwelcome, or one that would make a bad impression.

1) If you aren't used to throwing events, hire an event planner. There are a million details that make up a good party, and an event planner can make those details sing. Begin setting up early, so you can start on time.

2) Nice food and drink are great; but a warm welcome is even more important. (The Welcome is Step 2 in my 8-steps to better customer experiences.) Make sure you personally greet everyone who attends. Smile at them, shake hands, ask them how they heard about your event, and introduce them to others. [This all seems like common sense, right? But they didn't do this.] Ask an outgoing friend to work as your greeter if you are shy.

3) If you are offering special items (like the jewelry) or an author appearance (like the lifestyle coach), have some signs made for the event. If there had been a set time for each of these items, clearly communicated to us, it would have felt like an event instead of a party we'd crashed. (Communication is Step 5 in my 8-step process.) We would have been more inclined to wait around if we'd known what was planned.

4) If you notice people are getting ready to leave, make a point of thanking them for coming, and give them a reason to come back. (For example, a 10% off coupon, a referral reward, or new merchandise arriving. If the customer just told you they like black pants, you can tell them that you're getting in a new shipment of black pants in two weeks, and ask if you can email them when it arrives.)

It's easier to stand and talk with people you already know, but the point of having an event like this is to make strangers feel welcome, so they want to come back.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

A lesson in brand extension from Vera Wang

When paging through Martha Stewart Living, I came upon this ad:

"Vera Wang by Serta: Introducing Vera Wang by Serta Mattresses"

What does Vera Wang have to do with mattresses? Are they softer, more luxurious, more bridal, more "red carpet?"

I don't even understand the ad, which is hard to read and doesn't show luxurious fabrics and a cushy bed. Perhaps that's why Vera looks a bit confused herself.

Brand extension is a tricky business. Campbell's couldn't sell spaghetti sauce, as they were too closely tied to soup.

They had to invent Prego.

Perhaps I'm wrong, and when a fashion-conscious gal (or guy) is shopping for a mattress and sees "Vera Wang" he or she will buy the brand image. (I still don't think this is a good ad.)

Tip of the day: Think carefully when adding products or services to your brand. Do they match your other offerings and your mission and vision? Will they make sense to customers? If not, you could be in for a costly failure.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Does your outside match your inside?

One Sunday night a friend and I were walking the Mission Hills neighborhood of San Diego in search of dinner. Everything was closed, except this restaurant.

I have driven past this place a million times. We never would have gone in the front door, except that it was this place or walk back to the car and drive somewhere for dinner. We walked across the street to look at the menu.

The xeroxed menu looked okay and the nicely detailed painting around the door was encouraging.

Expecting a greasy spoon, in we walked, to find this interior.

We literally looked at one another in amazement.

Our comfortable booth was great. The food was even better, fresh and delicious and reasonably priced.

We would never have set foot in this great restaurant if there had been one other choice that night. Why? The exterior doesn't welcome you in. Seated next to a liquor store on a bare stretch of a busy street, this restaurant needs to work harder to tell customers what awaits inside.

Tip of the day: Go across the street, at least half a block away. Does your business welcome customers? Is the message you're sending the right message? Does your name, color scheme, and other elements work together in a seamless way? Do you have trees out front? All of these elements are what drive customers inside. You can have a great interior, but if you don't get them in the door, they'll never know.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Design and the customer experience

How important is good design in creating a great experience? Let's take a look at a new store that hit my radar recently. This is in a funky, older two-story strip mall in the Mission Hills neighborhood of San Diego. It sits between a cabinet/kitchen design store and a Japanese restaurant. Other tenants are insurance, physical therapy, and skin care.

These lanterns caught my eye.

I stepped over for a closer look.

The graceful logo script and cute name got me to pull out my camera phone. The shop was closed, but I could see this sign through the window:

I was officially hooked. I came back when the store was open.

Warm colors, cute yoga clothes, great details.

The all-important themed bathroom.

This is the front of the business card. The design is carried through on the Web site and the email invite to the opening party.

I contacted designer Coleen Choisser for more information. She said that the client/shop owner wanted a warm, inviting, fun store that would appeal to Bikram Yoga enthusiasts, her target audience. She already had the name and tag line, "Catch the Spark." They chose the palette by going to fabric showrooms. Once they found the beautiful silk fabric for the dressing room curtain, they worked from there. They worked together on various details, some contributed by the designer, some by the owner. Coleen's final word, "You only have 30 seconds to make a good impression."

Tip of the day: Design matters. A designer's eye can guide you to create a seamless experience like this one. If you can't afford the full treatment, see if you can find someone who will trade services with you, do a consult, or look for a student who wants a portfolio project. Design matters.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

What a hand-written sign can tell you

Recently spotted in my large chain grocery store: "Butter. Over here."

Hand-written signs tell you several things:
-An employee has taken it upon himself or herself to fix a problem.
-Customers are repeatedly asking for something and not finding it.
-Someone made a design or placement decision without talking to front-line staff people first.

Usually, the problem isn't fixed by adding a sign.

Tip of the day: Search your site for hand-made signs. Sit down with front-line staff to discuss the problem that the sign represents. Reward them for taking initiative. Decide as a group how best to fix the problem. If a sign is still needed, make something permanent that fits the rest of your brand communication.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

How to ruin your brand with one handwritten letter!

I wrote about Target handing out a terrible flyer in a previous post. Here's another example of poor customer communication. We receive a lot of realtor solicitations, offering to sell our home. This one, from a realtor with a very nice Web site, was so bad it's worth sharing. (As I'm not trying to embarrass anyone, I've cut out identifying information):

If you have scary handwriting like this, it's best to stick to using a computer.
Apparently he considers the "14 foot blimp" a great selling point.
All of the work he put into creating his brand via his expensive (and usable) Web site went right down the drain here.

Tip of the day: Every aspect of your business, and your communication with potential customers, either supports or weakens your brand. Never "whip something up;" take the time to develop high-quality communication pieces. They don't have to be expensive, just thoughtful.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Encouraging behavior change: an example from Yoga Journal

I've written about behavior change in previous posts, here, and here. I have a chapter on behavior change in my new book, Creating Great Visitor Experiences. Understanding how to influence behavior is critical to any business, whether you are trying to sell products or influence how often someone comes to visit you.

Research in behavior change has shown that one way to help move people the direction you want them to go is to have them make a list of benefits. Once they can double their list of benefits, they can move into the next stage of positive behavior.

You may have visitors who don't yet see the benefits to making the changes you are suggesting. They’re the ones who come to your zoo or aquarium on a tour that’s part of a convention and couldn’t care less about your environmental mission. The most effective way to communicate with this audience is to spell out the benefits of a specific environmental behavior, like lowering their electric bills by switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Or, maybe some of your members received a membership as a gift but have never used it. Sending a letter listing the benefits of becoming a more active visitor could help nudge them along.

Along those lines, I just received this solicitation to return to Yoga Journal as a subscriber:

The text "SUMMARY OF BENEFITS" is usually found on health-care statements. I thought it was an interesting choice for this magazine. I'm not sure the design of this piece is quite right for this audience, but it's a real-world example of the approach described above.

Tip of the day: Focus on real-world, realistic benefits your business or organization offers, whether that is saving money, quality family time, or supporting their child's education in a safe environment.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Turning a neighborhood into a destination

The owners of the South Bark Dog Wash in San Diego decided that it would benefit them to organize the other businesses in their South Park neighborhood, so they started the South Park Business Council. Together they host a quarterly event called the South Park Walkabout.

Here is the card for the December Walkabout:

On the back, a map of the neighborhood with every participating business.

These evening events include free rides around the neighborhood in a funky bus and special activities like food, raffles, bingo, or music. The Grove hosted the San Diego Mandolin Orchestra.

The Daily Scoop on Juniper had specialty cocoa.

Many stores featured holiday decorations, free food, and later hours.

The business council also produces a full-page ad in the monthly neighborhood newspaper, creating the sense that South Park is a destination. Pooling their resources has more impact than running small individual ads.

Tip of the day: Think of ways you can partner with other businesses in your area, instead of thinking of them as the competition.

This is an excerpt from Creating Great Visitor Experiences: A Handbook for Museums, Parks, Zoos, Gardens, and Libraries, coming in May '07 from Left Coast Press.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Attention to detail, at Bombay Exotic Cuisine

In the Hillcrest section of San Diego, a beautiful new restaurant caught our eye. It's the newly remodeled Bombay Exotic Cuisine of India. The restaurant is a wonderful example of attention to detail, lovingly presented. Here is the check-in stand.

A fabulous waterfall separates the street-side dining, which is open-air, from the main restaurant itself. This open wall is popular overseas but unusual in the States, so it added a level of travel immersion that we appreciated.

The details at each table were thoughtfully presented.

The hallway leading to the bathrooms and banquet hall is spectacular.

When you see this kind of design, you know that someone spent a lot of time thinking about every aspect of the business, including the ceiling.

The only false note was the failure to remove the "Kirkland/Costco" sticker from the nicely shaped wineglasses.

Does this kind of attention to detail matter? If the food or the service had been terrible, we wouldn't go back. But the food was delicious and fresh, the service prompt and courteous, and the whole experience was so terrific that I'm blogging about it... positive word-of-mouth advertising.

Tip of the Day: Details count. Every single one. Your lighting, your salt shakers, your wineglasses, or whatever details make up your business. You don't have to spend a fortune, but do "soak off the labels" that detract from an otherwise wonderful asthetic.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Maybe American Airlines needs someone from Disney, too

Thanks to Clay Heery, who volunteered this story for my blog:

To: TSA Contact Center
Subject: American Airlines -- DFW

Good Morning:
On Dec. 29th, we flew into DFW to find out that the entire airport had been closed due to bad weather. Okay, that's understandable. Hundreds of flights were canceled, inconveniencing thousands of travelers. [Read one of the news stories here.]

What was NOT understandable were the procedures initiated by the American Airlines ground personnel. In order to "cope" with the crush of passengers with a minimum of difficulty, several REMOVED and/or hid their IDs, so that their deliberate misinformation (we were deliberately lied to several times) would not be attributable to them.

Very possibly, AA could respond that this was an isolated incident, but I submit that it was so coordinated and pervasive, that an isolated incident could not possibly be the case.

As for the TSA's concerns, having people in airline uniforms running around an airport without ID on a somewhat-regular basis, does not make for a secure operating environment.

Thank you for your time.


Clay Heery

Clay continued in his email to me:

While we were in a SIX HOUR line at the American Airlines counter at DFW (two windows open for "regular" passengers, four windows open for First Class), I did an interview for the local ABC station, WFAA.

That interview, without my knowledge, was picked up by CNN and broadcast worldwide for a 24-hour period, at approximately the 50-minute mark every hour.

So, if the terrorists didn't know about this security breach by AA before, they do now.

By choosing to post this in my blog, I am deliberately participating in negative word-of-mouth advertising. I, too, have had terrible experiences with American. While I don't know whether the TSA will do anything about this flagrant infraction, perhaps by posting this someone at American will take notice. Perhaps they'll even consider hiring a VP of Customer Experience, like United just did.

Tip of the Day: If you really don't care about your customers, act like American did. But, don't be surprised if you end up on a blog.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Keep an eye on United Airlines

They have just hired a VP of Customer Experience from, you guessed it, Disney. According to the press release, Barbara Higgins is charged with "differentiating United from its U.S. competitors by delivering a customer experience that rivals its top global peers."

Let me know if you notice any changes in the friendly skies, blog readers.

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What am I supposed to do here?

Some retail stores, like Abercrombie and Fitch’s new concept, Ruehl 925, are challenging the traditional store entrance. Ruehl’s storefront, shown here at the Fashion Valley Mall in San Diego, is built to look like a Greenwich Village brick apartment building.

It has a very "closed" feeling. Where is the door? Am I supposed to go in?
The windows are all shuttered.

A small address plaque like you would find on an apartment is the only sign to the left of the door. Notice that its number is 923.

A small awning does have the name on it, but it's not near the door. This is numbered 921.

While this does give them a unique look, it’s not very welcoming. It’s hard to know if you should go in or not, and the dark interior (it’s like entering a loft apartment with a party going on) does not welcome. It's hard to see the clothes and the overall effect is intimidating, like I am crashing their party and don't belong. I don't fit their demographic, so maybe it will be a success. I'll be curious to see if this store does well.

Tip of the day: While a clever concept, well-executed, can set up a great experience, an overdesigned one might backfire. You want customers to feel comfortable and welcomed.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A lesson in communication from Martha Stewart

As a subscriber to Martha Stewart Living, a magazine I thoroughly enjoy, I received an offer to try their new magazine, Blueprint, for free. I sent in the card, assuming I would receive one issue. If I liked it, I would pay the bill. If not, I would pass it along to a friend.

I liked the magazine, but not enough to subscribe. So I shredded the bill that came. It wasn't clear to me that I was supposed to write "Cancel" on the bill and mail it back. I assumed that they wouldn't continue sending the magazine if I didn't pay for it.

Then I received this in the mail:

Ouch! Hadn't they offered me a free copy? What did I do to deserve such a nasty letter? Had I missed 3 or 4 bills? I might have shredded 2, assuming a computer was generating them, but the scolding tone of this is unnecessary and hurts the Martha Stewart brand. If there really is an "A. Edwards," he or she needs a reminder about the importance of a good customer experience.

Tip of the day: Even if you are communicating about a delinquent bill, make sure the tone of your letter or email matches the severity of the situation. People respond to kindness and humor, not chiding.

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