Rare is the negative review from a customer dismayed by a streak on a bathroom mirror. Rare is the customer who didn’t return because of a loose doorknob, a cracked tile or an empty can of soda sitting by the cash wrap. Rare is the customer who turns on their heels because the moment they entered, the receptionist didn’t look up and make eye contact with a smile. But businesses lose money and clients every day from picayune details like these. Even in the best-managed stores, a lack of attention to detail can be costly.
Humans form emotional decisions. We often are unaware of the precise stimuli that caused us to have a response, and without any awareness of guile, we can formulate a logical explanation of our position. “It wasn’t for me,” or “The prices seemed high,” or “It’s overrated” are easily uttered examples of the criticism that’s actually voiced.
To protect your store from negativity and client attrition, your managers and staff must master the art of vigilance. This is easier said than done, no matter how well-intentioned your team.
We’re incredibly adaptable creatures. Our senses curate our experiences by turning down the volume on anything constant. For example, though the hairs on your legs are incredibly sensitive instruments, when you wear pants, hundreds of these fine hairs are being compressed and your brain essentially cuts off your awareness of this sensorial input. In short, you don’t notice that you’re wearing pants. But if an insect were to walk across an exposed patch of skin, that would sound the alarm.
And so, one fine day in March when I stopped by one of my company’s locations, I was dismayed (but unsurprised) to find that, though the store smelled fantastic and looked immaculate overall, there was a sign in the bathroom inviting patrons to our New Year’s Eve party — which was three months in the past.
Staff visit the bathroom throughout the day and had become so accustomed to its presence that they’d stopped reading the words. The same was true of when I visited another beautiful store whose staff was utterly unaware of how yellowed and sun-damaged the items in the front window were — despite them being the first thing a visitor sees upon approaching. The key thing to notice here is that I wasn’t visiting with white gloves and doing a spot inspection. These workers had come in those doors day after day, whereas I hadn’t visited in ages and saw things with clear eyes — just like a new customer would.
Given that our brains often overlook these seemingly minor details — details that can inform a customer’s emotional reaction — what can brands do to always make a stellar first impression?
1. Complete your daily walkthrough checklist. This is the easiest step, as many businesses already have a checklist for their staff with obvious items such as “restock the paper towel dispenser.” (A tip: If you’re still using paper and a clipboard, update it to a recurring to-do list on a mobile phone app.) If you don’t already have this checklist, make one today off the top of your head. It’s OK if it’s not perfect; the lesson is that these checklists are never perfect, which is why we’re heading into the next three steps.
2. Sharpen your attention. Call a staff meeting and cover a table with about 20 ordinary objects. Ask the staff to carefully study the tableau, then have them turn their backs. Now, either add an object, take one away or reverse the position of two items. Ask them to look again and see who can notice the change. This is much harder than it seems. Do it several times, and you should notice that the group keeps getting better. They’re learning to focus on details.
3. Adopt a beginner’s mind. This concept, also known as Shoshin, was popularized in the West by the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. It’s a practice you can apply to something you experience daily but want to view without preconceptions. Essentially, this practice is like telling your brain not to ignore all those hairs being triggered by your pants.
I find a bit of creative acting or roleplaying can help. For example, create a costume from a large pair of comical glasses; leave the store, don them, then return wearing “the eyes of the customer” and consciously experience the space as if you’re there for the first time. Silly as it may sound, you can also pretend you’re a tiny ant, which emphasizes looking upward (and is great for noticing cobwebs and burnt-out bulbs), a space alien, or let your imagination roam free. Let everyone on your team take a turn, and begin compiling a list of observations.
4. Modify or create a new weekly checklist. Use your findings from step No. 3 to create a new rubric — an improved codification of your brand standards with an exceedingly precise level of detail. A great way to employ this step is to divide a weekly checklist into one micro-area per day. For example, one day, you could focus only on the cash wrap area. Then, I recommend further dividing this section of the store into a grid search where you assess what’s above you (the ceiling), at eye-level, on the top of surfaces, inside drawers and cabinets, behind furniture and below you (the floor).
From time to time, revisit steps two through four to continually improve your team’s attention to detail and to maintain the consistency of your store’s appearance to all of your customers’ senses. Professional critics, reviewers and inspectors are trained to visit with just such rubrics in order to separate their emotional gestalt experience of your business from its diverse components.
But your customers come only with their senses and without preconceptions, so dazzle them today, tomorrow and every day through your own commitment to excellence, attention to detail and consistency.