Just about every morning as I drop my daughter off at daycare I have a bit of nostalgia for an important business lesson my dad taught me as a kid -- as a small business owner you should always park your car in the back of the parking lot. At my daughter’s school, there are limited parking spots in close proximity to the front door while the rest of the parking spots require lugging my daughter across a sometimes busy parking lot. Morning dropoff is stressful, to say the least, we are always late, my kids never cooperate, and there are always multiple belongings that need to make it into the classroom or a four-year-old meltdown is inevitable. As I am tracking across the parking lot there is one thing I always notice -- the owner of the school has parked her car in a prime front row parking spot.
Even on 30 below zero days with 3 feet of fresh snow on the ground, he would not waver and park any closer to the front door.
My father was an insurance agent with his office in a big 3 story office mall. The parking lot for this building must have had room for 500 cars and almost never completely filled up but my father made a point to always park as far away from the front door as possible. Even on 30 below zero days with 3 feet of fresh snow on the ground, he would not waver and park any closer to the front door. At a young age, I asked him why he parked so far away and he told me the experience his customers have while visiting him was very important to him and it started when they pulled into the parking lot. In his view, they should have front row parking.
Obsessing with Customer’s Experience is a Win
Want to take your small business and turn it into a big business? Then obsess over experience. This is not a new concept, Jeff Bezos has been preaching this for years through his customer-focused culture at Amazon, but this is something most business owners tend to neglect or are not detail-oriented enough for.
In another example, there is a plaza near where I work that has a number of eating options but my preferred is a sandwich place at the far end of the building. When I pull in I often look for parking in front, if there is not I might need to go to the opposite end of the plaza to find parking. While walking to the sandwich shop I pass by 3 other places to eat. I almost never make it to the sandwich shop. I always convince myself to try something different before getting to the front door of my go-to lunch spot. Something I recently observed is the owner stops by most days during lunchtime to support his team during rush hour. Guess where he parks? Right in front. His choice to park upfront cost him the $15 I was about to spend that day. Had I gotten his parking spot I would not have been tempted by other offerings.
My guess is both the sandwich shop owner and the daycare owner were far too consumed with countless other concerns a small business often has to even notice the negative impact they had on their customers and revenue. As a small business entrepreneur, it is nearly impossible to prioritize everything but one simple thing has always made my life better as a business owner: more revenue. I have found if I focus on delighting my customers, revenue will follow, and the rest of my day to day worries will be far easier to manage.
Customer Experience is All About the Little Things
The examples above are small. I am sure no business will succeed or fail based on where the owner parks. Still, these subtle things can add up and subconsciously turn customers off. I tend to notice these things, thanks to my father. Other customers, however, may not, and they could be turned off without even realizing it. A different person might stop eating at the sandwich shop without ever defining why they are discouraged. I think many business owners do not consider the subconscious effects on how they manage their business.
One of the earliest interactions with a customer is to signal a lack of trust. The bartender is suggesting the customer will leave without paying.
Have you ever walked into a bar and the bartender asks for and holds your credit card while opening a tab? This is a very negative and I submit it is often poor business practice. In this example, one of the earliest interactions with a customer is to signal a lack of trust. The bartender is suggesting the customer will leave without paying. It would be one thing if the bar was making the customer’s life easier so when they were done they could simply walk out effortlessly paying the bill but that is not the typical case. I understand some bars have issues with people “dining and dashing”, so a bar owner has to weigh the pros and cons - but few realize there are cons that should be deeply considered.
For my last example, have you ever noticed some subscription businesses make it very hard to discontinue the service? Canceling the service might lead to a great deal of time on the phone going from department to department. Some entrepreneurs think this is a strategy to save the customer. In reality, it is a great way to ensure a customer never comes back and likely does not recommend the company to others. This approach is trading short term greed for long term growth. A leader obsessed with customer experience would make sure canceling their service is painless as it will likely lead to revenue in other ways -- counterintuitive right?
As a rule of thumb business owners should be primarily focused on delighting their customers in any way possible. The customer experience is often the key to sustained long term growth. Every subtle interaction should be closely optimized for customer enchantment, and a decision as simple as where to park your car can subconsciously attract or detract a customer.