Design Thinking for Phenomenal First Impressions
One of the more visible ways design thinking can be manifested is through live customer experiences, meaning the ways a customer interacts with your brand and business in person. You can leverage design thinking tools to create brand interactions with purpose and meaning, and to do that effectively, you must be able to empathize with your
customer. Quite simply, if you were your customer, what would your expectations for your brand be? How would you want to interact with your brand and business? What would you want to derive from that interaction? What would you want tofeel afterward?
From the physical space your brand occupies to customer service processes to employee training, every touch point with a customer is an opportunity to showcase your brand, set the tone of the customer conversation, and build loyalty.
Your Bricks-and-Mortar Location
If your business has a physical space—an office, warehouse, retail store, or open space—this is where a brand’s first impressions are often made. Putting some thought into how your brand interacts with a customer in a physical space is particularly important for those businesses with revenue models that rely heavily on person-to-person transactions.
To evaluate your brand experience in terms of physical space, as honestly as possible, put yourself in your customers’shoes. Better yet, recruit a few of your leadership team and friends to join you and gather several perspectives. For illustrative purposes, I’ll use a retailer as the first example, because I believe retail is one business sector with the most to gain when the live customer experience is designed.
Start evaluating from the parking lot: is the area clean, and does it feel safe? Is your entrance well marked, attractive, welcoming, and free of debris? These points seem basic, but they
are essential and often overlooked.
Next, evaluate the customers’ experience when they arrive at your store. Do the interior design, merchandising, and product selection align with your brand? For example, if your business is a specialty running store and you’ve defined your brand as approachable, egalitarian, and friendly, does the interior of your store support that brand message with open
spaces, welcoming but energizing colors, and places to sit? Does your product selection appeal to experienced runners as well as beginners? Does your merchandising and signage encourage the customer to explore your store? Is the lighting appealing and sufficient? If you have a music system, what’s playing? I had a completely incongruous experience in a specialty running store in Scotland, in which the music system was broadcasting country-and-western music.with predominantly slow tempos not at all conducive to running. Rather than feeling energized, ready to run, and hyped up for new gear, I felt slower, more relaxed, and in no hurry to make a purchase—certainly not the customer experience the brand intended.
And Your Office
What if you have an office rather than a retail space? The approach is similar. Start from the parking lot and work your way inside. If your office is on an upper floor, take the elevator and perceive it through your customer’s viewpoint. Is it too slow? Do the doors close tooquickly (especially important if your customers tend to be older or physically challenged in some way)?
Once you arrive at your office, does your reception area or lobby reinforce your brand? For example, a conservative health care corporation may furnish its lobby in traditionally styled, dark wood furniture accented with oriental rugs and classic still-life painting reproductions. A cutting-edge architecture firm, on the other hand, may design its reception area with reclaimed mate- rials, ultra-modern furnishings, and colorful, original artwork. If the physical setting of your reception or lobby is incongruous with your brand message or devoid of any attention to detail, then the customer experience is one of confusion and uncertainty, which is not the first impression you’re counting on.
Carry this evaluative process throughout the public spaces of your office or retail space, and pay attention to detail. Restrooms, dressing rooms, conference rooms, and work areas are opportunities for reinforcing the experience you purposefully design. They are also where an experience that started off beautifully can deteriorate, sometimes irrevocably.