What Kind of On-Ramp Do You Offer New Customers?

A couple weeks ago I was in the middle of a shift at my retail gig and had a minute to chat with someone who had just been hired. They were unfamiliar with the company’s products beyond a few basics and were wondering what to do if someone asked them for their opinion on a drink they hadn’t tried.

The experience of visiting one of the stories had been, they said, intimidating because they weren’t sure if they were going to do it right and didn’t want to embarass themselves. It would be helpful, they admitted, if the company would make the process a bit easier and less prone to confusion. I suggest a “101” type overview in the app, as part of an in-store display and something the staff could be trained in to act as suggestions for those infrequent or first-time visitors.

It got me thinking, though, how there’s very little out there for any customer retail or other experience that is a clear and simple on-ramp. Because it’s easier (and cheaper) to offer the same experience to everyone, first-time visitors are in the same position as someone who’s been visiting the establishment for 20 years. The latter only knows more because their accumulated knowledge.

Asking “What kind of experience is the customer getting” isn’t enough. You also need to be asking what kind of experience a first-timer is having. Are your product descriptions so dense they can’t be understood without investing 10 minutes in reading them? Is your pricing incomplete and confusing? What would someone who had never been there do if they couldn’t find a staff member to help?

That’s the crux of the issue. Big retailers in all industries aren’t exactly staffing to provide customers with personalized service. Walk into Home Depot not knowing what you’re looking for and it may be a long time before you find someone to help you and answer your questions. That’s a problem I never encountered at the corner hardware store decades ago. If I didn’t know where something was, there was always someone there to point me in the right direction or offer a recommendation on something better.

You may have optimized the customer experience based on some standard, but odds are good the new customer experience still leaves plenty to be desired. It’s worth considering how you correct for that and provide a pleasant first encounter that doesn’t leave someone bewildered and frustrated but eager to return.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Advertisements