You Had Me Before Hello


When considering the guest experience, we typically think about the interaction between the guest and staff, and we hold the employee fully responsible for the success or failure of the experience. In the brick-and-mortar business, this person could be the retail associate on the floor, the associate behind the counter, the host at the restaurant door, and the server at the table. In tasting rooms, it is the person pouring the wine that we credit with the success of the guest experience.

But the guest’s first impression begins long before their first greeting. Their subconscious takes inventory of their surroundings from the moment they enter the property, and without knowing it, they form opinions of the brand. Smart organizations create design strategies that thoughtfully develop an identity. Their attention to details exemplifies their values and standards and defines their market.

While recently visiting a restaurant for a lunch date, I drove into the parking lot and cringed as my front bumper scraped the pavement. I searched for directional signs, pointing me to the area designated for restaurant patrons. The lot was shared with medical offices and banks, and I worried that I would get ticketed, or worse, towed. With no direction, I warily parked and hoped for the best.

I felt more unease as I stepped into the restaurant. I looked for a host stand. There was none, so I scanned the restaurant until I finally made eye contact with the server. At this point, I hadn’t yet been greeted, and I had cringed, worried, searched and felt unwelcome. It would now be up to the server and the talent of the cook to shift my experience into a positive one.

According to BBC Future, the hippocampal portion of our brains are finely attuned to the geometry and arrangements of the spaces we inhabit. Every detail of the exterior and interior expresses volumes about the brand. Bright exterior lights exude a feeling of safety, while dim lights can create anxiety. Chipped pavement conveys low quality, while pristine, clean concrete transmits a message of care and pride. In addition to visual cues, sound also makes a profound impact on us. Have you ever dined in a restaurant where the music was too loud to engage in a conversation? Has there been a time when you hoped for a relaxing shopping experience, and left a store because of the grating music? The feelings that result from these elements, and the perceptions that are formed, for an impression about the brand.

There are countless design decisions that will impact the guest. For example, the placement of customer service stations should be handled thoughtfully. Host stands angled directly toward the door allow the staff to view incoming guests, but when hosts position themselves solely behind their station, they create a barrier, sending conflicting messages to the guest. POS stations facing walls break the continuum of customer care, forcing the employee to turn their back on their guest during the most uncomfortable part of the transaction for the guest– the exchange of money. At the time when they should be receiving the best care, guests are momentarily abandoned.

Thoughtful design elements translate to the digital world, too. A clunky, hard-to-navigate website will make a customer feel as lost as if they were wandering through a vast store without signs. Web stores that offer irrelevant descriptions, or take too many steps to get to the checkout, will result in abandoned carts. In contrast, attractive, time-efficient web stores result in sales and loyal customers.

Businesses have endless ways to create positive experiences through design. Handled thoughtfully, they can create brand fans before their first hello.

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