Crossing the threshold; open arms or obstacle course?

by Kelly Ryan / 27 November 2014 / No Comments

I never cease to be amazed at how often it is quite difficult to enter a physical place, as a customer, and make that important face to face engagement with an organisation.

This may be a place that is a long-term service provider to you. That you have an appointment with. One which they gladly scheduled for you. Or maybe it’s a place that advertised to you, explicitly inviting you to come and check out their wares. Maybe it’s somewhere that you decide to visit on a whim, as you were walking past.

So you go to visit this place. You arrive there, at the threshold. And are confronted by a generously laden table of goods right in the entranceway, around which you must carefully manoeuver, along with other customers, exiting, laden with bags. Or perhaps there is large signage placed within the doorway. Maybe you need to deal with a very heavy door (but super stylish, mind). I wonder, if I find some of these situations tricky, what must it be like for less able-bodied customers?

Maybe you are confronted less by a physical barrier that you must navigate around, and more one that simply partitions “them” (your service provider, the one that wanted you to come and patronise their organisation) from you. Maybe there is some sort of security system, with you being granted access only when you are deemed acceptable. Perhaps an expansive desk, or a five-millimetre thick perspex screen, or an enormous counter.

Perhaps one of those counters that sees you propping yourself up, on both elbows, leaning forward and hollering down to the staff member, trying to make yourself heard all the way down there at the bottom of the precipice. At my dentist’s, while perched at the counter, I can make a thorough assessment of the state of health of the receptionist’s scalp.

Or very commonly nowadays, you are greeted by the back of a computer monitor before someone on one side of it peers around to establish eye contact.

Maybe it is simply a Long Walk to Friendliness. A good 15 metres or so until you encounter someone who actually works at this place. Walking through a kind of nether-world.. having shown up for the party but not yet acknowledged by the host.

Our research in customer experience shows us time and again how important the face to face meeting of a customer and a physical organisation is. Especially the initial meeting. For example, this is when important impressions are made, checked and adjusted. When expectations are set for the upcoming interaction.

It’s easy to conclude that many less-than-ideal arrival experiences are probably the result of conscious or unconscious organisation-centric design.

All of this makes me wonder, what would things be like, if the threshold experience was designed for the customer?

It is possible for things to be done differently. Carmine Gallo, on forbes.com provides some great examples of organisations that seem to have adopted a customer-centric approach to the customer’s arrival experience. These include a “10 feet or 10 seconds” guideline for greeting customers, approaching customers with a warm and sincere welcome, and using customer’s names in greeting.

Search Google Images for “Apple retail store” and you will see a wall of open plan and inviting-looking store fronts, with entrances that are actual entranceways (as in, a place designed to be entered).

Credit Union Australia’s completely re-designed Carindale branch features roaming concierges to assist customers, and workstations where staff and customers work side-by-side at adjustable-arm monitors.

Do you have any local examples of great, customer-centric arrival experiences?

About the author:

Kelly is a co-founder of Divergent. Kelly is a passionate ethnographic researcher and loves ideating and prototyping. She is experienced in successfully balancing clients organisational goals and customer’s needs.

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