Hello and welcome

It seems only right that since my last piece was on the on the importance of saying goodbye, I should deal with the even more important area of a good welcome. Feeling like you are a valued customer from the moment you enter anyone’s premises – and that includes online premises – taps into a deep emotional need and it’s a bit of a mystery to me why organisations don’t pay more attention to it.

I experienced a brilliant welcome when I visited a National Trust propertyDinefwr – when on holiday in Wales last month. We arrived at the car park and, as is normal, were greeted by someone to take the car park charge or validate the membership. Clive, who greeted us, asked if we had visited before – we hadn’t – and so proceeded to give a concise summary of what the attraction had to offer, finishing with ‘and if you do one thing, make sure you take the boardwalk to the lake’ and then told us where to find it.

This was a brilliantly constructed little speech, delivered with a passion and enthusiasm for the place which was infectious. Noting his ‘one thing’ take away, we immediately went to the boardwalk – 500 metres through a rhododendron plantation leading to a tranquil lake – and greatly enjoyed it.

I won’t dwell on the other attractions of Dinefwr – worth a day out if you’re in the area – but it’s worth reflecting on what Clive did that illustrates best practice:

  • He made us feel welcomed – for a short period of time we were the focus of his attention.
  • Making sure that we had an enjoyable visit – our desired outcome – was his aim.
  • He didn’t waste our time with a long tedious description.
  • He was doing more than his ‘job’.

The last point is important since the National Trust relies on volunteers for much of its staffing – you’ll find people in the sites who are enthusiastic about heritage generally or have a great affection for the place they are in. I’m not sure if Clive was a volunteer but it didn’t particularly matter.

Applying these lessons to a physical site is, or should be, straightforward enough – through recruiting and training the right kind of people customers can be made to feel special, and customers who feel special are more likely to return and tell other people about the experience.

In the digital world these principles still apply, but in different ways. Visiting any website that knows who I am gives an opportunity for me to feel unique: Amazon is a good example of this with its personalised stores based on previous browsing or purchasing behaviour. Tapping into the deeper emotional need to feel valued is harder though – too often the personalised store feels like a shorthand for ‘here’s more ways in which we can persuade you to buy more stuff’.

To find out more about us online, sites can often come across as too needy: it’s a fine line between providing the ability for the customer to chat to (real or virtual) online assistant and continuously badgering the customer to do so. Similarly, requesting feedback on the website or improvements can get in the way of a smooth online experience. (Even this obsessive customer feedback survey addict gets fed up with these.)

For both online and offline customer experience design, listening to and acting on customer feedback is paramount. I gave Clive a glowing review in the National Trust’s online survey and I’ll look forward to encountering a similarly welcoming virtual Clive some time in future.

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