by Kristin Brighton on November 30, 2009

When I meet with clients, I frequently ask, “What makes you different from your competition?” Take a second to look around your business, and put yourself in your customers’ shoes. What could be done to make the experience of doing business with you more enjoyable?

Let me share a personal example from the customer’s perspective.

Recently, a new grocery store opened in our community, and like whenever anything new opens around here, crowds flocked from miles around for weeks. But for some strange reason, the idea of shopping at the new store made me feel guilty. I guess it’s because my old grocery store kind of feels like family. After all, I visit it weekly. I know where everything is. I know all the employees’ faces. I even know which of my friends and neighbors I’m likely to bump into while I’m shopping there. Leaving my comfort zone to check out the new kid on the block made me feel like a traitor.

But curiosity finally won out. One busy Saturday afternoon, my three-year-old daughter, Kate, and I visited the new store. Our goal was just to pick up a few items and check out something new. I had no intention of tackling a full week of family shopping. This was an expedition.

We had fun checking out the new fancy bakery, the extensive organic section, the snazzy restaurant and the upscale deli. It was kind of like shopping out of town — fun, but not something I envisioned doing weekly.

But then suddenly, in aisle 11, Kate turned into a green-eyed monster. Directly in front of us was another brown-haired, brown-eyed girl about her age, pushing a lime green, miniature shopping cart. Not a plastic toy, but a to-scale, metal cart just like mom’s, designed to fit perfectly into three-year-old hands.

We quickly searched for a similar cart for Kate (so as not to risk a full-fledged tantrum), but all the kiddie carts were taken. So, I bought her a packet of string cheese to redirect her interest, and made immediate promises to come back soon.

The following Saturday, after much badgering on Kate’s part, we returned to the store while most of the town was at a home football game. And — lo and behold! — there was one of those pretty green carts just waiting for her.

Kate had a blast driving that little cart, which glided so smoothly across the newly polished floors. She had fun imitating mom, deciding which foods to put in “her” cart and which to relegate to mine. She was ever so careful as she placed her choices into her cart, and again as she moved them to the checkout conveyer belt. Even though twice she ran the cart smack-dab into my heel, I really didn’t mind because she was having so much fun.

Guess where we went next week? (You can bet I wasn’t wearing sandals this time.)

Now that the newness has worn off, I can often convince her to let me return to our old stomping grounds. (There she gets a slice of cheese from the deli and a sticker at checkout, amenities she began to miss at the new store.) And if I manage to slip away to pick up groceries on my own, I always go back to the familiar. Continuing to support my old store, whose aisles aren’t quite as busy these days, assuages my guilt.

But every other week or so, I let Kate win. And the new store gets my business mainly because the experience makes my daughter smile.

So, I ask you, as you evaluate your business goals for next year, are there little things you could do that could greatly influence your customer’s buying decisions?

As a mom of two young kids, I appreciate it when I find a car dealership with a playground set, a bank that sends Smarties through the drive-through, or a doctor’s waiting room with a nice children’s area. These things make the kids much more willing to come along next time — and they ease the stress of having to conduct business with kids in tow.

But such experiences can also be tailored to grown-ups. Restaurants that offer purse hooks under the tables score points with one of my girlfriends. My grandmother, who believes onions hate her, appreciates it when restaurant menus list ingredients. I personally enjoy it when a salon offers me a bottle of water or some herbal tea while I wait for my stylist, while my husband is a sucker for the stylist who gives a 30-second scalp massage before washing his hair.

What are some value-added perks you could give your customer that wouldn’t cost very much, but might enhance your customer’s overall experience — and might inspire them to tell others about you? Consider the cost of those perks as part of your marketing strategy. In the end, the payoff might not be so little after all.


If you know a business that does something special to enhance the customer’s experience, please share what they do in the comments below!