When looking at the customer experience, we are confronted with numerous truths that are universal across industries and organizations. One of those truths is the following:
Similar to how language functions — words can have denotation, literal meaning, and connotation, a deeper layer of meaning — signage communicates to your stakeholders on many levels.
Typeface. Tone. Color. Location. Your signage sends signals that are about more than just the words you choose.
Of course, the words you choose are pretty important also. Check out this sign from a Central Florida business that we posted in Seriously! Is this The Worst Customer Service Sign Ever? for evidence of that.
I’m not sure what message this business intended, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the one most people took away from it.
Sometimes it’s not the content of the message, but the image projected by the message. Check out this sign from the business center of a nearby Embassy Suites.
I’ve been begging for a thirty hour day for over a decade; now I know where to find one.
For the record, we asked the front desk about the error. It was not intended to be ironic.
Sometimes signage can be funny and can help spin a negative into a positive. Check out this sign from JoeDough Sandwich Shop in New York, which attracted national press.
Whatever your approach, every aspect of your signage should be thought through. Your signage should reinforce your brand promise, enhance your customer’s experience, and not be ripe for unintended meanings or misunderstandings.
But what if you could take it a step further? What if you could use signage to deepen customer interaction and to stimulate a conversation with your customers?
One of the reasons I think the sign about the Yelp reviewer above is brilliant is because it surely stimulated conversations with customers when they came in to the store. My guess (and it’s only a guess) is that the sign started a lot of conversations that had customers relating to and empathizing with the Company.
The idea of signage as a conversation starter is taken to an entirely new level by Natural Grocers in the southwest United States. Check out the store hours on Natural Grocers’ main entrance:
Myra Golden of Myra Golden Media took this picture and wrote an excellent post about the customer service ethic underlying it in Great Customer Service from the Top of the Day to the Bottom of the Day.
Why is this sign so amazing? First, as Donald Sutherland explains in this clip from Without Limits, it is a conversation starter.
What’s more, Natural Grocers understood that many of the customers who would question these hours would naturally go to its web site for answers. On the site, Natural Grocers uses the signage as an opportunity to reinforce its cultural commitment to customer service:
“If you come a little early, we will open the doors with a smile to get you inside. If you show up right at closing, you are still welcome to come in and shop at your leisure. Those odd hours we list on the door are just a reminder to our staff and to you that we promise to welcome you and we will stand by that promise.“
Natural Grocers used a simple store hours signs as a catalyst for enhancing the customer experience and the ability to explain and reinforce its brand promise.
I asked Jeannie Walters of the customer experience consultancy 360Connext what she thought of the sign. Jeannie is a leading authority on microinteractions, the ways in which often overlooked aspects of organizational communication can impact the customer experience. Here is what Jeannie had to say:
“What I love about this is the thought it shows for the real lives of customers. Instead of focusing on what is typical or possibly easiest for the store, they focus on what’s best for their customers. Microinteractions are small moments like this that matter.”
Natural Grocers has created a customer-centric approach that exceeds industry norms and has used clever signage to reinforce it both internally and externally. That’s a pretty big win to get from a few vinyl letters on a front door.
Sure, not every sign in your organization can carry this much water. Sometimes a sign is just a sign, and sometimes a sign that says “Restrooms” is all you need.
And signage is not everything. The sign on the Embassy Suite business center certainly leaves a lot to be desired, but the reality is that we love that Embassy Suites and use them regularly for meeting space and visiting business associates. The sign is not ruinous to the relationship.
No matter what the sign’s function or importance, some signs can present you with an opportunity to deepen your relationships with your customers. Keep an eye out for these opportunities, and remember the example of Natural Grocers when you find them.
Take a look at the signs in your organization. What do they really say?
By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.