Category Archives: Retail

Location. Location. Environment. Environment

Location. Location. Location. This has long-been the mantra in the real estate industry. I propose an extension of this mantra which says: Location. Location. Environment. Environment. The environment that you set up for your work, home, study and communications is as important as the physical location.

I recently learned of a wonderful woman who was looking to launch a think-tank for entrepreneurial start-ups. Her twist on the concept was great and I looked forward to getting the announcement details for the kick-off event. Her meet-up announcement drew a strong response. So why did so very few people show up to the meeting? The location, while conveniently located and free to the facilitator—-was to be held on the second floor conference room of a funeral parlor. Location and environment need to work together.

A recent retiree was excited to start taking classes at her local community center. She read the website and the catalog in detail and chose a selection of programs. Her first day of class, she noticed a sign on the building that she never took note of previously; it read: “Senior Center”. The woman felt horrible and while she knew that both the class and the other class participants were young and vibrant, she gets a knot in her stomach every time she enters the building and sees the words “senior center”. Nuances in one’s environment can make all the difference.

Years ago a decorator told me how they were asked to create a working space for a young student with ADD, poor grades and a frustrated attitude toward his school work. As the story was told, the decorator’s chest popped outward and his shoulders squared back—“I designed a working area for that student”, he said which “took that young man’s grades up to B+/A-. That marked an entirely different type of reward for the decorator who normally created beautiful entertaining spaces.

What do you do every day to create an environment that is creative to your own work and the comfort level of others? Here are a few more examples that I have found recently.

When you speak to your doctor, do they stand or sit so as to meet you at your eye level? They should; it creates an entirely different environment for your conversation.

When you meet someone in their offices, do they bring the conversation to the small work table in their office or move their chair around their desk so as to sit next to you while speaking? That desk creates an informal barrier.

Whenever I am in the elevator of an office building, I always look out into the offices of each floor that the elevator makes a stop. Today I watched as three people got out on the same floor and each employee passing by the reception desk took a piece of the fresh fruit sitting in the bowl on the reception table. What a nice way to tell someone: Good Morning; Take good care of yourself!.

And least, we forget the lighting, the flowers, the candles and the music which so distinctly add dimension to our environment.

Location. Location. Environment. Environment. Both are key criteria to making you, your family and your business team comfortable.


A Smart Shopper Asks Questions with a Smile

Regardless of the huge holiday sales and the temporary staff that are in place to help us during this exceptionally busy time of year, the smart customer asks questions, and the smart customer service representative considers the best way to handle the inquiry themselves or to refer the request to a supervisor. Let me share three (3) great examples of this that took place over the past week:

Verizon Phones and RCN Internet Services: I am satisfied with the service delivery from both of these organizations. However I cannot forget the frustration and the hour plus of my time that it took to load my RCN email address onto my Verizon Android. I recently realized that emails going out from my RCN address on my smart phone device were identified as coming from “Me” vs. coming from Sharon Lewis. Upon calling Verizon Help Services I was told that we would have to un-install and then re-install the RCN internet provider services from my smart phone. … Not so fast. There must be an alternative way to do this.
• Imagine my relief when only 11 minutes later, I said “thank you and happy holidays” to the service rep who figured out how to fix the situation without uninstalling anything from my phone! All I had to do was “to ask” for another possible solution.

Bloomingdales: Finding the one shirt that you love at a ridiculously reasonable price in the wrong size is a frustration that we have all felt. No problem. I asked the sales associate to re-direct me to the rack where I originally found the shirt. When we reached location, it seemed that I had the only one. Again, no problem – can you do a store search to see if the item could be shipped from another location. “Oh no, she said. Much of the sales inventory is out on the floor in our store and we now charge $20 in shipping and handling fees”.
Really, I can’t remember the last time, I spent $20 to ship one small clothing item—in a non-rushed fashion—from any department store or on-line retailer.

Let me hold onto this shirt while I continue to look around the sales floor.
As I finished my shopping and went to the sales desk, I found myself working with a lovely sales associate who was very attentive and very ashamed by the way today’s consumers throw “fine clothing” around the racks. So, I said, any chance you can do a store look-up for me on this shirt. “Oh sure”, she said and proceeded to find four shirts (in my size) at a West Coast store. “I can have it shipped for you at no charge she said. And, if for some reason the inventory is not correct, we will reverse the transaction. So, let’s do the shirt process as a stand-alone transaction so that it is easier to reconcile your credit card bill. Now, that’s a pleasant service experience.

A visit with the Doctor Allen: I sat in the examining room reading a magazine when the doctor knocked on the door and came in for our appointment. As I started to explain my reason for the appointment, I said “would you like me to get on the examining table as I explain my concerns to you?”
• His response— “This appointment is about you. Whatever is most comfortable for you to be while you tell me about your pain.” Yup—I stopped mid-thought—thank you. That is really nice!!

A Smart Shopper Ask Questions with a Smile.

The Adoption of Bank Technology

Why would an organization that has spent years driving customers away from traditional brick and mortar facilities spend millions of dollars driving customers back into the branch storefront?

 Citibank recently opened a new branch in the Union Square geography of Manhattan. The branch is well located on a busy corner in the heart of Union Square. A large selection of transportation, arteries, leading retailers, a large Green Market and a “hip reputation” all contribute to the high store traffic that any retailer in this physical location should experience.

So here is where I find the paradox.

 Service providers are scrambling to embrace social media and use it to further drive brand activities (including sales). For years, banks have been directing customers outside of the traditional brick and mortar storefront and into telephone banking, online banking and most recently mobile banking. These activities were originally targeted to the “less profitable” customer. No more. Practically every activity that can be done on-line or through a Smartphone device has been simplified, de-mystified, made affordable and is now heavily promoted to every customer profile and segment.

 Why would an organization that has spent years driving customers away from traditional brick and mortar facilities spend millions of dollars driving customers back into the branch?

 Perhaps like the Apple stores, any opportunity to close the technology gap and to get customers using the technology more will eventually result in delivery channel optimization. It was fun too see the techniques that are being used in the new Citibank branch to drive branch traffic ….. And potentially technology use.

Accessibility: The corner site in bustling Union Square will drive foot traffic.

Appearance:  Citibank partnered with the Apple store architects to design the new branch.

The open concept of the branch design is inviting and appealing to the eye. The signage is simple and bold. Something about it says: “come on in and take a peek.”

Awareness: Citibank delivered an integrated communications strategy to increase awareness and further drive traffic and interest to the new location.

Compelling: Once you are inside the branch, many new “toys” await your perusal: 

  • The branch boasts no paper. No colorful paper collateral is found on the walls of this retailer. Interactive media walls display real time rates and product benefits. Touch the media wall—it’s like a big tablet screen. Feels like the iPad; looks like the iPad on hormones.
  • A media wall with a live chat screen ensures that you are never alone in the ATM vestibule—24/7. Hmmm, seems like most e-commerce sites offers me that same level of personal service. Okay, no need to fear the technology. A human is just behind the screen.
  • Can’t find an envelope to deposit your checks or cash into the ATM. No worries—enhanced image ATMs capture every detail. This is “green” and it is safer  —  remember when the cardinal rule was “no ATM cash deposits—- you will never win the argument with the bank if there is a discrepancy  “how much cash” was deposited in the ATM deposit envelope? No more.

Ease of Engagement: It is easy to do more than just take a peek….

  • The interactive media walls are large and they are installed at various heights. Adds a bit of fun and exercise to the experience.
  • Of course, if you prefer to speak to someone, staff is available to triage you to the right area. And, yes, it appeared that there were many areas for private customer meetings if such was of interest.
  • The wi-fi offering and comfortable seating area accommodates weary customers who are invited to sit down and relax at their friendly branch. (No, they do not serve Starbucks coffee)
  • And, a long counter filled with laptops seduces you to play games with very attractive prize options…… Just provide your contact information so that the bank marketing department can get back to you with more news, more games and more opportunities to feel comfortable with the Citibank brand. 

Citibank will have many opportunities to measure the customer response to this new branch design and customer service experience.  

 Good Luck to Citi on this new venture. 

Side Note

In the mid 1980s, I was involved in the approved business case that developed a branch in the Carnegie Hill section of Manhattan; at the time, a capital investment of that magnitude in that neighborhood was built with a “pioneering” attitude. However the design of the branch which included a pneumatic tube system for accepting customer deposits was leading edge. Customers could sit with an account officer and no-one had to leave their seat to complete the deposit or the withdrawal transaction. Amazing.

The business case for the new Union Square Citibank branch had to be a lot of work and a lot of fun to develop. A lot of fun!