With three members of my family I visited an independent stately home last month and learned how making a great first impression needs to be followed up.
The great first impression was easy because this was a wonderful old home set in glorious parkland. The driveway took us past the front of the house and we liked the look of the place. The first surprise was when we reached the carpark. We parked with the other cars at the bottom thinking we would be walking back to the house, but actually the ticket office was a short walk away from the house.
An attractive new wood-clad block had been built up the hill. However, you needed to walk past it and into another empty carpark and then back down to enter – or you could or scrabble down a grassy bank. While the National Trust, Historic Royal Palaces and English Heritage have worked out the marketing proposition for visitors, we found we were stepping into a different era.
The lady manning the desk was pretty icy when my wife asked about family discounts and offers. She apparently did not understand the concept of a family ticket. There was a season pass available. We paid and she handed us a map to the house with our tickets and advised that the only toilets were next door. The café was some distance away in the house.
Armed with the map we set out to follow the marked route to the house. But it was closed. We instead walked downhill past the parked cars and uphill to the back of the house, where we entered through a back door.
The lady manning the desk was pretty icy when my wife asked about family discounts and offers. She apparently did not understand the concept of a family ticket
The café was housed in a converted yard and offered a small range of substantial if expensive snacks. Mindful of the walk back to the loos, no-one was up for ordering a cup of tea. Sat in the middle of the room by the door to the house was a grim lady with the countenance of an exam invigilator. As we munched on our food we observed her furtively to check she was alive.
Her role was to collect the tickets from people who had paid to enter the house and to offer guidebooks. We declined the latter as we assumed they were as dry as she was. All we could wonder is how someone could design a job like this where a person had to sit for ages waiting for people to down their teas and enter the house.
The house was very interesting and some of the guides inside jolly and friendly. On the way out, I visited the shop, where the local produce was not properly labelled, the display unenticing and the shop assistant did her best to avoid eye contact with any shoppers.
Outside it was a warm and sunny day and the gardens were delightful. My family teased me about doing some competitive shopping but all reflected on how a wonderful house had been let down by a poorly designed customer experience.
Which made us wonder if the family who own the home had ever studied how other heritage sites organise their visitor journeys to help people enjoy their time and spend as much money as possible. Did we want a cup of tea after? Yes. But not when the loos were so far away.
The point of the story is that independent retailers need to keep their stores up-to-date with what shoppers experience elsewhere.
The best way to see your shop through a shopper’s eyes is by visiting your competition regularly, by reading the great retailer profiles and by benchmarking your store with best practice promoted by the Independent Achievers Academy.