The Uncommonly

How Local Shops Are Satisfying Our Hunger for Community

By Amy Radin

I live in the slowly reopening State of New Jersey, where I’ve been observing how local businesses are innovating their customer experience to encourage people to reengage.

Local shops, restaurants, and services offer practical insights for anyone adapting to our new reality. Most in my town are family-owned — so livelihoods and well-being are at stake. I can relate — my family depended upon the success of my dad’s corner drugstore. For these businesses, it’s personal.

Earning confidence in the safety of their customer experience is step one to moving beyond survival. But being safe is table stakes. To be preferred now all brands must understand and connect with people’s deeper needs.

Four Ways Local Businesses Are Innovating to Bring People Back

Our local bakery implemented a friendly online ordering system including payment and curbside pickup. Orders are visible from the street on racks that can be seen through the store windows — neatly organized and sealed shut. Passersby can easily see that employees are wearing masks and gloves. The store is spotless.

  • Lesson #1: The additional steps we must endure now to protect ourselves are inconvenient and can provoke  anxiety. So be creative about removing as much friction as possible from your experience. Be transparent so your customers can inspect how you are operating and see your commitment to protecting employees and you.

I visited a local home design shop this week, finally, to replace a broken window shade that has been an eyesore in our daughter’s bedroom for weeks.  The designer had simplified her online appointment booking process, and sent a confirmation email preparing me for in-store safety protocols, also noting that 15 minutes were allotted for cleaning between appointments. Inside the shop, clear floor markings signaled where customers should stand while working with the designer on their project.

  • Lesson #2: Setting expectations in advance to lower anxiety and in calm and matter-of-fact language reinforcing the steps being taken for everyone’s safety establish the basis for a positive interaction, and show respect for on-site employees and delivery people.

A local caterer sent an email announcing their reopening, covering health and safety procedures, including contactless delivery of meals to each guest. A photograph showed individually boxed meals and depicted the experience — lovely boxes, tied with ribbons, on a beautiful outdoor dining table set with floral centerpieces. Honestly, that photo made me wish I had a reason to hire this caterer. (I don’t, but I’ve mentioned the caterer’s name to several friends.)  They went beyond the basics. Through that one photograph they restored normalcy and elegance to a celebratory dining experience, suggesting the possibility that we can joyfully raise a glass with friends and family even while social distancing.

  • Lesson #3: Address both emotional and rational needs, as you redesign your experience. Details matter, as does the tone and look of your messaging, in providing reasons to be hired.

Last week our car dealer called to offer a free car wash including pick-up and delivery. While they had the car at the dealership they took a look under the hood and identified $450 worth of repairs. The dealer got an excellent return on their investment, and we were happy to have an absolutely no-hassle experience, skip a trip to the car wash, enjoy a clean car, and take care of some problems that could have become serious.

  • Lesson #4: A low-cost and high perceived value offer can bring people back and generate a strong ROI. In this case, the offer and experience directly link to a business model driver — service — that has been cited as one of the most distasteful aspects of owning a car, so is well designed for both the business and the customer.

Local businesses operate at a very human and authentic level — attributes people are now looking for as they hunger for community. They are our friends, neighbors, and fellow local citizens. They are also a great source of insight and ideas on practical, thoughtful ways to redesign the customer experience and restore confidence — a must-do to reengage customers with your brand. So tap into them for inspiration on how to innovate your customer experience to bring people back.

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About Amy Radin

Amy Radin is an adviser, speaker and author, working with executives and senior leaders to deliver growth through meaningful innovation. She offers an uncommonly pragmatic and disciplined approach that begins with pinpointing high-potential unmet market needs, and from there provides a proven framework for “what to do next” and how to lead through the inevitable, daily challenges any organization will face in pursuit of innovation.
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Kahina Van Dyke
Global Head, Digital Channels & Client Data Analytics; Standard Chartered Bank Board Member, Progressive Insurance