The importance of pretty little things

Booking a hotel room throws up many different variables. I find it very difficult. Especially when you have never visited a holiday destination before. Recommendations from friends and using online social proof sites (Trip Advisor and the like) are the usual starting points. However, to make a final decision means making many calculations and assumptions with the perilous question of “what are we willing to compromise?” Then after some in-house power struggles, you throw-the-dice hoping for everything to work out well.

The dream is that you arrive with a pleasant surprise where the booked hotel destination over delivers, or at the very least, that you have booked something that you can categorise as good value, i.e. it is worth what you paid. On our last holiday where we had a mix of bad experiences balanced by delightful ones. I was left asking myself the question: what actually makes the difference as a consumer?

Good service makes the biggest impact. Right? But what about the food? The spaciousness? The cleanliness? The ease of making plans? The location? The noise (or lack of it)? They are all a part of the overall picture. For me, I came to the realisation that there is a very small detail that drives value in a customer experience. In fact, the smallest of details is crucial. I am referring to the small details. All of them!

Keeping with the theme of travel, my wife and I recently went to Indonesia. Like many Southern Asian cultures, I feel that they absolutely nail the small details with aplomb. The authenticity and beauty of their daily spiritual rituals where tiny palm-sized leaf trays are filled with flowers and complemented with burning incense is a wonderful example. These arrangements are placed in their mini shrines around their premises and are blessed as they go. This is also performed on the front step of retail outlets and cafes as everyday people walk past. I found it beautiful and engaging. When I looked at these arrangements closer they were so intricate and stunningly beautiful. The scent also became a memorable, which I still associate with that trip.

Another example of small details making a big impact is when we ate at a traditional Indonesian Café on the same trip. Here we witnessed the making and use of these beautiful miniature banana leaf cups which are secured in shape with a small toothpick. These cups are used to hold a small portion of rice, or condiments that come with your dish. In one small warung (a small family run café that houses the family room, kitchen, and guest dining room all in the one space with a BBQ on the front foot path) we had a magnificent dining experience. The family had three generations working the business, with a toddler causing her mother all sorts of headaches as she tried to feed her while the grandparents played with the baby. It was an intimate, traditional Indonesian food experience. The thing that stood out for me (other than the amazing food) was the preparation. These small handmade cups were meticulously formed with ingredients carefully put together, expertly cooked, and then portioned with a loving feel and touch being put into each of the small vessels. It was such a pleasure to watch. Almost therapeutic. It is this magical customer experience that we strive to create in our retail experiences – theatre, ascetic beauty, and a stimulating one-off customer experience. It is obvious to me that this family would not have known what you were talking about if you had mentioned any of these key retail customer experience terms to them.

These were only a few of the constant examples I saw on my trip that highlighted the source of where value is perceived by the consumer. The little touches, the smallest of small details. The details displaying our culture. Our values. Our mission. It is not a new idea for a business to get their small details right (even though many fail on this front).

To go a step further, make the small features a key element of the customer benefit. An opportunity many retailers can gain sales tractions with. Embrace your small opportunities – they make the difference in that infinite calculation that our consumer brains are constantly balancing up to answer the question – was this purchase of good value and am I going to rave about it to my friends?

I observe shoppers on a daily basis, and seeing people engage with the intricate details that display your brand’s DNA is a powerful way to impact your business and be memorable for all the right reasons.

My top 5 Cringe Sights!

Walking into a retail environment, whether it is a butcher, a salon, a shopping centre boutique, or a cafe, there are some sights I see which I know are hurting business results. I call these my “cringe-moments”. When I was a retail manager I swear that I would commonly have these moments every time I walked into my store. Now, there is an element of being the fun police here, and for that I apologise, well… just a little bit. On the other hand high standards have never been so important, and apathy around this translates to the customer experience suffering, and therefore less return business and less money in the till.

Here are 5 of the most common and most cringe-worthy I see all too often:


Look at your frontage. Yes, stop reading and look at it now! If it needs a touch of paint, if there is a poster half hanging, or no window display at all then sort it out within the next 24 hours. This is your face and the body language of your business is crucial to make people welcome. Otherwise, you are encouraging people to walk on by.


Is it open? I am an eco-champion at heart and power conservation is dear to me, but high level lighting is a real priority in retail. Maybe a fluoro needs to be replaced, or a new light fixture needs to be installed, either way, light and bright is the name of the game. Beautiful products can look really dull without the right lighting.


Number one on the roles & responsibilities handbook that every staff member gets when they start in your business is that cleaning is mandatory. If your store is clean, then clean it more. Many retailers think their store is clean, but fresh eyes will commonly see things which you do not. If you have a team culture where cleanliness is not a top priority, please take action to change this. Remember that we eat with our eyes.


Out of date promotions and marketing is a common problem, even in larger businesses that should know better. New Year Sales in January or even February? Winter Warmers in August? New Lines just in, when they just aren’t new anymore?! If you don’t have a marketing schedule lined up at least six months in advance then this scenario will occur in your business. It is confusing for customers and staff alike. Also, keep promotions sharp, to the point, and easy to follow. If you can’t explain it in one sentence then ditch it.


The Point of Sale, or Cash & Wrap area is the central nervous system of your business. It can act as your reception, office, call center, and is of course where money is taken. Never under-estimate the importance of this area. Too often I see spare desks from the place I used to live/work-at being used for this area. Along with this, scanners don’t work, bags are not ready, till roll is empty, staplers missing, pens don’t work and cards/brochures are out-dated or have run out. I cringe when I see people fumbling about to put through a simple transaction. Avoid this at all costs people – it’s excruciating to watch from a customer point of view, and no fun for the staff member.

So, that’s it. Consciously, or sub-consciously your staff and customers are noticing many of these “Cringes” if they exist in your business. If you have none of them present in your business, then your business must be flying! The reality is that some of these will exist in your business all the time. When one is fixed, another needs attention. However, if you have tried to sort these out, but are having no success then engage an expert to help. One thing that is crucial – take your head-out-of the-sand if you’ve been living with some of these for a while. They hurt business results, and many make for a lowered enjoyment at work for the business owner, manager, or staff.

My motto is simple “Cringe and act, cringe and ACT!”.