If you've ever taken in a show at the majestic Imperial Theatre in Saint John, New Brunswick, you won't be surprised to know that, according to the Globe & Mail, it's the "most beautifully restored theatre in Canada". (And they should know, right?)
It doesn't matter what type of show I see there, whether it's live music, comedy, a musical or a movie, I feel kinda special just sitting in that plush seat, looking up at the chandelier, waiting for the show to begin. It's a very special place and sometimes I think for a second, do I belong here? (Then I realize I bought a ticket and they actually let me in the door).
And everyone who has ever been to a show there knows there is an army of volunteers who work every door (and window, I'm sure) of every event, making sure you aren't bringing in anything that could harm those fancy seats - no Imperial Theatre contraband allowed.
At one time, it was so strict that I don't think you could even bring in water. Just sit still, watch the show and please eat & drink in the lobby, or at home!
But nothing could prepare me for the unbridled joy I felt last Halloween. The glorious "don't even think about eating in here" Imperial Theatre was showing Rocky Horror Picture Show and there was a list of "approved" props we were allowed to bring - and throw - during the movie. Really? How could this be? Were there defibrillators handy to help revive the diligent white coated volunteers when they witnessed the shenanigans of a no holds barred Rocky Horror audience?
It's one thing to throw rice, cards, and toast around your own house - you do that, right? But to have the pleasure of toilet papering the most beautifully restored theatre in Canada? Well, let's just say, we didn't leave the place the way we found it.
With our newspapers on our heads, rubber gloves on and noisemakers handy, we proceeded to lovingly litter to our hearts content. It was therapeutic and fun.
This got me thinking about the kind of experiences that small businesses can offer.
You need to offer memorable experiences. When someone shops at your store or orders a product or service from you online, is the experience memorable? I'm talking about "good" memorable. (maybe not "throwing rice all over the floor" memorable)
Be attentive and extra helpful! Is your staff trained to ask questions and make sure your customers have found everything they need? Going above and beyond makes a big difference in your customer's experience.
Show your appreciation. Do you regularly show your customers how much you love them? It could be as simple as having a special sale or an event where you give a special discount. You could offer a free service that you know they need. These are simple things you can do that will help increase loyalty.
Get to know your customers. I don't mean you need to yell out your customers' names as they come into your shop (like the treatment Norm gets on Cheers) but remembering a name of a regular customer is important. Remembering how they like their coffee or whether they prefer paper bags is an added bonus for their experience.
Create a happy place. Make the experience for your customers fun. It's never a bad idea to help cheer up someone's day. You have the opportunity to do that with every customer experience. It doesn't cost anything and adds so much value to the shopping experience. (if letting your patrons throw toilet paper around makes them happy, why not?)
It's the little things that keep them coming back.
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The Small Business Guide
Kim Houlahan is a marketing consultant who loves helping small businesses connect with their customers online.