Last year a little corner shop business called the Lash Lounge opened up near my home in Sydney’s Inner West. After my partner’s inevitable jokes about the name, we confirmed that it is in the business of eyelashes and eyebrows beautiful.
It’s a tough gig for a small business in retail these days, even in a growth area like lashes (pun intended). And it’s even tougher when you are on a quiet street.
I generally have my lashes tinted somewhere else and I have been very happy with their service, but I’ve been really busy lately. So just ahead of a big overseas business trip, I decided to stroll down there and see if they could fit me in over the next day or so. Not only would it save me time, I could support a local business.
But when I strolled down there, it wore a firm ‘closed’ sign. Not a ‘back in five minutes’ or ‘we’ve just popped out’, but ‘closed’. I checked the opening hours, it certainly should have been open at that time. But without that ‘back in five minutes sign’ I didn’t know whether I should hang around – and I hadn’t brought my phone with me.
So I called my normal provider and they squeezed me in super-last-minute and did a fantastic job.
But I stayed busy and this time, there really was no time for a 15-minute drive up the road (30 minutes in total). So just ahead of a major conference and a 3-week holiday I gave them another try. This time it said open, but the sign outside might as well have said closed…. It stated that ‘we are booked out long periods in advance, either call or ring the bell’. That really made me feel that they were too busy for me to even try. Still I took the number and went back to find out more
Back at the office, I checked out their website. A Google search didn’t take me to a website just a truelocal reference.
At this point, I decided I would face the world un-beautified. It all just felt too hard.
Now possibly that business had a genuine emergency that first time. But they didn’t give me the information to make a judgement on that. And I can appreciate customers popping in when you are up to your eyes with no booking could be very frustrating. Obviously you want to train customers to book so you can plan well.
But that business didn’t train me to book with them, they trained me to walk away.
Even if they were fully booked, a more friendly approach might have encouraged me to enquire – or come back another time. They turned down the opportunity to have a conversation with me, one that would almost certainly have lead to business.
Imagine if they had used a different tone of voice around the sign ‘warming it up a little’ or if they had a website that gave me that same message. But I just felt so plain unwelcome, I couldn’t face picking up the phone to someone who was so busy.
This is also something we see in the tourism industry a lot. Businesses that don’t open when they say they do – but don’t say why. Businesses that don’t have a website because they like to keep it ‘personal’ (according to Tourism Research Australia 17% of tourism businesses – that’s nearly one in 6 – still don’t have a website ), not realising that in the new digital world your website is one of your most personal assets. Businesses that don’t have a booking facility if they do have a website (nearly 1 in 4 businesses according to the same Tourism Research Australia report), or who use language or business processes that breathe ‘unwelcome’.
Interestingly, more than two in five of those tourism businesses without a website said they were too small to do so or that they did not have time. As my experience with lash tinting shows, from the customer’s point of view, there is no such thing as a business which is too small to have a website. And actually a website is a great way to save time in the long term.
So next time you have to close unexpectedly or you want to encourage pre-booking rather than roll up – have a look at how you communicate that message. Even if you have a website or signage, get someone with a dispassionate eye to take a look and see whether the tone of voice or description makes you ‘mentally available’ to your customers.
Because if you aren’t mentally available to customers when they need you, they aren’t likely to be physically available when you need them.
PS. Just after I finished this piece, I noticed that said business now prominently displays its web address and it now turns up in search – perhaps somewhere in the ether they were listening….
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