On the weekend, the kids voted we go to the newly opened Polar Bear Ice Cream parlor a few blocks from where we live. When we reached we found the place filling up. Luckily we got a table soon enough. The menu seemed interesting. The prices were listed at a premium. We ordered different sundaes so we could also sample each other’s orders. Tell you what; the sundaes were a let-down. It seemed like they got too many things wrong. The cream wasn’t sweetened, the ice cream combinations didn’t work, and the added elements didn’t do anything to enhance the taste. The insipid sauce added to the misery.
So here’s the thing. No one, I mean the parlor people, asked us anything about our food/service experience. We paid and exited. Now for any brick and mortar business that engages with buyers face-to-face, that’s a HUGE lost opportunity. This may have happened not because the service people didn’t care enough to check. This came to be probably ‘cos they operate with what I call a ‘transactional mindset’, when instead they should have been driven by a ‘relationship mindset’. Customer service personnel who work with a transactional mindset limit their acts to the ‘necessary’, i.e., take orders, serve, clear, and finally bill. However those driven by a ‘relationship mindset’ will see order taking and everything else that follows as default activities to be performed well. In addition they will extend beyond the ‘necessary’ and ensure their customers have an experience that starts and fosters a relationship. Such employees will go beyond transactions and step into territories of personalized customer engagement keeping in mind the opportunity to elicit lifetime value. If Polar Bear had such employees they would have seized the opportunity to talk to us (never mind the rush), first-time customers to know how everything went. They would have also built processes and systems to consistently capture feedback from their customers. They would then plough back that information to fix things if required, and add stuff that can heighten delightful experiences.
As a business professional I have no doubts digital will transform everything, including business. That is however no reason why you should write-off brick and mortar. In fact physical business places of commerce can survive if they turn their stores from being mere settings for transactions to zones of face-to-face engagements and delightful experiences. That in turn requires that all relevant brick and mortar personnel shed their ‘transaction mindset,’ to foster one that focuses on building human relationships.
As for Polar Bear, I hope for their sake they realize that selling ice-creams is not about selling a product but an experience.
Fingers crossed, folks!