I actually starting this piece 3 or 4 years ago, pre-Covid days. And as often happens when trying to be creative, you can be hit with a case of writer’s block that can leave any number of incomplete topics to collect dust. In my case, I can have upwards of a dozen or so pieces just sitting on the sidelines at any point in time. So was the case with this piece.

The reason I mention pre-Covid days is because many businesses are still facing challenges as they recover, however my original observation about customer experience were prior to Covid and yet still exist today.

Lipstick on pig

Putting lipstick on a pig

The phrase to put “lipstick on a pig” means making superficial or cosmetic changes to a product in a futile effort to disguise its fundamental failings. {Wikipedia} Many businesses, both small and large, condone this kind of behaviour.

On a recent road trip south, we stayed in a number of hotels. Like many, when heading to a specific destination we tend to stay in mid range establishments that we book at some point during our day. Booking any farther ahead is pointless as we never know how far we’ll drive on any given day because of weather or traffic.

These establishment are well known chains, from Holiday Inn Express to Hampton Inns, to name a few. Fancy, no! But usually more than satisfactory for a quick overnight stop and they’re usually situated right near major highway exits. So easy off, easy on. In most cases they’re reasonably priced and provide a free breakfast. All in all, a good value proposition. Most of the time.

The following are just a few of the observations I made during our stays at various establishments.

  • Poorly trained and uncaring staff
  • Burnt out light bulbs in room.
  • Inoperative power ports or outlets in room.
  • Significant marks on wall and ceiling in room.
  • Peeling wallpaper in hallways.
  • Worn and scratched stain on bathroom door.
  • Poorly applied caulking around tub.


I ain’t buying the place

Individually, none of these shortcomings are a deal breaker and can be easily overlooked when just staying one night. As I like to say, “I ain’t buying the place” and for the most part the rooms and establishment were clean. But they tarnish the customer experience. 

The point I’m trying to make with these observations is, when something such as a hotel room is serviced every single day, how do any of these items get overlooked? In one hotel we stayed in they were in the process of completely renovating the front lobby and the breakfast area. Yet, this is the same place where the wallpaper in the hallways was pealing and light bulbs in the room were burnt out. To my way of thinking they kind of got this back asswards.

I always wonder whose decision it is to invest tens of thousands of dollars in refurbishing the lobby when the rest of the establishment is in dire need of some loving. Especially when these items can be rectified at little or no cost. It’s akin to putting lipstick on a pig and again does little to improve the customer experience. Considering that these places are designed for travellers who typically spend more time in their rooms than in the lobby as they rest up for their next driving day. 

When you think about it, once checked in, most guests spend their time in the room as they rest up for the next day of driving. So, wouldn’t think room maintenance would be a priority? Just saying!

To be sure 1st impressions are important and major renovations are part of the hospitality industry. As franchisees, they have requirements to update their facilities to new standards set out by the franchisor.

Out of sync

But many small businesses operate the same way. They are more concerned about their outward appearance, which I maintain is an absolute must, but useless if the behind the scenes operations are totally out of sync with that image.

Too often I see small business owners spend time, effort and resources on producing a great website and social media posts but only deliver mediocre products, services, or results for their customers. If they only spent a part of that effort on delivering great service to their customers, their profitability would soar. Unfortunately, that kind of effort doesn’t get them the likes or shares that they so desperately seem to need.

What many forget is that likes or shares rarely put money in the bank. Let me ask you how many times have you purchased a product or service only because of their social media activity? If you’re like most, not very often, if ever.

The sad part is that the return on investment on social media is, for the most part never measured. Mostly because most small businesses don’t have the knowledge or resources to track results. The assumption is that they’re successfully executing their strategy, because views or likes keep growing. 

Focusing on the wrong things, rarely pays any dividends. The true metrics that they should be measuring are those that are focused on the customer experience. average order size, repeat sales and on time delivery. This is what successful entrepreneurs do. They focus on getting better.

Do you care enough?

So in order to determine if you are focused on the right things, the first question to ask yourself is “Do you care?”

Are you actively working on becoming more efficient? Are you paying attention to the little things that would make it easier for your clients to deal with you? Are you actively seeking input from your customers on what’s working and what isn’t? 

What are their pain points in dealing with you? These are all legitimate questions and more often there are a myriad of little things that you and your team can do to improve your deliverables. But first, you must care. You must care enough to dig deep to identify your company’s shortcomings. It’s never easy to self-criticize but is necessary if you’re going to improve the customer experience.

What you can do to improve the customer experience

One of the best way to start the process is to ask yourself, if you were your customer, would you be willing to accept your service levels? To help with the process, the following is a list of questions to help you get started on the journey of discovery that cost little or nothing but will help with your customer experience.

1. When was the last time you looked at your website? Is the information relevant and current? Is it mobile friendly? Do a quick search on “outdated websites” and you’ll discover what turns off your customers when they visit an outdated website. It might be costing more than you think. Consider that over 70% of customers visit a website before visiting the business.

2. When was the last time you checked both the company voicemail and that of your employees? Does it still have your “out-of-office” notice from last years summer vacation? Does the message drone on forever with information, instead of directing them to your website. Do you use it for quick promotional messages?

3. What’s your response time to voicemails or emails? Many voicemail messages state that they’ll get back to you within 24-48hrs. Seriously, customer calls should be returned immediately, if not, then the same day at least. Get too many calls that you can’t return them the same day? Then hire more people or put the most commonly asked questions on your website to reduce the volume of calls that only require information. See point #1

4. Do you deliver on time? Are you constantly missing deadlines and having to make excuses? Maybe you’re taking on too much work and agreeing to timelines that you know will be impossible to meet. To correct this, you might need to be honest with the customer from the start and set realistic completion dates. Yes, you might lose some business, but it’s better than failing to deliver and damaging your reputation. It’s about managing workflow.

5. Is your staff working efficiently? That doesn’t mean they need to work harder. No, it means you need to make sure that they are properly trained and that you identify and remove roadblocks that inhibit their abilities. Do they need your approval on everything? Train them, then delegate the responsibility and authority to make decisions. (See SBM #33 Responsibility & Authority) Creating templates and processes can reduce the time and effort needed deliver the final report or product. 

6. Are you trying to provide too much to your customers under the “value added” premise when nobody cares? Working under the pretense of “more is better” when in fact “less is more” might be the better approach.

7. Do you update your clients with regular status reports, or do you leave your customers in the dark? Having a customer constantly looking for an update is wrong. A quick phone call, text message or email to update them on the status of a backorder or delay can diffuse a lot of problems.

Rest assured that any time spent on providing exceptional customer experience quickly translates into reduced customer churn, increased repeat orders and of course, improved financials.

What’s stressing you out?

Another way to improve customer experience is to consider what’s stressing you out? It’s usually a good indicator of what needs fixing. Specifically, where do you think you can provide a better customer experience? What are your pain points? These are the things that keep you awake at night. What are you doing about them? Be honest with yourself, because we can all do better. Let’s face it, there’s no point attracting new customers only to lose them because you fail to deliver.

So what’s your peeling wallpaper or burnt out lightbulbs? In many cases it’s not the things we hear about that need to be fixed. It’s the ones we don’t hear about that’s troubling. This is where the silent majority just walk away, never to be seen again. 

Sometimes good enough, isn’t!


You may also enjoy reading SBM #74 Average or Great


Get More LIFE Out of Your Business

You shouldn’t be the hardest working person in your company.

Many small business owners find that even after the struggling start-up years, they’re working too many hours and still managing every aspect of their businesses.

Greg Weatherdon has been there, done that. As an entrepreneur, he learned not only how to get a business to the point of running smoothly, but also how to reduce the number of hours he worked, delegate more responsibility to his employees, and take longer vacations while his business chugged along like a well-oiled machine. And now he is providing the secret to success.

Do you suffer from any of the following?

1. Business ownership isn’t living up to the dream.
2. Endless workdays.
3. You can’t find good people.
4. Profits are less than expected.
5. You can never take a vacation.

You’re not alone. But there is a solution. As Greg demonstrates, with some time and effort, you really can Get More Life Out Of Your Business.

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