Your Business Is On Trial and the Judge Is Your Customer

Most business owners are too close to their businesses to see the mistakes they are making. Don’t expect the customers to tell you either. Try this to see your business through your customers’ eyes.

Even though you can evaluate other businesses, that doesn’t mean you can accurately evaluate your own. Studies have shown that it takes a woman approximately nine seconds to decide if your business is inviting enough to enter. A man may give you about 13 seconds. Most business owners are too close to their businesses to see the mistakes they are making in those few seconds. Don’t expect the customers to tell you either. They won’t. They’ll just walk away!

So try this: Imagine that your business is on trial, accused of not being as good as it could be. And you are accused of not being as in touch with your customers as you could be. Look at every aspect of your business and imagine what the judge–your customer–would say about your success or failure to serve your customer.

Create Your Own First Impression with a Visual Audit

In business, you routinely conduct assessments of your financial health through month-end bookkeeping procedures. In addition, you do an annual inventory to maintain correct internal financial records. This is your financial audit.

Obviously, the financial health of your company is extremely important. However, you should also conduct an annual (or more frequent) audit of your business’s visual appeal to customers, because the visual image of a business will have significant impact on customers’ buying decisions.

Think about it: a set of well-organized financial records benefits you, not your customers. But your over-all visual image will certainly have a dramatic impact on your customer–and therefore your bottom line.

So what are the important elements of a visual audit? Start by making a list of the different areas of your business–exterior parking, exterior signage, exterior entry, interior entry, counter or reception area, traffic flow or layout, fixtures and displays, etc. Make sure your list includes every area that impacts the overall character of your business.

Then visit and examine every area on your list and write down your impressions. Ask your staff to walk the store and make their own evaluations. Compare notes at your next staff meeting and together decide how to change for the better.

Evaluating Your Business Provides You with Benefits

  • It identifies areas in which you can gain over your competitors.
  • It helps you to see those aspects of your business that make you unique.
  • It gives you the head start you need to identify problems that need to be addressed.
  • It helps you to focus on your customers and their needs.

Before Your Customers Arrive

Before we go inside, let’s examine some of the ways customers get an impression of your business before they even visit it. Start with the very first place you might meet a potential customer–a networking function. In this context, it is your personal image and how you represent your business that is most important. At that time you must be able to communicate your business concepts and services to your new acquaintance succinctly and clearly. Having a catch phrase or short statement about your business will help make a successful first impression. Do you have one and how effective is it?

Your business card may be the next visual evidence about your company. Your card must accurately underline what your business is all about. It will also promote or deflate your professional image and the success of your business in a glance.

Your advertising may be a potential customer’s first clue to your business. Does your advertising stand out among the competition? What about your ad would make someone come to your business instead of one of your competitors? What communicates to people viewing your ad that your business is special, unique, and valuable to them? If you can’t answer these questions, you are already losing too many potential customers.

The telephone is another way customers may reach you before they come to your business. A telephone may not seem visual at first, but most people create a visual in their heads about your professionalism and attitude. Even a brief phone call for directions may make or break a new customer relationship. Telephone and listening skills should be included as a very important part in the training of your employees. So often employees are busy waiting on customers and take a phone call in the middle of a transaction. This is not only a distraction to the customer they are waiting on, but it comes across to the caller as a negative as well, since the employee might not be “all there.”

On Location

Now we move to the on-location impressions of your business. Begin with its location. Is your business in a place where your clients would expect it to be? It is accessible from many directions? Is it surrounded by other stores that would appeal to your type of customer so that you might get drop-in traffic? Is it too close to a competing business?

Imagine that your customer arrives at your store or business. How does it look from the outside? Is there anything, such as bushes or trees, obstructing the view of your business so that it is not easy to find? Are your signs distinctive, professional, and easy to read? Is there plenty of parking to make it convenient to the customer?

Tomorrow when you go to your business, don’t park in your usual spot but park where the customers park. Sit in your car for a moment and look around; see what your customers see. Does that first view of your location create a positive impression?

Taking a Tour of Your Own Business

Your image continues to develop as the new customer walks into your business. Take a tour from a potential customer’s point of view. Make sure you don’t miss a single detail.

Before opening your business tomorrow morning, turn on the lights, put on the music, then turn around and walk back outside. Now, take a deep breath and look around you. Are the windows full of fingerprints? Are there too many signs at the entrance? Are those signs giving off negative messages? Or are they welcoming and inviting?

Now walk slowly through your front door. What is the first thing you see? Is it a tattered price tag? A table half filled with old merchandise? General clutter? A messy desk or reception area? The lights are on, but is it still dark? Do you see water stains on the ceiling? Is the carpet clean or worn out and soiled? Is the overall appearance old looking, or freshly painted and designed? Does it look inviting? Do you feel welcome?

Now how about your other senses? What is the first thing your hear? Is a radio station playing with static or featuring a commercial from the competition? Or is it tuned to a station that your customers will like? Is it too loud or too soft? Do you hear any other distracting noises? What does the store or office smell like? Do the dyes from the clothing smell strong, do you sense stale air, or is there a lingering aroma of fresh flowers or potpourri?

Now, walk through your business step-by-step, seeing through your customer’s eyes. Pretend it is the first time you’ve ever been inside. What attracts you? What turns you off? What details do you notice that need to be improved upon? You may understand why it’s convenient to put a certain display in a certain spot, but your customer doesn’t. Make sure the layout makes sense to your customer first, even if it means it’s not quite as convenient for you.

Do all these components make the statement you want to make to your customers? If not, you may fix many of the problems now that you are aware of them. Do what you need to make sure that the first thing your customers’ eyes meet is fresh, new, and visually appealing.


If you are in retail you know the importance of changing your displays often. Now is the time to look dispassionately at them. What are your window displays like?

Do they stop your customers in their tracks as they walk past? Merchandise needs to be well organized and restocked daily. Goods need to be coordinated and focused. Let them make an impact for you.

The beauty of visual marketing is that if one type of focused display doesn’t stimulate sales, you can try something different the next week. You just need to constantly strive to see your displays through your customers’ eyes and build on the information you get every week about what works and what does not work. Generally, you are working to build a strong visual image. As it emerges, the customer will look to you with a sense of confidence. This will naturally contribute to an increase in sales. Those first impressions will keep you miles ahead of the competition.

Conduct these evaluations on a regular basis, and you’ll notice significant differences in your business. When you commit to this exercise you’ll see the progress you have made in your business and overall design. Your customers will notice them, too, and start complimenting you on how well things look and feel. You’ll start to see the biggest benefit payoff–an increase in your sales and profits. I’ve seen it happen over and over. When a business focuses on creating a better visual image they can’t help but turn that into more sales.

Keeping In Touch with Your Image

Since you are wearing lots of hats in your business, you will only be able to see the details when you make it your focused priority. With a critical eye, learn to check out your store from the outside-in everyday.

Here is a quick list of things to look for. Add other things you notice during your tour.

  • Is the parking lot clean, accessible, and adequate?
  • Is the landscaping tidy and manicured?
  • Is the entrance area open and inviting?
  • Are the windows clean and free of fingerprints?
  • Are exterior and interior signs clean, accurate, professional, and effective?
  • Are the aisles clear and wide enough?
  • Are displays and racks orderly, organized, and visually inviting?
  • Are fixtures neatly and properly stocked?
  • Are counter areas free of clutter?
  • Is every area of your business clean and tidy?
  • Are brochure holders filled and/or customer list accessible (including a pen)?
  • Are trash bins and boxes out of sight?
  • Does any area need paint touchup or repair?
  • Is your staff positive, welcoming, informed, and helpful?
  • Are flowers, potpourri, and candles fresh?

Is It Time for a Makeover?

How many years has it been since your business has had even a minor facelift? Don’t wait more than seven years to remodel. It will amaze you what a little paint and a few fresh touches can do. If you are tired of looking at it, so is your customer.

Copyright Debbie Allen, All Rights Reserved

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