5 Bad Habits that Hurt Customer Flow

August 24, 2012Perry Kuklin

Customer experience specialist, Pieter van Osch, defines customer flow as “the optimal experience experienced by people.” In many businesses, customer flow relates to the optimal movement of people to and through a venue or store, where kinks in the flow can significantly alter customer satisfaction, public safety, and operational efficiency.

For obvious reasons, “customer flow” is of great interest to those responsible for both improving customer experience and facilitating crowd control. Through our more than 30 years of experience working with industry-leading companies, we have uncovered five of the most common habits that hurt customer flow in venues ranging from retail stores to stadiums and arenas.

1. Failure to design for first-timers

Assuming that every visitor knows where to go and what to do is one bad habit that hurts the flow of customers. Put yourself in the position of a first-time customer or better yet, observe the patterns of first-timers as they make their way through your facility. Are customers easily finding their ways to an assigned seat, desired aisle, or other intended destination? Where are the hang ups?

To avoid the chaos, confusion, and dissatisfaction that can ensue when too many people wander aimlessly in search of their desired destination, create a customer flow plan with the assumption that your facility is completely foreign to your customers. Plan ahead and include signage that offers clear directions, instructions, and information to every customer or guest, new and old alike.

2. Failure to deploy or change configurations quickly

Escalators break down. Halftime happens. Parking lots get jammed. The ability to quickly adjust for expected or unexpected shifts in customer flow is a hallmark of effective customer flow. Lack of quick deployment is a bad habit. Venue staffers must be prepared to deploy or alter crowd control configurations quickly.

They need the right solutions in place to close off areas when necessary, or divert traffic because of cleaning, maintenance, or other abrupt deviations from the norm. Planning for these immediate customer flow needs is particularly important in stadiums, arenas, and other large venues where people move in and out in droves, but can be of tremendous value in retail to help manage the unpredictable ebb and flow of customers.

3. Sacrificing clarity for creativity

Wayfinding signage plays a vital role in facilitating customer flow as it provides information specifically to guide customers to their desired destination. And while getting creative with your signage can be funny, entertaining, and memorable, sacrificing clarity for creativity is a big customer flow no-no. First and foremost, wayfinding signage needs to help people get where they need to go.

Signage that’s too subtle doesn’t work, but neither does signage that’s too fancy, overwrought, or difficult to read. Try to restrain yourself from exhibiting your creative measures where signage is concerned because this maneuver could be at the expense of helping people find their way in a smooth and orderly fashion.

4. Failure to plan for entrance and exit

When a facility has predictably intense bouts of traffic, as in the case of a sports arena or entertainment venue where the event starts and ends at a predictable time and a known number of tickets have been sold, plans for entering and existing visitors are vital. Even without predictable bouts of traffic, any venue serving a large number of customers must place equal importance on the entrance as the exit. After all, the customer experience doesn’t end until the very end. Neglecting “entrance and exit” logistics is yet another customer flow mistake.

Think about the parking lot: Bringing crowds in before an event and then funneling them out afterward brings significant challenges. Have the proper crowd control products on hand; use long belt stanchions to create new driveways or traffic patterns that will facilitate customer flow in parking lots. The same logic applies to the inside of the facility.

When you have a large number of people arriving all at once and co-existing for a period of time, a mix-up in customer flow can make the experience painful – literally and figuratively – for all involved. Poor planning can lead to bottlenecks or worse as people try to get in or out. Well-implemented signage and stanchions keep your carefully demarcated pathways clearly marked and moving fluidly. And listen up retailers: entrances and exits aren’t limited to arenas and other large facilities. In retail, it’s equally important to establish a clear entrance and also a clear “wait point” in the queue.

5. Relying on subpar barriers

If a crowd control barrier can be bypassed there’s a good chance it will be bypassed. That’s why relying on subpar barriers rounds out number five on our list of customer flow mistakes. Make sure your barriers can sufficiently handle your customer flow. If you have heavy crowds, you need more than just a basic rope. Maybe your stanchions need to be more permanent and drilled into the ground, or perhaps you can make use of a strong magnetic base that is not easily moved.

Everyone can appreciate a shortcut (or what seems like a shortcut) and all it takes is one industrious or rule-breaking individual to create a shift in your customer flow. Your barriers must withstand the “elements” of crowd flow if you want to make people follow a carefully plotted path. If your stanchions and belts end up lying on the ground with people stomping over them, if your posts and ropes are easily opened for people to walk right through, you can be sure people will take advantage of these situations.

Need a set of fresh eyes to help you figure out why you’re having customer flow issues at your facility or place of business? Contact a Lavi public guidance expert.

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