13. Creating a Great Place to Do Business – Lead With Your Customer, 2nd Edition:Transform Culture and Brand into World-Class Excellence


Creating a Great Place to Do Business

The external customer environment is usually a physical setting, like a store or an office building—a place, in the context of the World Class Excellence Model. It also includes the grounds around that building—the parking lot, the directional signage, and so forth. Though the obvious external customer environment is physical, some are virtual locations. Waiting on the phone for an operator to transfer your call is an example of a virtual setting. Finding out the hours of operation on a website is another example of a virtual workplace. The working environment can be dedicated to the external customers, the internal customers, or both. The important thing is ensuring that your workplace serves to enhance the experience.

This chapter explores what your workplace communicates about the service you deliver. We discuss how to maintain the experience as well as the concepts of “onstage,” or front of the house, and “backstage,” or back or heart of the house.

Does It Really Matter That Much?

A skeptical vice president of nursing for a medical center’s oncology operation once felt that its work setting was unimportant, claiming that “our patients don’t care about anything other than getting better.” But after accepting the challenge to experience their process by “walking in the shoes of her patients,” she sat in her waiting room (doing paperwork) for the duration of the typical waiting time for patients at that facility.

Although the chairs were comfortable, the hospital executive noticed something while watching a family waiting for their son to go through that week’s treatment: The plants lining the ceiling in the room were dying. As this family was facing a critical life-and-death scenario, the sickly condition of the plants in the room sent a disturbing message—one that certainly did not inspire the confidence and optimism needed to support the healing process.

Optimizing the Physical and the Virtual

Why pay attention to the physical setting when the virtual world is becoming so much of the total experience? For instance, much of car buying no longer involves the hassle of visiting a showroom and haggling over the price. There are many online car-buying sites, from CarSoup to TrueCar to eBay Motors. How do you stand out in the virtual marketplace?

Enter Carvana. It has chosen to take the best of both worlds—physically and virtually. The company’s website allows you to shop cars based on make, price range, year, or color. It even provides financing along with delivery if you prefer. But what people are crazy about is the idea of going to one of Carvana’s enormous multilevel “vending machines” to pick up your car. Buyers are given a special oversized coin to place into the vending machine; the car is then automatically brought down through the racks, right to you. And if you don’t like the car? You have seven days to return it with a money-back guarantee. Self-described as the “Amazon of cars,” the organization has also acquired another company, Carlypso, which offers data and analytical tools for Carvana to determine the best cars sold on the wholesale market, so it can then offer a better purchasing option to its customers (Korosec 2017).

The message is this: Perhaps the best workplace of all is the one that optimizes both physical and virtual worlds to deliver a superior customer experience. That means we need to pay attention to both opportunities.

Engage the Five Senses—Make “Sense” to Your Customers

All five of our senses—sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste—determine how we perceive our environment. Any experience, such as a traditional holiday dinner, is given meaning by our values and our senses: the aroma of our favorite dishes cooking, the sound of holiday music, the taste of freshly baked desserts, and more.

Our five senses are distinctly linked to memory and emotion. If we want our customers to remember us and have an emotional connection beyond that of our competition, we must consider how our offerings affect customers’ senses and optimize those opportunities. Let’s consider each sense.


Sight is the most obvious sense on which business professionals focus. When you enter a location, you know immediately—by the way it looks—whether it is a formal or informal workplace, or a high-quality or low-quality workplace, just by viewing the carpet, the furniture, the paint, and the lighting. Similarly, when creating a cake for a wedding reception, a pastry chef will take as much care with the presentation of the cake as the taste.

Consider the impact of not attending to even minor details. What if you were boarding a passenger jet on a major airline and, as you were walking back toward your seat, noticed that one of the windows had the trim held up with duct tape. An experienced flier might even rationalize that the inside plastic window wasn’t important for safety reasons—that the exterior glass was the critical component. However, even the most logical person will eventually start to think: If their attention to detail is so poor with this “onstage” situation (where external customers will experience it), then I wonder what their attention to detail is like for the maintenance crew, or some other aspect of the “backstage” operation that I cannot see. When customers are given reasons to wonder about the unseen aspects of their experience, their trust will decrease, they will begin to fear the worst, and your brand will suffer. Clearly, what we see can have a powerful effect on our choices. Go into a grocery store and you will often find meat products packaged against green paper. Green helps to emphasize the red in the meat, making the choice more appetizing. Color and visual stimuli do much to set the sense of place.

The sense of sight extends to electronic experiences as well. In addition to the perennial powerhouses such as Amazon and Walmart, shopping app favorites Shopkick, Stitch Fix, and Etsy have led the way when it comes to designing powerfully engaging images that draw the user into a virtual world that nearly mirrors a brick-and-mortar retail storefront.


The second sense most commonly attended to by companies is sound. Music and other sounds play an amazing role in how we respond to places.

During a 2018 interview, Niklas Alvarsson, design director for Soundtrack Your Brand, said that sound, in general, is a crucial part of designing a space in a way to connect with customers: “Sound is the first sense humans use to orchestrate all the other senses” (McGuire 2018).

Over the last two decades, restaurants, retail stores, and hotels have become more aware of the power of sound in their customer environments. Purposefully considering the appropriate sounds for your customer experience leads to higher customer engagement and even increased profits, while allowing the wrong sort of sounds tends to have the opposite effect (McGuire 2018). Multiple research studies have indicated that sounds have a definite impact on customer behavior—for example:

• When you turn on a computer, you hear the familiar Mac or Windows start-up tone.

• Nokia’s default ringtone is strongly associated with its brand.

• Kellogg’s actually tests the sound quality when you crunch on cereal.

• For most people, a revving engine has no distinguishing qualities, but a “hog” owner knows when a Harley-Davidson engine is revving up by its trademarked rumbling sound.

• The doors of Mercedes SUVs have been constructed to sound heavier, in an effort to communicate their “robustness” (McGuire 2018).


When was the last time you asked the question, “What does it smell like to do business with us?” As odd as this statement is, world-class organizations include this aspect of their customer’s experience when addressing operational decisions.

The average human being can recognize up to 10,000 separate odors. Smells also retain an uncanny connection to memory. A whiff of pipe tobacco, a particular perfume, or a long-forgotten scent can instantly conjure up scenes and emotions from the past.

Remember the smell when you opened that package of Crayola crayons? That smell is patented to prevent competitors from replicating it. Walt Disney’s Imagineers also leverage the concept of smell. They developed a device known as the “Smellitzer,” an atomizer-like machine capable of delivering smell on cue at given locations. It’s one of the reasons that attractions like “Soarin’ Around the World,” or “It’s Tough to Be a Bug!” with its stinkbug smell, have been so popular. It also plays to the bottom line. Guests walking through a Disney park will often stop and smell freshly baked chocolate chip cookies coming out of a bakery shop. The cookies are not baked there—they are shipped from off-site. The aroma is what makes you stop and want to sample what’s there. It’s not even the smell of chocolate chips that brings you in—chocolate has no aroma. Rather, it’s the vanilla that is being pumped by the Smellitzer into the air.

You know the “new car smell” people associate with a purchase of a new vehicle? That’s a real factor for those making a car purchase. What if the vehicle is a used car? Carvana, in an attempt to complete the experience of purchasing a car online by physically going to one of its vending machines, has introduced a new car smell with a limited-edition “eau de car,” which the company spritzes in the car prior to a customer getting in. The ingredients include:

“A touch of sage and bamboo for wisdom, prosperity, and saving your money. The essence of chocolate to keep things from being vanilla. The single tear of a car salesman that captures how they feel when their commission checks go away. And deep notes of freedom because you ditched your dealership” (Ringle 2018).

It’s more advertising ploy than anything else. But it’s a recognition of not only the power of smell, but people’s expectations of a car purchasing experience.


From birth, people crave the sense of touch. Research shows that babies can distinguish some textures right from birth. That’s one of the reasons they love to be rocked. And it also helps explain why massage and spa businesses have soared in recent years. If your customers sit in a chair during their experience with you, what does that chair feel like to them? Does it set you apart from your competition? Does it add value to their experience?

Have you considered how important it is to your customers’ experience to physically experience your product? Despite the revolution in the retail clothes business launched by online companies like Amazon, there will always be particular clothes shoppers who insist on actually touching and feeling the product before they buy. The same applies to consumer activities like test-driving a car. The sense of touch is enhanced as we get behind the wheel of a car and feel the road during the driving experience.

Considering the environment you are delivering should include asking questions related to the experience your customers are having. Examining a restaurant, for example, from the customer’s perspective by asking, “How thick is the chowder I’m stirring?” or “How tough is the steak I’m cutting?” can lead to enhancing the overall dining experience. Museums historically would emphasize “Don’t touch”; however, now there is a trend toward creating a much more hands-on, interactive experience. And of course, we judge a smart device or other hands-on product by the tactile experience we have with them. App companies take great care in determining whether clicking, swiping, or rotating actions enhance or distract from the overall experience. Recently, gaming company Teslasuit announced plans to create a full-body suit that provides a fully-immersive tactile virtual reality experience, including “46 haptic points that can provide different feedback to the wearer, including weight simulation, climate control and personalization in the form of an avatar” (Clickatell 2018). You’ll benefit from considering the sense of touch and how it affects your customer, whether you engage them primarily in the virtual or real world.


In every culture around the world, people use food as a “social lubricant.” When people are out in the world as consumers, it is often with others as part of a shared experience. Introducing the element of taste into your process may provide an additional connection between you and your customer.

Notice how some banks offer lollipops for children, or dog treats for pets along for the ride. These are clearly not essential parts of the banking experience, but they add that little something extra that sets them apart from the other banks.

Consider the discussion that occurs regarding someone’s stay at a hospital. Other than the obvious—“How is your recovery?”—the most-discussed issue often centers on the quality of the hospital food. Something as seemingly insignificant as food becomes a very important consideration in the overall experience of the patient—and, therefore, one that must be addressed to be successful.

Everything Communicates

Everything in the workplace is like a billboard—it advertises a message about the quality of what you do. Give Kids The World, the charitable organization in Orlando described in chapter 12, has created a beautiful place to reassure terminally ill children and the families that accompany them. Everything in the environment is designed to immerse the visitors in fun, carefree experiences—away from the stress and heartache they typically face back home. Guests and their families step into the House of Hearts to register. From there, they go to the Castle of Miracles, the Ice Cream Palace, the Gingerbread Courtyard, and Marc’s DinoPutt. It’s all whimsical, but it stands as a testament to paying attention to your facilities, furnishings, landscaping, and signage to transform the experience for those who are in the midst of monumental struggles.

Give Kids The World follows the way of thinking that world-class organizations have mastered. Walt Disney knew that Disneyland had to be a different place than the carnivals of the day. Think about it: What do burned-out lights on a Tilt-a-Whirl sign suggest about the rest of the experience? It’s no wonder that Disney pays attention to non–theme park ride details such as light fixtures, trash receptacles, and landscaping—and anticipates problems with them. Dead flowers onstage? Disney thinks ahead, and backup flowers are ready only a few yards away, in the backstage area. Some short-term flowers are often planted while still in their containers to save time and effort—they just throw on a little topsoil and then go on with the show. The next example shows how everything communicates.

Leading Example: Adventist Health Celebration Hospital

One powerful example of understanding how everything communicates, especially by paying attention to the senses, comes from Seaside Imaging at Adventist Health Celebration Hospital. Experts know that an imaging experience can be a very stressful time. The hospital wanted to make imaging as easy as a day at the beach.

When you walk into this section of the hospital, the environment is completely transformed. Gone is the traditional hospital look. You hear the sounds of the beach. You smell coconut suntan oil. The hallway flooring looks like a wooden beachfront boardwalk. To change into hospital garb for the procedure, patients enter into individual beach cabanas to put on not hospital gowns, but surfer shorts, a top, and a terrycloth robe. They can wait their turn in Adirondack chairs, or listen to soothing ocean sounds.

To top it off, the massive imaging equipment that surrounds the patient has been designed to resemble a large sand castle. You simply rest “on the beach” while listening to the sound of ocean waves and the smell of fresh ocean spray.

The results? The imaging center’s adult patient sedation rate dropped and cancellations were cut in half. Where technologists would previously spend 30 to 40 minutes coaxing a patient through a test, that time has been reduced dramatically. Patient satisfaction scores have improved—as well as bottom-line results. Leading with your customers can make the difference between ordinary and extraordinary!

Rule 137: Less Is More

We imagine that you’ve been to a public pool or water park. Typically, the owners and operators of these facilities are extremely concerned about the signage. Every slide and pool often has a sign indicating the rules for that attraction. The rule of thumb is: Think of anything that a patron could do to get into trouble and list it as a warning on the sign. Inevitably, signs list nearly a dozen subpoints of dos and don’ts. They read like a legal contract before swimming: 16 rules for the pool, and another eight to 10 for the diving board. Why 137 rules? Who reads the rules anyway? Surely not the kids, who are always being warned by the whistle-blowing lifeguards!

World-class businesses have found that when it comes to rules, less is more—as at your local Apple store. Everything about the experience is notably clean, with no excess signage. An Apple store isn’t like a big-box retailer with product stacked to the ceiling. That kind of look wouldn’t align with its brand. Products are displayed welcomingly, with lots of space for people to move in and play around.

The result: Apple stores have won the title for “most sales per square foot of retail space” (more than $5,546) of any other major retail operation. An easy assumption is that it is because of all those handheld devices and expensive computers. Well, consider that the title for second-highest sales is held by Tiffany & Co., which sells even smaller, more expensive items—it earned about $2,600 per square foot of retail floor space. In a more comparable category was Best Buy, also known for high-volume electronic sales, but that company earned only about $930 per square foot (PRNewswire 2017).

In the retail industry, an important consideration is how a store displays its merchandise. Note the distinct differences between how Walmart displays tons of bulk product on the shelves and how a store like Nordstrom prides itself on having its floor showcases display minimal product. Each has a strategic reason for its decision that aptly supports its brand and culture. The important—and sustainable—focus must be on creating the experience that sets you apart.

“If You’ve Got Time to Lean, You’ve Got Time to Clean”

“If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean” was the motto of Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s, who built an empire based on establishing a consistent setting and product on which customers could rely. Simply said, cleanliness was so important that every spare (non-customer-serving) moment should be invested in keeping the restaurant clean.

For years, a leading car rental company followed a rigorous effort to maintain clean cars for its customers. Keeping the car clean for the next driver was an obvious requirement. However, there was an unexplained discrepancy between the excellent condition of the very clean car and the less-than-excellent perception of them by their customers. To solve this puzzle, the company began a detailed analysis. It discovered that customer perception of car cleanliness was influenced by the questionable cleanliness of the check-in counters—the customer’s first impression. When the company began to improve its check-in counter appearance, the customer’s perception of cleanliness went up dramatically for the entire car rental experience. That simple adjustment improved not only cleanliness scores but also satisfaction levels and led to a positive shift in loyalty and repeat business.

Summing Up

The workplace plays a significant role in the perception of value for the customer’s investment of time, effort, and money. Your customers’ senses determine how they experience your environment. Take this opportunity to inject your unique brand into many facets of their interaction. Focus on the details that matter most to them. Consider the various examples we’ve included in this chapter and explore ways to adapt the ideas to your operation. Leveraging your workplace to add value to your customers’ experiences will serve as a very valuable tool in building your own world-class brand.

Next Steps for Building the Brand Through the Workplace:

How can you walk in the customer’s shoes of your own area, focusing on each sense?

How can you physically change the environment to overcome any negative stereotypes for your product or service?

Walk around a mall or a similar operation. From simply passing by, what attracts you to enter or repels you from entering certain stores? How can you replicate what works for your business?

How can you simplify the customer space and remove all the clutter?

How can you simplify signage and vow that you will never put up a handwritten sign in front of external customers?

How can you measure how effective you are in consistently keeping the customer experience clean and tidy?

How can you model the phrase, “Everyone picks up trash!”?