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It's My Job: Consultant teaches businesses to improve customer experience

FARGO - After owning hair salons in Bismarck for 30 years, Don Thorpe has learned a thing or two about customer service. What he hasn't learned first-hand, he has picked up by studying customer service and customer experience. For the past six ye...

Don Thorpe
Don Thorpe, customer experience consultant and owner of Shared Experience Consulting, leads a training session at the Regis Corp. National Franchise Convention in Minneapolis. Special to The Forum

FARGO - After owning hair salons in Bismarck for 30 years, Don Thorpe has learned a thing or two about customer service.

What he hasn't learned first-hand, he has picked up by studying customer service and customer experience.

For the past six years, Thorpe, who lives near Perham, Minn., but still owns the City Looks and two Cost Cutters salons, has been sharing his knowledge by doing customer experience consulting.

In October 2009, he turned it into a business called Shared Experience Consulting, through which he does one-on-one business consulting and keynote speaking.

"(Business owners) will set up a business and they'll work on the concept of the business very hard, but they don't purposefully choose to map out the experience that their customer has. Because of it, what doesn't get planned doesn't happen," Thorpe said. "Minnesota nice is not enough. They need to plan and do it on purpose, not just by chance."

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Thorpe is also working on a book about customer experience.

Q: What is customer experience consulting?

A: Most people think about customer service and they think of how we take care of them, but the difference between an experience and a service is an experience can be felt.

For instance, going to a restaurant happens to be an experience, it just happens to center around food. The pleasure of a restaurant isn't solely dependent upon the food or even the price of it, it's dependent upon the experience you have.

Things we can experience are those things that we remember.

Who do your clients tend to be?

Basically anyone that has customers.

I've worked a lot in retail, customer-service-type businesses. I've worked a lot with salons because I own some salons. I've also worked quite a bit with medical.

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What do you go through with your customers?

Oftentimes, it's with their whole team, explaining the concept of customer experience and helping them to understand the effect it has on their business.

The great human disconnect is the fact that we judge ourselves by our intentions, but everyone else judges us by our actions or our behaviors. What happens is we intend to do something, but it doesn't come out in our behaviors and the only way I can measure you face-to-face is by your behaviors.

So, I explain the concept of customer experience, the concept of secret service. Secret service is hidden systems that provide exceptional customer experience.

Oftentimes, I take them through what's called a customer experience cycle workshop where we define the cycle, and that's each stage of the customer experience from when they walk in the door all the way through until they walk out the door. The last thing would be to identify in each stage of the game above-and-beyond opportunities. What are the opportunities that we can go way above and beyond?

A lot of customer experience is truly about a connection. People leave businesses, but they don't leave people, and that's why we want to create connection with our customers and our guests.

Is there any one area where most businesses tend to fall short?

Most businesses fall short in general first impression.

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We have all this information on customers, but don't use that information.

Probably 90 percent of sales in a store are credit or debit cards; we've got the person's name right in front of us. Do we use that? No.

Those are real easy, simple things they can do to connect with that guest.

Business profile

Shared Experience Consulting

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526
To submit an idea for "It's My Job," e-mail businessnews@forumcomm.com .

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