Be clear about who you are from the very start. It shouldn’t take long for anyone to understand who you are or what you offer. That way once they get to know you, expectations are set from the very beginning. One major challenge we encounter is clients not receiving all the information needed or can not access it on the right channels. That’s why it’s important to be as clear as possible with customers about who you are, what your offer, and your process of working with clients. Without any surprises, customers continue to come back because they enjoy working with you.
As part of my series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Caroline Petersen. After a decade of experience in marketing and communication design, Caroline’s passion is helping B2B businesses impart their offers to customers and employees. Originally from the UK, Caroline spent the early part of her career working in Europe. Once she crossed the pond, she built a design firm, Gallery Design Studio, from the ground up by walking through (and sometimes nudging open) as many doors as she could. Her strong problem-solving skills and eye for design, help clients transmit complex information clearly, concisely, and in a visually engaging way. Relentlessly curious, she’s inspired by experimentation and always looking for better ways to serve her clients. Caroline knows from experience that pursuing your passion is the best ticket to a career you love — although it’s not the fastest and certainly not the easiest.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Originally from the UK, I started my career in Madrid, Spain, as a marketing intern at a real estate development firm. I later branched out to the insurance industry working in Madrid, Zurich and New York.
After a few years, I realized I was passionate about creative work so I started an online catering shop in Basel, Switzerland where I focused on designing a digital food magazine, as well as food styling and photography. A few years later I accepted an offer to work at Time Inc. UK in London.
At that point, I decided to dive deeper into graphic design since I love editorial design, so I attended Shillington School of Graphic Design in New York. After my training, I was offered a position at a large editorial company here in New York. But as life is full of surprises, the offer fell through. The truth is I failed to get my dream job with that company. And then I failed a few more times. That’s when I decided to go solo.
I joined every single networking group I could find and I walked into every room that would let me in, searching for clients. Eventually, I secured enough business to eventually pay for a desk at a co-working space.
For most of my career, I’ve been an ex-pat. But in New York being an ex-pat means I’m part of a larger community. It was actually helpful because there are so many others in the city who are hustling just like me. They’re a huge inspiration and always give me hope.
Was starting my own business terrifying? You bet. Harder than I imagined? Absolutely. Worth it? Without a doubt.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
In order to set up my immigration paperwork I needed three references but I was one reference short. One afternoon on the subway while worrying about at least five other problems, I realized I was just a step away from the Queens Chamber of Commerce. Being totally unfamiliar with what Chambers of Commerce actually do, I thought they might need some graphic design help or maybe knew someone else who would. Without any real portfolio to show them or references they could call, I threw caution to the wind and asked if they could be my last reference. Needless to say this wasn’t exactly the strongest pitch I’ve ever made for myself. But after proving I was a legitimate business owner, I got the letter I needed from the person I first introduced myself to when I walked into the office.
An added benefit? Not only did my paperwork go through, but five years later that person is now our PR partner!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My family, friends, business mentors and of course the Gallery Design Studio team. I wouldn’t be here without them.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?
Great customer experience is about clarity. Clarity in the use of a product or clarity in a services offering.
We’re in the business of designing communication. So if we don’t explain what we do and how we are going to do it, the result is the less-than-ideal client experience. That’s one of the reasons we take things like onboarding very seriously.
From a product standpoint, with so many companies offering similar things and competing for the same users, making a product that is intuitive is pivotal to its success. For instance, when designing a mobile app or a website, it shouldn’t take more than a few clicks to get what you need. That’s one of the reasons Venmo is so popular, it gets the job done and you don’t have to think hard about how to use it.
People’s attention spans are becoming shorter by the day and if they have to fiddle with something too long they are going to drop it and never come back. But if the product makes sense, is something they need, and they enjoy the experience, we know they are more likely to keep using it, and that’s in all industries.
At GDS customer experience is paramount. Both for our clients and their customers as well. That’s why we designed a way to map out the customer’s journey and determine which creative assets are needed at each step. After selecting the best content type, we work with clients to develop a clear and effective content strategy. All of this effort is dedicated so we can create the best customer experience possible. Happy customers are returning customers. They can also be some of your best unpaid advertising.
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
The major disconnect I have found is how to make that experience the best it can be. When online, that disconnect can be the language being used, how images are displayed on a page, and making sure your audience is receiving what thought they would get.
Even in a restaurant, the experience is not just about what people are eating. Owners have to think about how the food is displayed on the menu so it’s clear, in addition to the way servers interact with the customers. Each piece comes together and needs to be emphasized from the beginning of the experience so the customers want to return.
As entrepreneurs things can also move so fast that we don’t always have the time to think about what little things we may be missing because we’re always worrying about the big picture. As a result, something like customer experience is labeled as a priority but isn’t treated like one.
One practice I always share with clients is not to assume the obvious because that is usually when they get into trouble. Assuming the obvious often means the smaller details are being overlooked. Assumptions like these can lead to massive disconnect and bad experiences.
Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer? Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?
There is no doubt that it does. There are so many new, emerging ways people consume products and services. Think how hard it is to keep up right now with all the TV streaming services. Now that there seems to be a way to make money from it more and more companies are competing in the space. That’s why NBC’s version, Peacock, is offering a free subscription model just to try and stay ahead.
The best external pressure though is when the technology is made easier. In banking, we are seeing fewer and fewer ATMs because now you can deposit checks, and do many other tasks ATMs were made for, on your phone at any location or time. Now more and more financial companies offer easy to use apps in response to that pressure.
Or in the social media realm, Facebook bought Instagram because Instagram had created a product that was easier for its users to share what a large part of their users enjoyed — images. The founders of Instagram looked at what was already popular and made it easier to do, which is why they became successful so quickly.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
One of our software clients, who we helped develop content marketing and booth designs, was so surprised at how thoroughly we kept him in the loop throughout the creative process. Part of the customer experience is to keep clients well-informed at every step of the way. That includes onboarding, during the project and when it is complete. The little things make a big impact. Like acknowledging an email, accepting feedback without ego, saying thank you or that you enjoy working with them. His enthusiastic response to our updates and check-ins reminded our team that communication with us is an equally important part of the client experience as the final design deliverable. For them and for us, the customer’s experience of the journey matters just as much as their destination.
Did that Wow! experience have any long term ripple effects? Can you share the story?
This client is now a true advocate of Gallery Design Studio who continually refers us and gets the word out about what we do (sometimes more effectively than we can!). We couldn’t ask for a better unofficial brand ambassador.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.
- Be clear about who you are from the very start
It shouldn’t take long for anyone to understand who you are or what you offer. That way once they get to know you, expectations are set from the very beginning. One major challenge we encounter is clients not receiving all the information needed or can not access it on the right channels. That’s why it’s important to be as clear as possible with customers about who you are, what your offer, and your process of working with clients. Without any surprises, customers continue to come back because they enjoy working with you.
- Make sure your employees know what you expect from them, so that way they know how to serve your clients.
No matter how much time you put into your handbook, I promise you your employees aren’t going to read it if it is not visually appealing. Make them short and to the point, highlighting how your company works and what the expectations are. At GDS, our handbook is a living document where we preserve and share institutional knowledge. It’s easily accessible whenever anyone needs a refresher or if we onboard new team members. Use communication design to provide awesome customer and employee experiences.
- Use graphics and videos to explain everything your company does.
This is one of the best ways to onboard a new client. Why? Because they pay attention to it and will be impressed when they see it because they immediately feel their investment in you was worth it. Attention to production value shows how well your company is run. By creating tailored experiences that clients appreciate you also get them wanting more.
- Do your best to customize the products you offer to your clients' needs
The better you do this, the happier they will be. As a service business owner myself, the colors, pictures, font and figure size, and everything else we create need to be specifically designed for the way our clients work. Not only does it have to be clear as to what they do, but it also needs to stand out to the businesses and individuals they are marketing to.
- Use data as much as possible to make your argument
When it comes to business to business marketing, demonstrating that you understand a potential client’s industry is key. Using data is one of the strongest ways to do this because it shows you know what they need and can compete in that realm. Share that confidence with the person(s) who you are presenting to. Showcasing your knowledge of their industry will not only help you better serve them, but it also helps retain them, because they would not even think about using anyone else.
Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?
Your clients are your best resources to show off your work. First, your website should have a place where clients can offer a testimonial. Additionally, encourage them to post online so other potential leads that you may not speak to directly can see what you created.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Yes, we’re actually trying to conduct some “purpose-based marketing” by issuing an industry publication every quarter containing marketing and communication design insights for our clients and network. We’re looking to provide a peer-based support system for marketers in small and medium-sized businesses.
How can our readers follow you on social media?