Cultivating loyal patients and customers

November 19, 2013

The customer experience: How to cultivate loyal patients and customers, and why they are important

When it comes to selling goods and services in today’s marketplaces, there are few things that aren’t available to consumers these days.  We even have the good fortune of being able to obtain marijuana legally, in stores, and in a plethora of forms– joints, blunts, edibles, drinks, ice creams, tinctures, creams, sprays, pills, concentrates, oils, and even packs of pre-rolled, strain-specific, marijuana cigarettes, complete with a filter and a cigarette-like wrapper.  Now that the day has come when people in 23 states and the District of Columbia have access to any of these products, whether in a retail location or delivered right to their door, dispensary owners have more incentive–and need– than ever to create unique, memorable, safe environments that attract and retain patients and customers.

The importance of loyal customers in any business is not new news.  Speaker, consultant, and retail “Experience Designer” Mike Wittenstein identifies that loyal customers make up roughly 20% of most business’ customers, but they account for about 80% of their total revenue.  In addition, over their lifetime, loyal customers may spend ten times more than the occasional customer.  Loyal customers also are your best brand ambassadors, often telling others about their experiences with your business and bringing you new customers through their advocacy.

Wittenstein bottles up his knowledge into a concept he calls “The Apple-ization of Retail.”   Similar to the strategy Apple uses in its stores, by using the customer experience as the cornerstone of the design strategy for retail spaces, one is able to create value for the business.  As he puts it, the best designs “delight customers, engage employees, and bring profit for shareholders– all at the same time.”

So, how do these concepts apply to your cannabusiness?  How can interior design and branding help your dispensary cultivate loyal patients and customers?  The solution to this goal has been realized in many industries already:  retail design, restaurant design, hotel design, and even health care design.  So, let’s not reinvent the wheel for our own fledgling industry.  Let’s, instead, do what we do best: adapt the knowledge that is already out there to meet our needs.

THE FACT OF THE MATTER IS, NO ONE CAN FORCE A CUSTOMER TO BE LOYAL TO YOUR BUSINESS.  YOU MUST WORK TO EARN YOUR PATIENTS’ AND CUSTOMERS’ LOYALTY EVERYDAY.  THE BEST STRATEGY FOR DOING SO, THE KEY TO CREATING THESE LOYAL, GENEROUS, PROMOTING CUSTOMERS, IS: CREATE THE BEST, MOST MEMORABLE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE YOU POSSIBLY CAN.

From an interior design standpoint, this involves the following rules:

1.  Make the physical design inseparable from the customer experience.  From the moment your patient arrives until the time they have completed their transaction and are leaving your dispensary, provide them with a memorable and comfortable physical environment.  This includes making sure the environment is safe and functional for patients of all levels of ability.  Pay attention to how patients move within your space, both during busy times and slower times.  Privacy is also a factor to consider in certain areas of your store, and your space plan and acoustics can dictate whether a patient feels they can have a discreet, personal transaction when needed, or if the environment will turn them off and leave them feeling uncomfortable.

2.  Utilize natural light whenever possible.  Natural light makes you feel better– it is as simple as that.  It also provides the best lighting for your employees to work in and for your patients to examine their product selections.  Windows can also be a great and memorable design element in your space, if available.  But be mindful of the strength and duration of direct sunlight, as too much direct sunlight can damage materials and finishes–not to mention be very harmful to your cannabis.  An experienced designer can help determine if direct sunlight will be an issue, and if so, suggest attractive and functional ways to mitigate it while still adding to the customer experience.

3.  Create a story behind the experience for your customers to share with their friends.  Does your understated, simple, waiting room lead into the most amazing showroom that has ever been seen?  Is your store built into an old, repurposed tire shop that still has the air hoses hanging from the ceiling and feels hip and industrial?  Are you a group of former business people who has come together to provide professional, discreet access to other professionals and white collar people in your community?  Whatever your story is, embrace it and share it with your patients, because they will talk about your business with the people they know and are more likely to do so if they have a story to tell it with.

4.  Brand your space with your business’s story.  Your branding is more than the colors in your logo.  A brand encompasses the products you offer, the services you provide, the environment you create, and the experience your patients have every time they come to your dispensary.  A designer will brand your space by weaving it together with your story, your target market, your product selection, your pricing, and your goals.

5.  Know thy customer.  And create the right environment for their needs.  If you take a good, hard look at the patients and customers who visit your shop over the course of a week, you may be surprised at who your average patient ends up being.  If we based the average patient profile on stereotypes, it would be easy to describe one as a male between the ages of 21 and 29.  In reality, women, baby boomers, and even seniors make up more of the patient population than most may think.  Despite the spending power of these demographic groups in our businesses, they have been largely left out of the marketing and advertising in the industry.  Other industries, like retail, hospitality, and restaurants, have been designing their locations to attract and serve the needs of these specific segments without alienating their other target markets for years, and our cannabis industry can too.

For more information on how interior design can enhance your customers’ experience, or to set up a consultation to begin your journey on The High Road, please contact us.