The View from Across the Street

On my way home I often have to stop at the same set of traffic lights. The first time I was stuck at those lights, my attention was caught by an unusual sign. It said UTCHE.

That confused me momentarily. I thought, “What is UTCHE? – is it a surname in a foreign language – maybe something Germanic? Is it a brand name? Or a type of shop?”

These questions flashed through my mind almost instantaneously. There was that moment of confusion, of novelty. A bit like when you wake up in a hotel room and you’re not sure where you are for a moment. And then I realised what was going on. The sign used to say BUTCHER. But the letters B and R had fallen off.

Now, when the letters first fell off, the butcher probably noticed. Even if he didn’t, someone almost certainly came into the shop and said, “Oi, Mate. The letters have fallen off your sign.” And the butcher really meant to get the sign fixed. But he was busy. He procrastinated. A few days went by and he didn’t get round to it. Pretty soon he stopped noticing that sign at all.

Now if the butcher crossed the street and looked at his shop from the other side, the way it would appear to a prospective customer, then: WHAM! It would hit him in the face. It would be a really clear signal that he could use to better run his business.

But he walks by it every day and isn’t even aware of it. He’s not aware that it’s putting prospective customers off. And so his business bumbles along.

I’m not having a go at that butcher. It’s easy to have this sort of thing happen. We probably all have similar things at home: a toilet roll holder that fell off, a scratch on a floor, a bent light shade you meant to replace, an urgent post-it note on a computer screen (that’s been there for 3 months).

You see these things, in the sense that the light hits your retina, but you no longer perceive them. It’s very human. It can also be kind of convenient. After all, if we don’t perceive it, we don’t have to address it…

How many of these signals are we missing – at home or in our businesses? It’s really hard to say. Unless you can somehow figure out a way to take the perspective you get “on the other side of the street” – the prospective customer’s point of view – you will be oblivious to these things.

Andy’s Advice: Seek out the elusive obvious. Find ways to see your business the way your customers or clients do. Depending on what business you are in, you could try and order something from your website, call your customer service or tech support people with a query, or visit one of your locations where you won’t be recognised and watch: Are customers receiving attentive service, or are staff crowding round a smartphone looking at videos? You’re looking for overlooked insights – good as well as bad – which would make a real difference if people started paying attention to them.

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