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Last weekend I was subject to various levels of customer experience while trying to source a single product. It was SO varied, I felt compelled to write about it!

And what was I buying? Carpet tiles.

(Ok, before ye go thinking I must be THE uncoolest person under 40 you know, there is a reason for buying them: I’m upgrading my static caravan. So, now you know I am actually the uncoolest person…)

Back to my customer experience. I identified several places, from DIY stores to specialist flooring places, near me in Edinburgh that were possible sources of carpet tiles. Names withheld to protect the innocent…

Customer experience 1: (pretty well-known DIY store. Quite orange.)
– has LOTS of carpet tiles in various colours, ready to buy
– …except, if you want those ones:
“Sorry luv, we don’t stock those ones anymore. They were discontinued a while ago.”
Riiight. Maybe take them off of your display then, hmmm? Just a suggestion.

Customer experience 2: (also a DIY store. Quite blue)
– easy to find. Unlike their carpet tiles in the shop!
– has a huge range of 3 colours of carpet tile (dark blue, mustard and grey, if yer interested.)
– shame no-one was that interested in helping me, namely because I wasn’t in to buy a kitchen.

Customer experience 3: (a carpet warehouse)
– difficult to find
– not bothered clearing snow from path leading to the door. Health and safety mindfield
– big sign on door demanding parents to practically ‘KEEP YOUR KIDS ON A LEASH’ (luckily, mine are at home gorging themselves helpfully on chocolate)
– dimly lit and with all the atmosphere of a portaloo: I immediately regret setting foot in the place.
Dude behind the counter looks annoyed at having to finish his conversation with his pal in order to acknowledge me, the only potential customer in the deathly place:
“Hi there, wonder if you can help. Do you sell carpet tiles?”
“Eh, naw.” <tumble weed rolls>
“Oh, okayyyyy… do you know of anywhere I might get some?”
“Naw. No-one buys ‘em anymore.”
Well, I do.
“Riiiight. Well, ok thanks for your help (!)”
I leave. And spend the next half an hour Googling places in Edinburgh, open on Sundays, that might sell carpet tiles. Call a few. (Yes, I know. Shoulda done that first.)

Customer experience 4: (another carpet warehouse)
– other side of town
– traditional kind of place
– absolutely heaving with customers
– even so, one chap acknowledges me with a smile, and says “I’ll be with you in a minute!”
“Hi there, wonder if you can help. Do you sell carpet tiles?”
“Aye we do – there’s some over there, and if you come with me here <wee walk> here’s samples of the range we can order in. I’ll leave you to it – let me know if you need some help.”

What a nice chap.

I select a sample doofer and ask how long it’ll take to order. “Up to a week. Tell you what though, why don’t you take that sample sheet home and check the colour’s ok, then give us a ring. Can I take your details?”
– Takes my details, I leave armed with a sample doofer and a smile, knowing full well I’m on a marketing database somewhere now, but that’s ok.

I also note the wee kids’ play area near the door that has plenty toys to keep the moppets amused while their tired parents browse. Genius idea – Place 3, take note!!

Customer experience 5: (interiors place, across the road from no4)
– looks pretty trendy, from the funky entrance to the wood-chip desks. If hipsters were running a carpet shop, it’d look like this
– it’s so achingly cool, I feel a bit embarrassed to ask but go for it anyway…

“Hi, I’m wondering if you sell something as boring as, uhm, carpet tiles?”

<He’s very excitable. Think he likes his job.>

– shows me some sample doofers (which are almost the same as the no4)
– I ask if I can take 2 sample doofers.

“HELL YEAH! For a deposit of £20 cash.”
“Ok. Fair enough! Not got cash on me though…”
“THAT’S OK! There’s a cash point just a hop skip and a jump away at that there Shell Garage!”

I pop over to the garage, get out my twenty quid and hop, skip jump back to the shop. It feels quite retro, handing over cash, and somewhat at odds with the modernity of the place. The lad takes my details and my twenty quid, and I leave armed with two more sample doofers and a resolve to go back and look more closely at the fabulous wallpaper they’ve got.

So, what did I learn from this Sunday?

Well. A few things:
a) sourcing carpet tiles is not as easy as I thought;
b) If your target audience is domestic and likely to have kids in tow, give your prospective customers somewhere to put the oiks! Gives customers a chance to browse your wares while containing the kids at the same time so they’re not wreaking havoc in your shop;
c) Even though we all might be selling the same widget or service as someone along the road, there is SO much room for differentiation, through our potential customers’ experience.

Update: (because I know you’re dying to know) …I’ve since bought a batch of tiles called hideously, ‘mustard’, and they look great!