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A Quiet Revolution.

 In Uncategorized

It’s been a week of turmoil for the British High Street – BHS finally crashing, Austin Reed taking a fatal tumble – but in the midst of all the gloom comes one story that shows that it is possible to see your business from the eyes of your customers, even in such uncertain times.
A new consumer champion.
All hail Simon Lea. OK, you’re allowed to ask “who?” just this once. From now on remember that name because Mr Lea, manager of Asda Living in Cheetham Hill, Manchester, has done something rather special. After watching an autistic customer struggle to negotiate the sensory onslaught that is a trip to your nearest superstore, Simon started touting the idea of a ‘quiet hour’ – a time when the store would open without background noise, tannoy announcements, escalators or display TVs blaring out into the aisles. Staff are also going to be handing out maps of the store that use pictures instead of words to let customers know where to find products.Autism Spectrum Disorders can affect different people in different ways, but sensory overload is a common theme, with hypersensitivity to stimuli such as noise, smell and sights, affecting most people who are diagnosed with the condition. And autism is much more common than you probably think, with 1 in 100 of us affected by it. If you include families and carers, that’s 2.8 million people in the UK who struggle to access the ‘normal’ shopping experience offered in our country. When you look at it like that, it’s about time something was done about it – and that’s where Simon stepped in.

The response Simon got to his suggestion was incredible and from next week, customers with autism and other disabilities that make shopping an overwhelming experience can enjoy browsing and spending their hard-earned readies in an environment that meets their needs.

Small change, big difference.

Practically, what Simon has done means that more customers can access his store and spend their money, which makes great business sense – but his quiet hour is about much more than that. For the sake of just 60 minutes each week, Asda have made a whole new cohort of customers feel valued and welcome – and it puts the business in a very good light indeed!

Customers like to use businesses that reflect their own value-base – and as we all like to be seen as one of the good guys, other shoppers are more likely to want to support the store over its nearby rivals. The store looks the same, the branding is exactly as it was last week, but the local community now sees Asda Living at Cheetham Hill in a totally different way – massive brownie points all round!!!

So what can I do?

First up, make like Simon. The idea of a quiet hour came to him after watching – and then helping – the mum of an autistic boy who was struggling to cope with the store’s environment. After he’d calmed the young chap down, Simon talked to his mum about what it was like to shop with someone who lives with autism. And so the idea was born.

I like to think of it this way – Mr Lea didn’t judge the woman for having an ‘unruly child’, he took the time to find out what was going on and if there was anything he could do to help. So take some time to observe your customers – without judging them my TMP Faithful – and figure out what it’s really like for them to navigate your business. They may be elderly, have a disability, or have a tribe of restless kids in tow. Whatever it is, see your business through their eyes. What does it look like – and is there anything you can do to make it work better for them?

It’s what I train my consumer research consults to do – see what it’s really like to navigate your business at all its touchpoints; face-to-face, online or on the phone. The Monachie Project gives you a view of your organisation that you’ve never considered before – and the rewards for all concerned can be immense. But for now, let’s give Simon Lea the last word. “I’ve had customers from all over the country ring me to say they think it’s a great idea, as well as managers from other businesses who are planning to do the same thing” he says. Now that’s the start of a quiet revolution my friends.

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