What can Mongolian hospitality, the post office in Antarctica, and a Belgian pommes frites chef teach you about growing your business?
Well, you could take the long way around to the answer by dusting off your passport, selling everything you own, and wandering the world for the next two years.
But, to save you the awkward family questions we got from doing that very thing (You want to do what?!), I’ve boiled it down for you into a quick, 3-part series of lessons from around the globe.
Lace up your walking shoes, strap your camera around your neck, and open your guidebook. The tour starts now …
1. Welcome your customers
The tradition of “guest rights” in Mongolia dates back from the time of Genghis Khan, and it doesn’t matter if you are a family member or a complete stranger.
When you arrive at a ger (yurt), the matriarch will offer you a seat along with a steaming hot bowl of salty milk tea and a plate of dried cheese curds. The eldest man of the family will offer male visitors a bit of snuff from a bottle he keeps nestled in the inside pocket of his traditional deel robe.
If it is summertime and you look like the least bit of fun, you might even be offered some airag, or fermented mare’s milk laced with vodka, to while away the evening.
It can be disorienting as a non-Mongolian to stay in a ger the first time, what with the Gobi Desert looming outside your door and sharing space with husky nomads in traditional garb.
You don’t speak the same language. Customs, food, and even the basics like finding the bathroom are unexpected (it’s behind the big rock out back).
This is when the welcoming traditions are even more valuable, at least from a visitor standpoint. To be shown where to go, what to do, and how to chew those crusty-hard cheese curds without breaking a tooth allows a visitor to relax enough to appreciate the breathtaking beauty of the Mongolian countryside.
It works the same with your website. When someone is coming to you for help, it means they don’t know how to do it themselves. Your expertise is as foreign to them as Mongolia, and it is up to you to welcome them and reassure them their needs will be met.
- Welcome visitors with a clear, plain English statement on what your business does so they know they are in the right place.
- Offer your new visitors a “Start Here” page with useful articles, a description of how to get the help they need, and the easiest ways to engage with you and your brand.
- Demystify yourself by creating an engaging “About” page with a picture or video instead of your logo. People want to do business with those they know, like and trust. They need to see your face or know something personal about you to start the process.
After having tasted it myself, I would not recommend you offer them fermented mare’s milk. At least not if you want them to come back.
Case Study: LearnVest, a financial site for women, has a ‘How LearnVest Works’ button to show the new visitor exactly what to expect and how to make the best use of the site’s tools and courses. The clear, uncluttered look is soothing to someone who arrives from their search already worried about money.
2. Manage customer expectations
When we arrived at the world’s furthest outpost of mail delivery last March, it was a balmy 2 degrees Celsius. Penguins were milling about, and we could easily see the black building with bright red trim against the snow and ice of Antarctica.
This British post office at Port Lockroy boasts a small museum and sells postcards and stamps so you can send dorky messages to your friends and family back home.
How long do you think it takes a postcard to go from Antarctica to North America?
This is the kind of question a customer wants to know. We were told by the postmaster it might be as long as 9 months, since the summer was ending and the ice pack would likely prevent another ship from picking up the mail again for 6-8 months.
Armed with that information, we sent postcards and joked about them arriving just in time for Christmas. Guess what? They did! The experience all the way around was enjoyable, despite the fact that my mom didn’t get to see the cute penguin postcard until we were traveling in sunny Thailand.
Longer delivery times, disruptions in service, and potential issues should always be discussed up front with your new customers. So should the basic steps in doing business with you.
- State clearly what will happen after someone clicks “buy” or “subscribe” on your website, including a link for troubleshooting. Don’t make them dig for the information after they are already frustrated.
- Tell readers exactly what to expect in terms of when your newsletter comes out, how often you post new articles, and what to expect from engaging with you. If you send a daily email and they expect monthly, you’ll see a lot of unsubscribes.
- Let customers know the best ways to reach you or your customer service department, in descending order. You don’t want a dissatisfied client tweeting when you don’t tweet, or leaving voicemail when you expect email.
Case Study: Amazon is the leader in this method. You find out exactly what will happen when you buy a product, how it can be delivered (and when), a link for troubleshooting, and the bonus tip of offering related products for purchase at checkout. Remember, you don’t have to set this all up yourself. We publish our books through Amazon and let them expertly handle distribution and delivery, something we struggled to manage when selling books on our own. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, especially if it isn’t your expertise to begin with.
3. Limit your expertise
“Chez Antoine” is little more than a hut on a small square, a destination for anyone in Brussels looking for the best in Belgian frites (please don’t call them French fries!).
The line forms early and extends out into the street. The smell of frying potatoes is intoxicating, and as each satisfied customer walks away with his paper cone of Belgian frites, the hungry people still in line stare longingly.
Some of them will wait up to an hour, getting antsy when they discover the person in front of them is ordering 2 dozen for a party. Yes, in Brussels there is such a thing as a ‘frite run.’
In a city where hundreds of restaurants and stands offer fried potatoes, Chez Antoine stands out because they are the focus of his business, not just a standard menu item.
He specializes in the “double fry” preparation of pommes frites, even having a window dedicated to frites-only customers because of their popularity. At his restaurant, your burger or sandwich is the side to your pommes frites.
People are more likely to buy from you when they see you as an expert at one thing and not a jack of all trades.
- Make it clear from the first glance at your website what you are about and who you can help. Readers should feel like you ‘get’ their needs from the start or allow them to move on if they aren’t a good fit.
- Be consistent in your messaging so people will know who you are and what you do.
- Spell out who is best served by your various offerings of this one overall thing so people can find exactly what they need. Make it ridiculously easy.
The scent of Antoine’s frites wafting from your site would probably speed the buying process, too.
Case Study: Cheeseweb is a site for English-speaking expats living in Belgium. They don’t pretend to be experts at 20 different destinations, but they do know all the best things to do, see, and eat in and around this surprisingly diverse country — including a stop at Chez Antoine for frites.
Today our tour took us to Antarctica, Belgium, and Mongolia, and your souvenirs include:
- Welcome your customers like a Mongolian nomad. The traditional deel and snuff are optional, but the hospitality and ‘I’ll take care of you’ message are essential.
- Manage customer expectations like a postmaster in a parka. Tell people what to expect and when and you’ll have a higher click-through rate.
- Limit your expertise like an egomaniac chef with a basket of potatoes. Shout out your specialty and become known as ‘the person’ for what you do. Don’t get caught up trying to be everything to everyone because you can’t.
Being an entrepreneur on the road is no easier or harder than doing it from your home office, but it does provide more colorful examples of the business lessons all around us.
Now that you’re back at home, you can continue your lessons in your own backyard (or, from your couch).
When looking for ways to improve your business, think of the times you feel most relieved, welcomed, entertained or helped in your everyday life. You might not be going to a Mongolian ger anytime soon, but you just might learn a great lesson about service from the manager at your local Mongolian BBQ restaurant.
Join me on our next tour in a couple weeks as we take a few lessons from ancient ruins, South American beauty salons, and Asian food carts.
Do you have any great travel experiences that inform your business practices? If so, let me know in the comments!