Stepping into your customers’ shoes can show you where you’re winning—and losing—business. We asked a trio of dance business owners to walk us through their customer journeys, and got tips from an expert on how to improve them.
Like any relationship, the one your business has with its customers requires more than just a good first impression. It requires upkeep—staying fresh in your customers’ minds, and continuing to prove to them why your business deserves their business.
That’s why understanding your customer-experience journey is a key part of a successful relationship. A customer’s journey—that is, each touchpoint a client might have with your company—will naturally be unique to your business, but the baseline formula might cycle like this: A potential customer learns about your business via word-of-mouth or advertising; they undergo a decision-making process, which leads to a purchase (or, say, enrollment); and, hopefully, they become repeat purchasers and brand ambassadors, providing word-of-mouth advertising to other potential customers.
According to Annette Franz, CEO of CX Journey Inc., a customer-experience strategy firm, the best customer-experience journeys demonstrate a clear understanding of who your customers are and usually involve soliciting feedback—even if it’s to learn why someone has decided to leave your sales funnel. These three business owners know their customers’ journeys inside-out, and Franz has ideas to help them convert drop-off customers into repeats.
Jon DeMott: President, The Dancewear Corner, Orlando, FL
In every interaction a customer might have with his retail store, DeMott emphasizes exemplary customer service. “Really, it’s just about being good humans,” he says. “You can buy Capezio tights at many places, but what you can’t get is the person who answers the phone, who’s smiling.” That approach, more than anything, is what he credits for Dancewear Corner’s success in getting customers to return for repeat business.
Pre-pandemic, a customer would likely first interact with Dancewear Corner via the store’s brick-and-mortar location. DeMott saw lots of foot traffic from dancers and their families who were traveling to Walt Disney World and the surrounding area for competitions and conventions.
Since COVID-19, however, customers likely experience the store first in the virtual space. Dancewear Corner has profiles on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube and Pinterest, with content and events curated for each channel’s main demographic. Popular experiences include Facebook Lives, where DeMott and staff members virtually share dancewear and accessories, and the store’s new Prima Shopping program, where customers receive a personalized virtual shopping experience.
In order to convert new customers into repeat business, DeMott implemented a rewards program, where shoppers earn five points for every dollar spent, and earn $10 in credit when their referrals make purchases.
He’s also successfully translated the store’s customer-service culture to the online space. DeMott and his team realized that when people purchased items online from Dancewear Corner, they weren’t getting to experience the customer-service reputation he’d worked so hard to cultivate. “We needed to let them know what Dancewear Corner is. We’re a couple of families—everyone who works here is a current or former dancer,” he says. Now, he includes some history about the business in emails to customers and devotes significant time to personalization, sending individualized emails to many first-purchase or second-purchase customers. “It’s a lot of work—I communicate with hundreds of people directly—but it’s made a huge difference,” he says.
The expert’s take:
DeMott’s emphasis on the human factor of customer service that Dancewear Corner can provide is right on track, says Franz. “In a day and age where products and services are becoming more commoditized, experience is the true differentiator—I like that this business is saying ‘We’ve got to get this right,’” she says.
Franz cautions against focusing too heavily on acquisition, however. “You have to focus on doing the things that will keep your customer there—it’s about understanding who they are and why they shop at this retailer and not another one,” she says. “And if they’re not returning, what’s wrong? What’s missing?” She suggests implementing a feedback-collecting step in the business’ customer-experience journey—for those who eventually convert to regular customers as well as those who drop off.
Chasta Hamilton: Owner, Stage Door Dance Productions, Raleigh, NC
Hamilton thinks of her dance studio’s client interactions as operating in three different phases: pre-studio, in-studio and a culmination/retention cycle. “Pre-studio would include everything a customer might hear from us before they enter the building,” she says. “Branding, digital messaging, social media, word-of-mouth, how their email is answered, how our phones are answered—the intake process.”
The in-studio part of their experience demonstrates that the facility is clean; that the staff is friendly; that every child is seen and heard, receiving equal instruction and attention in a nurturing way; that faculty follow a standardized curriculum and protocols.
In the culminating phase, customers see how a season of studio instruction wraps up, with a focus on progress and goal achievement. “How do the shows or experiences we create make our clients feel?” asks Hamilton. “Is that going to be powerful enough to make sure we’re retaining them year after year?”
A new student might discover Stage Door via the studio’s upcoming referral campaign, in which current clients can recommend the studio to a friend by sharing a link to sign up for a complimentary trial class. (If the friend enrolls in a class, each party receives a $10 tuition credit.)
After completing a short information intake at the link, Stage Door staff would get in touch about scheduling the trial class and, closer to the class date, studio policies. “Right now, there’s more backend communication—our COVID safety protocols, dress code, how to do drop-off and pickup, the instructor’s and administrator’s names, how to communicate with us if they want to confirm their enrollment,” says Hamilton. “But when they arrive, they feel informed.” Parents also receive a link to sign up for a remote-viewing app, which allows them to watch the class from their personal device.
When the student arrives to take class, the instructor is ready to welcome the family by their names. “Hopefully, the dancer has a wonderful time, and, at the end, the teacher will give honest feedback about how they did,” says Hamilton. An administrator will try to catch the family as they prepare to leave, or follow up via phone call or email. Stage Door’s entire leadership team has access to project management system software, monday.com, to monitor which families convert to enrollees and which don’t. If the family chooses not to enroll, their name is added to a list of people to reach out to again in six months, whether to schedule another trial or simply check in.
The expert’s take:
“I love that this owner thinks about the customer experience in three different phases—pre-studio, especially,” says Franz. “A lot of companies don’t think about that: The experience actually starts before the customer reaches out to you, when they’re doing research.”
One idea to consider would be developing personas, or categories, for different customers, says Franz. “Different students have different needs and end goals, and you can develop services based on those end goals,” she says. “Then it’s about getting those services out up front, as a good sales tool. If someone’s doing a studio search and looking for a studio that’s going to help them do x, they’ll know ‘OK, this studio does that.’”
Molly Ellis: COO, Footlights Dance & Theatre Boutique, Frederick and Silver Springs, MD
Footlights aims for a customer experience that completely centers on, well, the customer—down to predicting their needs and making every step in their journey feel seamless. “Shopping in person or online should feel easy, customized and welcoming,” says Ellis, “and it should leave an impression of professionalism.”
Most Footlights customers fall into one of two categories: legacy shoppers or new shoppers. “A legacy shopper is someone who knows us from a generational shopping experience,” says Ellis. “They shopped here as a child, and now they bring their own kids in. They’ll regularly interact with us on social media, share our information to new parents and groups, and stick to grassroots shopping patterns.” New shoppers either find Footlights online (most often by Googling “nearest dance store,” Ellis says) or have the store recommended to them by the dance studio they attend.
As part of the intake process, customers answer questions online about what they’re looking for—a new Footlights offering, courtesy of the pandemic, which necessitated that the store offer appointment shopping. Staff then uses that information to prep for the customer’s appointment. “Customers feel special and taken care of,” says Ellis, “since we aren’t relying on the broad strokes of ‘We have everything.’”
Outside of pointe shoe repeat customers—a steady stream of revenue for Footlights—Ellis saw a drop-off in returning customers’ attention to email marketing during the pandemic. When the business switched to a new point-of-sale system and website design near the start of 2021, she remedied this drop-off by using a rewards-related approach to customer communication. Now, new online shoppers receive a thank-you discount code to use immediately on their first purchase, as a perk of subscribing to Footlights’ email/SMS promotional systems. The SMS service sends auto-generated messages (designed to feel personalized) to customers that remind them of their expiring reward points and exclusive coupons, as a way to retain repeat sales.
If a customer’s first shopping experience occurs in-store, Ellis says they usually have done little to no research on Footlights’ brand—which translates to an unexpected wow-factor response. “They’re often impressed with the inventory selection and the professional touch to each product,” she says, “when initially they thought they’d be fitting themselves or left to guess at what they need.”
The expert’s take:
Ellis’ instinct to sort shoppers into two distinct, named categories is a good one, says Franz. “Creating these personas to really understand different customers and their needs is critical to designing and delivering an experience that meets customer expectations,” she says.
When it comes to Footlights’ drop-off in repeat customers, Franz suggests asking for feedback as a research practice, to give them a persona of their own. “Who are they? Why aren’t they buying again? What are their goals? Their expectations?” she asks. A rewards program won’t necessarily solve a drop-off issue. “Rewards are about trying to retain customers, but if the experience isn’t what they expect—if they aren’t solving what they came to you to solve—then rewards won’t make a difference.”
Rachel Rizzuto reports on studio business for Dance Teacher and is a third-year MFA student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.