What Can a Quirky Barbershop Teach Us About Experience Design?

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Aug 20 2014, Posted by Lisa Cramer

Tucked away on a tiny street in Cabbagetown—a cozy Atlanta, GA neighborhood dating back to the 1800s—there is a small barbershop. Walking into this shop for the first time can be a bit intimidating given the neighborhood’s eclectic nature. But once inside, you are immersed in a sensory overload that quickly makes you forget your hesitations. The walls are covered with local art, vintage signs, hand-written notes, and tintype photography, and the music playing in the background continuously begs the question, “Who is this band?”. Skillful barbers tie the scene together, standing behind vintage chairs while warmly welcoming clients by name as the creaky front door constantly opens and closes. Admittedly this scene may not appeal to everyone, but this small shop has created an experience that is uniquely its own, capturing a few key elements universal to any business looking to design experiences that delight customers and increase their bottom line.

Authenticity is a two-way street

Many companies strive to create an authentic relationship with their customers, but sadly many fall short of a meaningful connection. I think this is due to the fact that they aren’t completely committed to the idea. Back at the barbershop, the waiting area might as well be your living room—you can relax, read a Popular Mechanics from the 60s or even grab a cold beer… yes, they’ll give you a beer while you wait! This place actually encourages clients to hang out even when they don’t have an appointment booked. Existentialist Jean Paul Sartre believed that authenticity is directly linked to personal freedom. So when customers are allowed the freedom to interact with a brand as they please, unexpected things will happen. Embrace the unexpected and open up your brand to a real, authentic relationship.

Throw away everything you don’t need

This barbershop does one thing really well—cut hair, that’s it. They experimented with straight-blade shaves for a little while and ultimately found that these shaves routinely conflicted with hair appointment priorities. So they got rid of them. I’m sure you could still get a shave if you asked, but shaves detract from what this place is known for. Your brand shouldn’t be known for too many things either. Removing products and services that are redundant or otherwise extraneous will only help sharpen your brand’s focus, freeing up resources that would be better spent on improving your core offering.

Don’t forget the human element

This part may seem pretty obvious, but its importance is too often overlooked. Everything you do should have a human element. Only recently, two years after opening the doors to the barbershop, did a fully functioning website with the ability to book appointments launch. Prior to this, clients had to pick up the phone and talk to a real person, ‘gasp’! Or worse, they had to walk into the shop itself to book a trim. While the new website has streamlined the appointment process, it has taken away an element of personal touch. Thankfully, clients can still expect a friendly follow-up confirmation phone call after hitting ‘send’. Every touchpoint your brand has with a customer must feel personal, even if there isn’t a one-to-one interaction taking place.

The takeaway? A refreshing experience and a culture of inclusion has resulted in a cult-like following by people who love getting their hair cut and pay a premium to do so. These people also proudly promote the shop via social media, and sometimes travel from three states away just to sit in a vintage barber’s chair… true story. By respecting the freedom that comes with authenticity, trimming away (pun intended) unnecessary offerings, and keeping people at the core of all they do, this quirky little barbershop has quickly become a center for community and a model for how good experience design equals good business.

This article was originally published in the Customer Experience Professional’s Association (CXPA) July Member Newsletter.
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