Customer experience is not just about the interaction between a customer and a customer facing representative of a company. There’s a whole lot of stuff going on in the background which can really affect the experience and impact our decision making process, especially when it comes to travelling and being in new, unfamiliar environments. One key component of this background noise that I have been paying close attention to on my travels over the past few months is signage.
I asked Google the definition of the word ‘signage’ and have been informed that signage is ‘graphic designs, as symbols, emblems, or words, used especially for identification or as a means of giving directions or warning.’ This is certainly true. But what I have come to realise is that signs do way more than this. In many cases they are a window to the world and culture we have entered into. They allow us an insight into the mindset of that culture and the way they think… or the way they want others to think they think.
Take these signs I saw in Australia, one in a gift shop, one outside a Tourist Information Centre and the other when driving into the Daintree rainforest:
So it seems that Aussies are not afraid to speak the truth, are perhaps a little bit cynical and definitely know how to make you laugh (well I thought these were funny anyway). Needless to say, I got out of the gift shop pretty sharpish after seeing that sign.
The following sign at the entrance to a hotel I stayed at in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles also made me smile but in a different kind of way, especially after seeing an infomercial for a drug (think it was for hair loss) on TV. The majority of the advert in fact focussed on the risk factors of taking the drug making the idea of going bald seem like the more appealing option by far! If I’d have known this detail about the hotel in advance I may have looked into another option. Note the ‘tombstone’ shape of the sign!
Another personal favourite from Australia was noted at Cairns airport where signs directing passengers to go to the gate instruct them to ‘relax’ if the gate is not yet ready. Bizarrely, just seeing this sign did actually make me feel slightly more at ease at a time where I am typically frantically clock watching and panicking about not getting to the gate on time:
Signage when travelling can also be powerful when it comes to influencing our expectations of an experience. Take this sign I saw outside a wine bar in the West Village, New York:
First and foremost it’s telling me that I’m going to be drinking some nice, good quality wine. Perhaps on another level it’s not even about the wine, but in actual fact it’s telling me that the people who come to a place like this don’t take life too seriously and that I’m going to have a good time. Before I know it, I’ve made a mental note of this bar and put it on the list as a fun, quirky place to visit next time I’m in New York, imagining that I might get to observe or even chat to some interesting characters (unfortunately I was working at the time so wasn’t able to actually go in). That was my thought process anyway!
Signage shapes expectations in many other ways and the next example will be familiar to anyone who travels regularly…the kind of signage that tries to pre-assure (I think I just made up a word!) or reassure us that the decision we are about to make is the right one:
Seeing information like this at the entrance to a restaurant, café or ‘tourist trap’ essentially gives us permission to enter. It tells us that it’s ok to go in… it’s got the stamp of approval! It also raises a number of questions. Do we automatically like a place like this just because we know other travellers…other people in our situation…like it? To what extent is it creating a sense of false hope…raising our expectations and setting us up for a greater feeling of disappointment at the smallest mishap? And since these signs are now so commonplace, could it raise further questions, even concern around tourist destinations which have not had certification from the likes of Tripadvisor?
And finally, another common type of sign that will be familiar to travellers. Signs where the message has gotten lost in translation – or at least I hope that’s what happened with this sign I saw in Macau, otherwise I’m a little lost for words:
Next time you’re travelling pay close attention to the signage and how it shapes your experience. At the very least you are guaranteed to find something to make you smile as you recognise differences between the place you are visiting and where you are from. I know I’ll continue to document it so watch this space…