Previous installments in this series of articles examined how today’s competitive sales environment and constricted economy have impacted retail profits. Given these conditions, if you want to achieve a competitive edge, you should consider developing a strategy to staff your store with a team of experts who are the best in the industry. My suggestion is to build a Dream Team that is proficient in the three skills necessary to excel at sales:
- Mastering the fundamentals (product knowledge).
- Being a team player.
- ”Wowing” the crowd (customer service skills).
If you missed previous articles in this series, article links can be found at http://furninfo.com/Series/Gingrich
. In this segment we’ll focus on the importance of providing exceptional customer service or, what I call, “Wowing the Crowd”.
From the onset, establish store values that demonstrate the importance of providing exceptional service. Your store’s leadership must demonstrate commitment to this level of service. What we are talking about here is not garden variety customer service. You simply cannot expect team members to provide this superior level of service unless you hire exceptional candidates, train them to be the best and, reinforce the importance of superior customer service by modeling it.
Demonstrate your philosophy of consistently going above and beyond average customer service by exceeding your customers’ expectations. There are two key ways you can position your team to offer superior customer service. The first is by mastering the art of comprehensive communication. The second is offering something that is not offered elsewhere. An excellent way to do this is by creating a sales team that has an understanding of design fundamentals so that they have the capacity to be truly responsive to today’s design-oriented customer.
Let’s begin by discussing the importance of communication skills. Expert sales professionals are completely tuned into their customers. This means that they consistently practice all the elements of comprehensive communication including listening, acknowledging and delivering the right solution in response to customer’s inquiries and desires.
Commitment to communication means being focused on each customer with full attention. Full attention is difficult or impossible in retail environments where there are frequent distractions. In the November/ December issue we discussed how high functioning teams take steps to eliminate the possibility of drama and distractions.
When working with a customer, it is also essential for sales staff to have a working knowledge of communication styles. One of the most fundamental concepts of effective communication in the work environment and one that was discussed in the Product Knowledge segment of this seres, is making certain that the sales message is “customer-oriented”. This means not only communicating what is most important to customers, but also actively listening and communicating it in a way that he or she will best understand.
Coach Sales Professionals to leverage their listening skills.
Exercises for improving this skill can be incorporated into meetings. The importance of actively listening should also be made evident by management and leadership behaviors. Customers respond to being heard and they reward sales professionals and the store with loyalty and repeat business.
Part of ensuring the delivery of a customer-oriented message is an acute awareness of non-verbal communication. This is another aspect of giving full attention to each customer. For each and every customer interaction sales associates should ask the following questions.
- What is the body language and tone the customer is communicating?
- Am I responding appropriately to the customer’s body language?
- What is my personal demeanor adding to the exchange?
For example, if a customer is speaking quickly, moving quickly and gesticulating wildly, the sales professional will want to mirror the pace and intensity of those customers actions. Conversely, if the customer is more deliberate in his or her speech patterns and physical movements, the sales professional will need to adjust accordingly. Communication is most successful when the parties involved perceive each other as relatable or similar. Multiple web sites, books and professional workshops exploring this topic are easily found for incorporation into your sales education efforts.
The “SOFTEN” acronym is a useful tool for sales associates who need to attend to the basics of body language. I would love to credit the source but, for as long as it has been in my repertoire, I have never found the author. It is a great jumping off point for some constructive discussion.
Non-Verbal Communication Tips
A smile shows you are friendly and open to communication.
(O) Open Arms:
Crossed arms say “stay away” and “my mind is made up.” Open arms say “I’m available for contact and willing to listen. Come on over and talk to me.”
(F) Forward Lean:
Leaning forward slightly while another person is talking to you indicates interest on your part and shows you are listening. Take care not to violate someone’s “personal space” by getting too close, too soon. Be sensitive to their body language.
Pay special attention to the sound of your voice. Is the sound of your voice reinforcing the message you want to send? For example is your tone accurately portraying the enthusiasm or the seriousness your words should convey?
(E) Eye Contact:
Eye contact is the strongest non-verbal message. This indicates you are listening and interested in what they have to say. A fixed stare will be counterproductive while failure to make good eye contact can give the impression that you are uninterested or even dishonest.
A nod of your head indicates you are listening and understand what is being said. It sends a message: “I hear you, go on!”
The second element I include in this upper echelon of customer service is Design Skills. Today’s furniture customers have high expectations and are design-oriented. They are reading design magazines, watching HGTV, and scrolling through Houzz and Pinterest. Even customers that are unlikely to hire an interior designer are always looking for design guidance when it comes to making purchases for their homes. We are fortunate that in the furniture industry today, style is available at every pricepoint.
As discussed in the initial segment, exposure to fundamental design principles will boost the confidence level of your sales team and allow them to be much more responsive to customer needs. Design savvy sales professionals can help guide customers to good design and to make purchasing decisions beyond the sofa or the vignette as it is shown on the showroom floor.
Connecting with customers through design is a great way to deliver a personalized level of service and cement relationships. It’s not hard to exceed your customers’ expectations if you can provide decorating advice as well as complete design solutions for their rooms. Again, this will greatly increase the average sale, closing rates and generate significant referral business.
There are a variety of ways to incorporate Design Skills training into your sales environment. Here are 5 specific suggestions.
- Hire a Specialized Training Firm to provide on-site services.
- Utilize your interior design staff. If you have someone on staff with interior design training, make him or her responsible for helping to educate the rest of your team.
- Encourage Sales Professionals to take courses, read design magazines and watch design-oriented programs.
- Incorporate design-oriented education into the structure of weekly sales meetings.
- Involve manufacturers’ representatives. Invite them to share current trend and/or company information.
I challenge you to consider the overall experience from your customers’ perspective. What do they experience from the moment they drive up to the time they walk out your door?
If you truly want your business to succeed and exceed expectations it’s important to design, develop, and deliver a customer focused experience. When you aspire to over deliver and exceed expectations, your customers will become fans of your business and spread the word. Businesses that uphold the tradition of excellence in service not only stand apart from the competition, they earn customer loyalty and outshine their competitors, translating into increased revenue.
Your sales team is not much different than any sports team that wants to win. They need coaching to achieve continuous improvement. So, coach your team. Teach them the fundamentals. Set the conditions for them to become team players. Only then can your retail operation continually “wow” the crowd. These efforts have to be supported by a solid sales process as well as leadership that models the desired behavior and reflects the values of your organization. These efforts also require a commitment to ongoing education.
Furniture retailers ask a lot from their sales professionals. Managers must, therefore, ask much of themselves. The towering sporting franchises have a lot in common with the best retail brands. To achieve greatness, each must apply relentless recruiting, superior managing, patient effort and inspired coaching. For those who have the desire to be great and the guts to go forward in the face of tough market conditions and competitive challenges, the rewards can be huge in terms of profitability as well as creating a better work experience for yourself, your employees and customers.
Additional Body Language Resources
- The Definitive Book of Body Language by Barbara Pease.
- What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide to Speed-Reading People, by Marvin Karlins.
- The Power of Body Language: How to Succeed in Every Business and Social Encounter, by Tonya Reiman.
- Body Language For Dummies, by Elizabeth Kuhnke.
- Body Language 101: The Ultimate Guide to Knowing When People Are Lying, How They Are Feeling, What They Are Thinking, and More, by David Lambert.
- The Secret Language of Business: How to Read Anyone in 3 Seconds or Less, by Kevin Hogan.
Rene´Johnston-Gingrich is Vice President of Training Development for the Profitability Consulting Group, specializing in delivering the programs Design Trac: Design Skills for Retail Sales People and Sales Trac III: In Home Selling. Rene’ has owned and operated an interior design firm for 17 years and now works with organizations to ensure they have the best possible team environment.
Rene´ served as a regular columnist for The Lewiston Tribune Business Profile and is an adjunct faculty member of Lewis-Clark State College’s Business Division. Rene' has a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Interior Planning and Design and a Master’s Degree in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read other articles by Rene´Johnston-Gingrich