Much of what we see in art and architecture is symbolic. We see the use of certain colors and symbols to express a feeling, establish presence, or make a statement. These same messages can be seen in furniture design, especially traditional furniture. In studying the meaning of certain pieces of art or architecture, and even furniture detail, there is much we can learn. In this article, I would like to discuss some of the lessons in customer care we can learn from one specific design motif.
The pineapple is one of the most recognizable motifs in furniture design and a widely recognized symbol of hospitality and the symbolic design I want to discuss. The work itself is iconic, but what I would like to suggest is that we look to the meaning behind this design and discuss what it can teach us about how we treat our customers and how we can provide them with the best possible service. First, a little history.
It is believed that American colonists began importing pineapples from the Caribbean in the 17th century. Because of this fruit’s exotic qualities and rareness, the pineapple soon became a symbol of hospitality in early America. The trade routes between America and Caribbean islands were often dangerous and slow, making the fruit a rare commodity. Typically, only very wealthy individuals had access to this delicacy.
During this time, much pomp and circumstance surrounded the featuring of a pineapple in beautiful displays designed to impress guests. It is even rumored that the fruit could be rented to use in a display for a gathering or event and later returned or sold to someone else. If guests were offered this fruit, it was considered a very special treat.
There are also many stories of New England sea captains who, upon returning from trade routes in the Caribbean or Pacific, would place a pineapple outside their homes to symbolize their safe return.
Since that time, this symbol of hospitality has been used in a variety of different ways. The pineapple symbol was used frequently in the 18th and 19th centuries to decorate furnishings as well as accessories associated with entertaining.
Today we continue to see carved pineapples incorporated into architecture and commonly used as decorative elements on furnishings. We often see them used as lamp finials, atop four-poster beds and the pineapple image on fabrics and prints. I would argue however, that displaying this symbol of hospitality is not the same as displaying the actions and behaviors that truly define hospitality.
In all customer interactions, being hospitable plays a crucial role. It is your responsibility as a business owner or manager to make sure you create a hospitable customer experience. Doing this will benefit your business by developing satisfied and loyal customers. There are effective techniques that we can pass on to your sales team to ensure that type of experience transpires. These techniques parallel how you treat guests in your home. We will explore these techniques as well as related educational opportunities to help employees enhance those skills.
Below are three key areas we can focus on to ensure we are being hospitable to our valued furniture customers.
1. Be Present.
With your hectic days and multiple distractions you can easily forget the fundamental concept of being present when interacting with customers. This means focusing completely on the interaction, tuning in, actively listening. In order to accomplish this, you and your staff must temporarily tune out all of the other items bouncing around in your brains as well as all of the other activities going on in the store. When you practice this, you demonstrate your interest and the customer feels seen, heard, respected and appreciated.
It is also incredibly important that your sales team understand that the customer is always the priority. They need to be trained to recognize the importance of giving them their full attention. They need to know that it is not only okay, but important and expected that they put down the report (pillow, phone, etc.) and completely focus on the customer standing in front of them.
2. Set the Stage.
When throwing a dinner or holiday party you are essentially striving to create a memorable experience for your guests. We can apply that same concept to your furniture showrooms. View the experience through your customers’ eyes. What do they see? Smell? How does the store make them feel? How does the interaction make them feel? Was it memorable? Today’s furniture customer is looking for more than a transaction; they are looking for the total buying experience.
Shopping for furniture is aspirational especially at this time of the year. Customers are heading into our stores with visions of holiday gatherings (it really is that time again) in their heads. You want to make sure your store is merchandised in a way that allows you to capitalize on the opportunity to meet those needs.
3. Furniture Sales Training and Development:
Have team members walk the floor as if they were the customer seeing it for the first time. Ask them to report on what they see and how it makes them feel.
4. Impress them Coming and Going:
Remember that we make the biggest impression on your customers when they first walk in, and again when they are leaving your establishment. If you look at this interaction through the lens of treating a customer in your business the same way you would treat a guest in your home, the pattern becomes pretty clear. At home you greet your guest, escort them to where they need to go, and offer them something to drink when appropriate. A great time to do this in your store is when you sit down to sketch with a customer. Finally, when your house guest or customer is ready to leave, you walk them to the door and let them know you appreciate that they took the time to stop by.
Be sure to end the interaction on a positive note. Whether you are walking out with the paperwork for a major purchase, coming back for a scheduled appointment or heading out empty-handed, you want them to leave with a great impression of your store and its people.
5. Training and Development:
Invite members of your sales team to brainstorm different strategies for making the customer feel cared for. Share and discuss how to best implement those strategies.
As with so many behaviors, exuding hospitality is an expectation that you need to clearly communicate to your employees - throughout the store, front to back. You have to model this behavior, in other words, the philosophy and value of providing exceptional customer service has to come from the top. These simple techniques can have a significant impact on your business. Demonstrating hospitality, showing customers respect, graciousness, and appreciation, will benefit your customers, team members, the bottom line, and will allow you to display that pineapple proudly.
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.
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