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Old Tech: Your Telephone!

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 147 NO.4 November/December


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One old easy-to-use technology still endures, and indeed thrives. Here's how to make it pay!


Over the last couple of decades we have seen a great many of the latest, hottest new technologies blaze upon the business world and then quietly burn out when some newer, hotter technology replaced it. However, one very ancient technology still endures, and indeed, thrives. It is so old that my great-grandmother used it when she was young! This technology is, of course, the telephone.

While the old, wooden-box phone that grandma used is unrecognizable to today’s smart-phone-obsessed millennials, its primary function is still the same; which is to directly communicate with someone you cannot see from a distance greater than you can shout.

But, so much for the history lesson. What we want to talk about in this article is how to properly use the phone for the benefit of your business; and, how to improve any stone-age phone practices that still persist in your retail operation.

It’s The Tone Of Voice

During this essay, I will reference several points I found in an Internet article from Kizer & Bender called, “The Lost Art of Answering the Telephone,” dated April 8, 2013. In the aforementioned article, the writer describes research which suggests that face-to-face communication is much different than telephone communication. To quote, “When face-to-face, we pick up 55 percent of our cues from body language, 38 percent from tone of voice, and just 7 percent from the actual spoken words. But, over the telephone, 86 percent of a caller’s cues come directly from the tone of voice, and just 14 percent from words used.” The article also says callers develop their first impression of a business in just four to six seconds, mostly based on the TONE of voice of the person answering the phone.

Phone Etiquette

The following points were adapted from the article cited in the last paragraph. They are useful reminders.

1. Answer the phone within three rings: Many callers will hang up if the phone rings half a dozen times or more. If a real person cannot answer within three rings, you might consider installing voice mail with an inviting message.

2. Have a standard phone greeting: First and foremost, remember, you are a pro! Stop, smile and adopt a friendly, pleasant tone of voice for the caller, no matter what kind of mood you are in.
We’ve all heard lengthy, upbeat phone greetings that sometimes are so long that they can become annoying. “Good morning, it’s a great day to be alive and having fun here at Wonderful World of Waterbeds here in Central Plaza Shopping Center. My name is Melinda! How can we help you sleep better today?” I’m sometimes so distracted by the greeting I forget why I called. The point is, having a standard greeting takes the suspense and uncertainty from having to interrupt what you are doing to answer the phone.

3. Several things can happen when you answer the phone:

  • Callers On hold. Nobody likes to be put on hold, and especially nobody likes to wait for a long time on hold. According to one company that specializes in messages-on-hold, 85 percent of on-hold callers will wait IF there is an informative message being played while they wait. This hold time is a great way to educate the caller about products, advertising, location and other amenities of the store. The possibilities for an on-hold message are endless. If you choose music, use instrumental music and preferably neutral (how about classical?) music that does not loop through the same piece over and over again. So much of today’s on-hold pop music is just downright offensive to many people.
  • Connecting Callers. Don’t just put a caller on hold and hope the person you put them through to answers. Try to locate the person called, inform them that they have a call waiting, and then get back to the caller and introduce them to the person.
  • Not Available. Tell the caller if a person is unavailable or out of the office. Ask to take a message for him or her. If the called person has voice mail, offer to connect the caller with the voice mail system.
  • Take A Message. Keep a telephone message book by all in-house telephones. For every caller, record the caller’s name, telephone number, and the reason for the call. Don’t forget to record WHO the call was intended for, if it applies. Repeat name spelling and phone number back to the caller to make sure no errors were made in writing the message.
  • End A Call. Be sure to end every conversation pleasantly. Understand the purpose of the call and respond accordingly. Do this by writing down immediately any information you need to complete the caller’s request.

You can visit the Kizer & Bender's website at www.kizerandbender.com for more detail.

Make That Incoming Call Work For You

 

Beyond the basic principles of simple phone etiquette, the phone has the potential to be a powerful sales tool for the RSA and the store.

Let’s say that somewhere out in the big city, a person needs new furniture. He picks up the phone and somehow gets your store. He may not even be sure which store he is calling; he just needs information from a real person.

You, the RSA, answers. Don’t forget, smile (this helps bring on a good mood), adopt a pleasant tone of voice, and give your upbeat, standard phone answer.



Note that this is very much like the "Meet and Greet" when you are working the showroom floor. After the greeting, begin the Qualifying Step, just as you would if the customer was standing in front of you. Only this time, the caller is far more influenced by your TONE of voice than your body language or actual words.

1. Find out why the caller is calling. There can be many reasons.

  • • To inquire about new furniture
  • To complain about old furniture
  • To check on status of an order

This list could go on and on but, on this particular call, he wants to know about dining room suites. Have a writing instrument and note pad available to write down what the caller is saying. Read my article on qualifying questions at http://www.furninfo.com/Authors/David%20Benbow/37.

2. Identify yourself. Explain what you can do to help. Also, identify the store. He may have just grabbed your store at random from the Yellow Pages or an on-line list.

3. Make sure callers know how to get to your store. Give him the address and nearest major cross streets. I don’t care if he has GPS. That device is not always correct and has been known to misguide travelers. Tell him what the store looks like and point out distinguishing features and neighbors. Remember, a lot of furniture stores congregate together in a geographic area. Don’t go to all this work just to earn a customer for a store down the street.

4. Give the caller an incentive to come see you. Unless you are authorized to give some special discount, the best way to impress the caller is to dazzle him with your superior knowledge and helpfulness. I have found that people who call multiple stores usually wind up going to the one where they got the best treatment and the most useful information.

5. Put yours and your store’s best foot forward. SELL yourself and the store. Any positive features and benefits of the store should be spelled out including: best price guaranteed, free same day delivery, easy access from the freeway, lots of parking, air conditioned, always in stock, late store hours, and so on.
Sell yourself by showing yourself to be a professional who knows his merchandise and knows how to solve the caller’s furniture problem. Professionalism really does stand out over the phone. So does amateurism.

6. Create urgency if possible. Give the caller a compelling reason to come to your store to see you.

7. Get the caller's contact information: Quite often, when someone calls a store for information about new home furnishings, the RSA receiving the call must do some research to answer the caller’s question. Always get the caller’s name, phone number and e-mail so that you can follow up with a detailed, helpful response.

8. Make an appointment with the caller, if possible. Do everything possible to lock in the caller as your customer. Maybe then, she will ask for you when she comes in the store.

Treat callers the same way you would treat a walk-in customer. Qualify, qualify! Find out why they are calling. Remember, you can’t really select, demonstrate or close sales over the phone. But you can qualify. Make them want to come into the store to become customers.

Try not to give simple yes or no answers to questions. Respond to statements and questions by asking your own questions. Remember, the only way to get the information you need is by asking questions.

 

Don’t Rush

Here's a scenario that will kill any chance of a sale for this RSA or the store, now and forever. Sad to say, this type of phone exchange happens thousands of times a day in retail stores all across this great country.

RSA: (a bit rushed and irritated at being interrupted by the phone) “ABC Furniture!”

Caller: “Do you have bed frames?”

RSA: (sighs) “Of course we have bed frames, we’re a furniture store.”

Caller: “Do you have those "beds in a box?"

RSA: (now really annoyed) “Nah, we don’t have that TV stuff.”

Caller: “Oh, well, thank you for the help.”

Making Calls

 

There are many reasons for an RSA or Sales Manager to make calls to customers or prospective customers. The same rules of etiquette apply when making calls. Again, tone of voice is still paramount even if this is the fifteenth time you’ve talked to them on the phone. Never forget, people can be easily offended with the slightest tone change in a caller’s voice.

Follow-up is the number one reason most RSAs call customers. If a caller wants more information, don’t make a follow-up call before doing all the necessary research. Don’t delay doing the research. If you wait a couple of weeks or even a few days, your prospect will probably become somebody else’s customer.
For the customer who requires follow up on an item that has not yet been delivered, I recommend calling the customer at least once a week. Even if you don’t have any new information, this kind of attention tends to keep customers happy with the knowledge that you are on top of an order she’s anxiously awaiting.

Prospecting is another reason to make phone calls. This is a related subject, but it's important to mention it, since prospecting is a task most retail salespeople should, but rarely do.

I discovered a principle many years ago while working retail. When you make a call and get an answering device, leave ONLY your name, phone number, and your furniture store’s name. Do NOT leave detailed information, even if it is GOOD news. Make the customer call you back to get the information. Don’t leave it on the answering machine. You never know how the customer will respond to your message, good or bad. It is better to have the customer on the phone with you when you break any news. That way, any unforeseen reaction can be handled without simmering and waiting for the outburst when the customer calls back.



When calling a customer back, use one of the store’s phone lines. That way, the customer recognizes the source of the call, and is more likely to answer. If you want a customer to have your cell phone number, you can give it to them later.

Price Shoppers

This is a tough one, and for good reason. The caller has no point of reference to compare the many confusing responses he will get from each store. And you always have that low-ball artist that will beat any price no matter what. A second problem with this is the fact that many (especially mattress) manufacturers re-name models having the same specs to protect retail customers against price shopping. The mattress you carry may have the same construction as the model in the store down the street, but it will have a different name and cover. Even if the RSA knows the equivalent models in the other stores, it is not easy to explain this to a caller.

Some callers are just trying to find out the cheapest mattress you have. Don’t write off these calls as a waste of time. I’ve seen incoming customers demanding to see the advertised $199 queen who wind up buying the $1999 model.

When I get a price shopper call, I respond as follows;

RSA: “Ma’am, have you called other stores about their prices?”
Caller: “Yes.”

RSA: “Do you mind if I ask which deal sounds the best, so far? The reason I ask is, our store guarantees the best price on any comparable model.”

Caller: “The one at MNO was the best at $299.”

RSA: “Have you actually seen that mattress?

Caller: “No, it just sounded better on the phone, and the price was good.”

RSA: “Ma’am, we do guarantee the best price on all our merchandise, so I’m confident that we’ll beat anybody else’s price on a comparable product. Unfortunately, some advertised prices that seem so good on the phone, may be a disappointment when you actually see them in the store. Do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions about what you need in a new bed?” Without waiting for her permission, begin asking your questions.

This technique gives you a chance of gaining a customer. If all you do is throw out a price over the phone without any further information, you can bet somebody down the street will beat it and the caller will never call you again.



 Do You Carry Big S Brand?

Let's say a caller wants to know if you carry the Big S brand he saw down the street, trying to compare prices and maybe specs. There are two possible one word answers to this question. Yes or no. Either one is the wrong answer.

In responding to this caller’s question, the first thing out of the RSAs mouth should be, “Ma’am. Big S is a fine product. Do you mind if I ask why you are calling about that particular brand?” You can’t always tell from her tone of voice, whether the caller loves or hates Big S. They might have a Big S that they hate and they can’t get another dealer to do anything about it.

Whether or not your store carries Big S, wait for the caller’s response before committing. Use questions like the following to find out why they are asking about Big S.

  • “Do you currently sleep on a bed made by that company?”
  • “In your shopping, have you found a bed that you like that is manufactured by that company?

From questions like these, the RSA may be able to tell how determined the customer is to buy Big S. Remember, if the customer was that sold on Big S, she would have already bought.

If you do not carry the product she called about, point out that your store has an impressive selection of famous brands in the price range she is inquiring about and that, if she will come into the store, you will point out all the features and benefits of both brands, compared side by side.

Some Final Points

Unless you are working the showroom alone, try not to leave an in-store customer to answer the phone. If you must answer the phone, ask for permission from the customer, then politely and pleasantly, explain your situation to the caller and get a name and number to promptly call them back. It is usually smarter to keep the caller waiting than to keep the in-store customer waiting.

About cell phones: In our stores, I forbade cell phone usage by RSAs while working on the showroom floor, period. Most stores have plenty of lines if you need to make a call; and personal incoming calls should be limited to emergencies, only.

David Benbow, a twenty-three year veteran of the mattress and bedding industry, is owner of Mattress Retail Training Company. Dave’s company offers mattress retailers a full array of retail guidance; from small store management to training retail sales associates (RSAs.) Dave’s many years of hands-on experience as retail sales associate, store manager, sales manager/trainer and store owner of multiple stores in six different American metropolitan areas uniquely qualifies him as an expert in selling bedding at the retail level.

David is the author of the recently published book, “How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual”. This book is the first book to systematically present a complete, organized, but easily read and understood text book for mattress and bedding retail sales associates, beginner and experienced professional alike. It is a complete training course in one 292 page book. The book can be purchased on-line at  http://www.bedsellersmanual.com.

He also offers hands-on training classes for retailers on a variety of subjects and issues as well as on-line classes that can be downloaded from the websites mentioned above.

David can be contacted via e-mail at dave@bedsellersmanual.com or in person at 361-648-3775.
Read other articles by David Benbow