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The Before And After Of Customer Service - A Complete Manual

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An ounce of prevention versus the pound of cure.

INTRODUCTION

When I was a boy we had a non-adjustable toaster. Whether this was owing to our poverty or to the fact that adjustable toasters had not till then been invented I do not know. I do know that I watched my mother scrape a lot of toast. Today of course, we have computerized adjustable toasters that have effectively eliminated this problem.

Unfortunately, in the world of customer service, no one seems to have come up with the equivalent of the adjustable toaster. By that I mean a method that can completely stop to the "burn and scrape" method of handling problems our customers have with defective service and merchandise. Perhaps this is so because too many companies believe that they are darn good at "scraping the toast." Apropos to this, I am reminded of how one warehouse manager beamed with pride after he had rather effortlessly exchanged a customer's damaged lamp table. As soon as the customer left the warehouse, he turned to me and with a blissful look threw out his chest and boasted: "Did you see how quickly I took care of that customer problem? I must admit I'm getting pretty darn good at locating those lamp tables. That's the fourteenth one we've exchanged this month!"

When I worked with Wisconsin Home Furnishings as trainer and educator, I was delighted to find out about a video entitled "Preventive Selling." At last I had discovered a company that was more concerned with adjusting the toaster than scraping the toast.

The idea that preventive measures are much less costly than corrective ones must be at least as old as and probably significantly older than the adage "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

One of the reasons for this manual is to present salespeople with an introduction to "Preventive Selling." Those who are interested in the video, can contact Wisconsin Home Furnishings care of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine at russ@furninfo.com. Use of preventive selling can help prevent the kind of selling which often ends up with such things as cancellations and re-selections which customers find both disturbing and irritating. Clearly preventive selling is part and parcel of customer service as a whole. Therefore it is important that salespeople look upon this manual as an important tool designed to render customers the kind of service that leaves them feeling happy.

But because the greatest preventive selling techniques will never totally eliminate our customer's dissatisfaction with the products we sell and services we deliver-and this for obvious reasons-this manual also concerns itself with handling problems after they occur.

Adequate training in the techniques of preventive selling and in the handling of problems once they have occurred is one of the surest and the quickest way to bring about great increases in company productivity. For as Michael Le Boeuf wrote in his book, "How to Win Customers and Keep Them for Life," customers buy only when glad, never when mad, sad, or scared.

This manual will stress several points:

  • First, that the basis of preventive selling as well as that of handling problems must be the ultimate satisfaction of our customers with our products and service. I believe it is safe to say that as costly as it is to have customers leave our store without making a purchase, it is even more costly to have customers who purchase from us end up permanently dissatisfied. Dissatisfied customers tend to share their dissatisfaction with their many friends and acquaintances.
  • Second, all employees, and in particular salespeople, must remain ever conscious of the importance of ending up with customers who feel glad and not mad, sad, or scared. Not only do glad customers not cancel; they go on to do repeat business. Repeat customers are generally easier to sell and to be more prone to buy our better products because of the trust we already established.
  • Third, repeat customers are a real bonus because they often come into our stores irrespective of our costly ads. In the truest sense they are very often a windfall. In today's increasingly competitive market we can ill afford to pass up these windfalls.
  • Two final points. A company which serves its customers as it should cannot help being a happy place in which to work. This is really a corollary to Karl Albrecht's view that no company can hope to treat its customers better than its employees treat one another. It follows then that any company to continue to excel in customer service, its employees must continue to treat one another kindly. I cannot think of a better formula for a happy working place. And lastly, upset frustrated, demanding customers exact a costly toll on the salesperson's productive hours. Customer service skills in general and preventive selling skills in particular significantly minimize such losses in productivity. At the same time they help salespeople to maintain their happy equilibrium and to stay at their optimum working efficiency. In short, these skills help to keep salespeople from falling prey to the ravages of tension universally admitted by medical doctors and psychologists to be the leading cause of serious illness and even death. The ancient Greeks had the saying that the best physician is time. In light of what we know today we might say that the best physician for stress is its prevention. That being the case, this manual should prove to be valuable.

UNIT ONE: PREVENTIVE SELLING

At the outset it should be pointed out that preventive selling has its limitations. By this we mean that it cannot affect each and every factor that can cause customers to become dissatisfied. For example, the salesperson's preventive selling cannot affect the sale of merchandise which is poorly designed, poorly assembled or finished; other than to alert customers to the level of product quality on our sales floors. To counter that, every retailer must continue to monitor the quality of its merchandising. Nor can the salesperson's preventive selling compensate for any poor prepping of furniture on the part of our warehouse personnel or any damage done by sloppy or inattentive handling. Likewise, retailers establish and rely on continuous training and education.

The following is a list of the kinds of problems that can be significantly reduced through preventive selling. This list is divided into scenarios which salespeople can role play again and again until they develop the habit of handling each one expertly.

 

PITS AND SWIRLS WHICH COMMONLY APPEAR
ON THE SURFACE OF FINISHED CHERRY WOOD

Strategy: Salespeople are urged to point these out as proof of the genuineness of cherry wood. In short, they are the beauty marks that attest to genuine cherry. Salespeople might role play this as follows:

SALESPERSON: While I have your attention let me point out some things in Collector's Cherry you should know. Note these common traits prove the genuineness of the cherry wood. In contrast, let me show you how Roxton Court, A fine but less expensive set, lacks those beauty marks because it's not cherry wood even though it's done in a cherry finish.

Note: If at this point the customer says that she doesn't care for these traits, that she considers them blemishes, honor her judgment and help her find something else in your store, whether it be Roxton Court or some other set not made of cherry wood.

 DISTRESS MARKS

Strategy: Not all customers realize that the kind of distress marks intentionally worked into or onto a case good's surface are intended to make a stylistic statement. For this reason, some customers, upon first noting such distress marks after delivery, view them as defects. Therefore, salespeople should be trained to point these out as benefits before the customer notes them as blemishes.

SALESPERSON: (Pointing to the distress marks) You've probably noted these distress marks. They were intentionally added for stylistic effect. (Listen for the customer's comments. If she objects to the distress marks, acknowledge her right to differ and show her products that are free of distress marks.)

LOOSE VERSUS SEMI-ATTACHED
BACKS ON UPHOLSTERED PIECES

Customers should be taught how to maintain the back's full look by massaging it from time to time. Based on the experience of our customer service personnel, it seems that customers do this necessary massaging significantly less with the semi-loose backs than they do with the loose backs.

SALESPERSON: To maintain this full look, massage the back from time to time like this: (Demonstrates to customer how to do so.)

NOT ENOUGH STUFFING

Wherever the cushions have zippers, point out the following:
  • The zippers are not there so that the customer can have the ticking dry cleaned. The ticking would fade.

  • Restoring the filler materials would be next to impossible. In fact, the original filling of the cushions at the factory is done with a special machine.

  • The reason the factory uses zippers is to benefit customer and manufacturer alike. Zippers look good and cost less than sewing.

 

Next point out to the customer the importance of massaging all loose fitting cushions that are attached, that is, sewn to the back of a sofa. Such cushions are comparable to one's bed pillows. However, advise the customer that your service staff is ready to add filler materials to the cushions free of charge whenever that procedure is warranted (if that is your policy).

WRINKLES AND WAVES IN THE FABRIC
AS SEEN BY CUSTOMERS AS SINGS
OF PREMATURE FOAM BREAKDOWN

Point out that wrinkles are often a sign of quality since the manufacturer did not skimp on material wherever the style calls for that comfort wrinkle look. As for waves on a boxseat casing, the excess of fabric is necessary to allow the foam cores to expand and contract with use:

SALESPERSON: Customers often find these wrinkles disturbing until they find out that they really are a sign of the comfort that comes with certain styles of quality upholstery that does not skimp on fabric.

PATTERN MATCH EXPECTATIONS

The best way to deal with pattern match expectations is to probe early in the sale to find those out. Use open probes for that:

SALESPERSON: Tell me how important pattern match is to you. (If the customer expresses a lack of understanding, show her a few sofas to demonstrate the point). Be prepared to acknowledge her degree of comfort in this matter so as not to leave her feeling "odd" regardless of how far she wishes to take the matter of matching. Always precondition her, for example, by pointing out that, for example, "among our vendors only X-Brand offers full flow-matching."

 FABRIC GRADES AND COST

It is wise to tell the fabric story to our customers who wonder why some fabrics cost more than others and who might misjudge the quality of a fabric having a lower grade. Explain that some fabrics suffer more waste than others because of the way florals and other patterns run.

SALESPERSON: Often a difference in grade is not an indication of a difference in quality. (Goes on to explain why that is so).

MY CHAIR, SOFA OR LOVESEAT DOESN'T SIT RIGHT

Whenever possible get customers to sit on the upholstery they choose even if they indicate that what has moved them most to make their purchase is style and fabric rather than comfort. In the case of sleeper sofas, point out that sleepers not only sit harder but their cushions sit differently. Ask how often the sleeper will probably be used but also inquire into who the users will probably be. At times, the infrequent users are such (parents and other close relatives) that the infrequency of use is overshadowed by the importance of the user. This holds true for mattresses sold for the guest bedroom, despite the common initial assertion of the customer who says, "It's only for the guest bedroom." A kind probe into who those guests will probably be, can cause the customer to perceive that the quality of the mattress should be more scrutinized:

SALESPERSON: May I ask how often you intend to use your sleeper sofa.

CUSTOMER: A couple of times a year.

SALESPERSON: Who might the users be?

CUSTOMER: A buddy or two of my son when he's home from college.

SALESPERSON: In that case you might want to choose the sofa instead of the sleeper. Sofas are more comfortable and their cushions keep their shape better. What do you think?

NOTE: Listen carefully to the customer's answer. Honor it with an acknowledging statement.

THE DOORS ON MY ARMOIRE DON'T FIT WELL

Many a problem can be prevented by pointing out to the customer that the doors on case goods depend for their alignment on how level the floor is. Some case goods can be realigned by inserting a screwdriver into holes at the bottom of the piece.

SALESPERSON: If after delivery you notice that the doors are not properly aligned, please don't panic. We normally have our drivers align them before they leave. If they should leave without doing so, please give us a call. We'll either give you simple directions on how to realign the doors or send someone out to do so if you feel that is necessary.

NOTE: Drivers should be acutely aware of how important it is to see that all doors on case goods are properly aligned before they leave the customer's house, especially in carpeted rooms in which case the back legs or the supporting structure of the piece rest on the wooden trackless strip that the carpet is stretched to. This causes the front legs or supporting structure to rest on the carpet pad. To remedy this something needs to be placed underneath the piece to balance it properly.

MY CHAIR WOBBLES

Salespeople should point out to customers that floor glides are sometimes needed to prevent wobbling, especially on a non-carpeted floor.

SALESPERSON: Is your floor carpeted?

CUSTOMER: No, it's tiled. Why do you ask?

SALESPERSON: You may find that your chairs need glides to prevent them from wobbling. If that should turn out to be the case, we do have glides we sell at a low cost. Kindly give me a call.

MY TABLE WON'T CLOSE

What customers often mean by this when they call is that at times there is a slight gap when the table is closed with or without leaves. First, instruct the customer to use their locking mechanism. Second, never give the impression that the table you deliver will look any different than the one on our floor. Third, point out that a change in humidity can cause gaps and that such gaps are not a sign of a structural defect.

SALESPERSON: I'm glad you brought that up. A change in humidity can cause such gaps. (Salesperson checks to see if locking mechanism is engaged). As for this table, the gap is caused by the locking mechanism not being engaged. Watch as I engage the locking mechanism. (Salesperson locks the table and the gap disappears).

NOTE: Be careful not to say this in the case of a table that is evidently defective. One of the most important rules of preventive selling is that all salespeople report defective merchandise on the floor to their managers as quickly as possible. Customers are very skeptical of a salesperson who defends defective merchandise with the words, "The one you'll get from the warehouse won't be this way." One more point: whenever you can correct the situation by tightening a screw or a bolt, do so. That kind of spirit benefits customers and all of us. Likewise, salespeople should be on the alert to see to it that the locking mechanisms on tables are engaged.

 
A WORD OF CAUTION

Preventive selling is not intended per se either to keep our customers from buying or our salespeople from selling. Rather, it is intended to serve as a technique for getting customers to buy what is best for them. In that sense it fits in well with John F. Lawhon's definition of the role of the salesperson: To provide customers with the information needed to make the best buying decision. Therefore, never assume to know what is best for the customer. Use your probing and qualifying to do so. While a customer may appear financially limited to you because of the way she dresses or because of her young years, the "best" for her might be your most expensive mattress or sofa or dinette. The story my mother told me when I was about six years old might help to illustrate this point. She told me about a multi-millionaire in Sicily who once went to observe a market place frequented by the rich. There he saw a poor man who had just bought a very expensive coat. "Pardon me," the rich man said to him, "Why is a poor man like you buying a rich man's coat?" To which the poor man responded, "I beg your pardon, sir. I am buying a poor man's coat. This coat has to last me the rest of my life." How true the words, "When you buy quality, you cry only once."

CONCLUSION

In the final analysis, preventive selling is simply the antidote against the twin evils known in our industry by the names of underselling and overselling. By underselling your merchandise, you deprive customers of benefits they paid for. Lawhon points out that in his experience, many customers who bought sleepers were never told about the fact that the sleeper could be easily tilted for vacuuming. That is an example of underselling. The salesperson who sells Formica tops as totally scratch proof instead of scratch resistant oversells that feature in a way that is misleading and fraudulent. When you demonstrate a feature of your product, neither claim what it cannot do nor omit to mention what it can do.


UNIT TWO: HANDLING PROBLEMS ONCE THEY OCCUR

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That's certain. Just as certain is that the pound of cure goes on to become the most economical way for a company to handle its problems once they have occurred. This is true whether the problems are those which might have been prevented by the techniques we presented in Unit One or not. While no owner would deny that service problems must be met head on and solved to the customer's satisfaction as quickly as possible, I am not so sure that all owners realize that correctly handled problems can become an added plus or bonus for a company. Joe Girard, for years the holder of the Guiness World of Records for most cars and trucks he personally sold, was fond of saying that the only way to handle customer problems is to use them to bring customers closer to you than they would have been had the problem not occurred. He facetiously used to add that he at times wished more problems would occur so that he could bring the customer closer to him.

Facetious as that wish may have been, there is no doubt that Joe Girard's is the soundest way to handle our customers who by the way look upon what we call their problems as our problems. I believe our customers are right. I am not referring to the too often glib statement that the customer is always right. Quite frankly they are at times wrong and occasionally downright deceptive. The thing for us to keep in mind is that whenever a customer calls with a problem, we must start out giving them and not our company the benefit of the doubt. With that approach, we'll never start out by offending those who have a legitimate complaint. After all, we can always deal later with the relatively few dishonest customers, handling each case with the proper tact and skill. Nor should we ever forget that at its very soul, handling customer concerns is a matter of tact and skill. Tact because we must be ever sensitive to our customer's concerns; skills because it is not common sense that enables us to handle our customers professionally. Were it common sense, then everyone who has the sense to come out of the rain would be qualified to handle customer service professionally. That simply is not so.

The objective of Unit Two is to train and educate salespeople to be of assistance rather than a hindrance to the customer service office. In practical terms, I am referring to the training and education salespeople require to insure that customers who call them with a problem are not left feeling that they have indifferently been passed off to customer service with a cold "Let me turn you over to customer service," which has the sinister ring of "Let me turn you over to the proper authorities." One can only imagine the agonizing scenes those words conjure up in the minds of our customers, especially when they recall the last words they heard from their salesperson just before they left the store after making their purchase: "Feel free to call me if you have any questions." Talk about fumbling a moment of truth!

ROLE PLAYS

The following role plays should prove helpful in learning how to handle different scenarios.

 SCENARIO I: POOR FINISH

CUSTOMER: Mary, this is Kay Jones. I'm broken hearted. They just delivered my dining room. There's a scratch on the table. I'm so dissatisfied. We're having my parents over for Thanksgiving. I was looking forward to this for such a long time.

SALESPERSON: (First probes) May I ask it it's one long scratch or is it more a series of swirls?

CUSTOMER: It's definitely a scratch and a big one.

SALESPERSON: (Acknowledges) Let me assure you, Kay, that we are going to do whatever it takes to have that set looking the way you expect it to. To do that, I need to have someone in customer service contact you. (Next offer the options available).

 SCENARIO II: POOR FINISH

CUSTOMER: Greg, this is Mrs. Smith. You remember me. I bought that entertainment center.

SALESPERSON: I certainly do remember. Is everything fine with it?

CUSTOMER: I'm one angry customer. After you bragged so much about X-Company's finish you should see how terrible it looks.

SALESPERSON: (Open probe for information). Just what is wrong with it, Mr. Smith?

CUSTOMER: It's terrible. There are these light edges on the table's surface. It's so disappointing.

SALESPERSON: (Acknowledges) You certainly don't deserve to be angry and disappointed. Let's have someone in customer service contact you so that we can get this corrected as soon as possible.

 SCENARIO III: DENTS, GOUGES, CHIPS

CUSTOMER: Jack, this is Mr. Jones, the guy you sold that recliner to. Remember me?

SALESPERSON: Sure do. Enjoying the recliner?

CUSTOMER: You mean that bear trap you sold me? I want you people to pick up that clunker as soon as possible.

SALESPERSON: What's wrong with it, Jack?

CUSTOMER: You mean "What's right with it?" Try this for starters. The back flops back and forth like sails in a storm! I realize it's a floor sample but that's no excuse.

SALESPERSON: (Acknowledge) I can understand why you feel that way. We must have forgotten to adjust the tension wing nuts under the recliner.

CUSTOMER: What d'you mean?

SALESPERSON: You remember those wing nuts I showed you, the ones to adjust the tension of the chair. Someone must have demonstrated those wing nuts to another customer on that floor model and forgot to re-tighten them. Are you calling from your home?

CUSTOMER: Yes.

SALESPERSON: Would you please turn your recliner over and see if the wing nuts need re-tightening. I'll wait on the phone while you do that.

CUSTOMER: (Follows salesperson's directions and notes how that solves the problem). Well I'll be-you're right. That solved the problem.

SALESPERSON: Great. Is everything else satisfactory with your recliner now, Mr. Jones?

CUSTOMER: Yes, Jack. Hey, thanks for helping out. You made my day.

SALESPERSON: So did you, Mr. Jones. And thank you for calling me about this so promptly.

*This role play is based on an actual case that did not
turn out so well because the person handling the situation didn't
know about the adjustable wing nuts on La-Z-Boy® recliners.

Note: Note how dissatisfied customers tend to say "You sold this to me," Satisfied customers who come back often say, "We bought all our furniture from X-Brand Home Furnishings."

  SCENARIO IV: POOR WORKMANSHIP

CUSTOMER: Sue, this is Ann Curtis, the one who bought your best mattress.

SALESPERSON: The Champagne. I'm sure you're enjoying it.

CUSTOMER: Wish I could be as sure. It's awful.

SALESPERSON: (Open probe) How's that, Mrs. Curtis?

CUSTOMER: It's awful, Sue. I can't get a good night's sleep on it. It's been one long week of hell!

SALESPERSON: (Acknowledges) I'm truly sorry about that. Could you please tell me exactly what may be wrong with your mattress?

CUSTOMER: I don't really know, but I think it's too soft.

SALESPERSON: I don't want to make a small thing about that, Mrs. Curtis, but a new mattress often takes some getting used to, especially the pillow top you bought. That's why we suggest you try it for 30 days.

CUSTOMER: What if I still don't like it after 30 days?

SALESPERSON: Well, you have a 30 day comfort guarantee, but I'd rather not put you through a re-selection until you give it that 30 day trial first, unless it becomes too uncomfortable. Does that make sense to you, Mrs. Curtis?

CUSTOMER: I'll give it a try, Sue. You really think I'll find it comfortable?

SALESPERSON: I can't absolutely guarantee that, but my experience with customers has taught me that the vast majority go on to love their mattress. It's the hard mattresses that go on to give customers a problem.

CUSTOMER: I'll give it a try, Sue, on your word. But you'll be hearing from me again if this doesn't work.

SALESPERSON: Fair enough and thanks for calling, Mrs. Curtis.

  SCENARIO V: DOESN'T SIT RIGHT

CUSTOMER: Frank, this is Rosie Brown. The chair isn't going to work. Can you hear me? We're having trouble with our phone.

SALESPERSON: I didn't get the first part. Would you repeat please?

CUSTOMER: Rosie Brown. Remember? The hair dresser who bought the golden velvet chair for her salon.

SALESPERSON: Oh, Rosie Brown. Of course. I remember you. How's the loveseat working?

CUSTOMER: Not half as hard as I am trying to get it to sit comfortable.

SALESPERSON: How's that?

CUSTOMER: It's the pitch of the chair. I feel as though I'm falling back. That's not the way it sat in your store. Are you sure you sent me the right chair?

SALESPERSON: (Confirm) It's the wrong pitch, you say. Well, Rosie, we'll have to send someone out to take a look at it. What number should I give our customer service person to reach you so we can get to the bottom of this?

CUSTOMER: I'm not going to get stuck with this loveseat, am I?

SALESPERSON: "Rosie, in keeping with your warranty we assume all responsibility either to correct or replace any manufacturer's defect in your sofa regarding materials or workmanship.

CUSTOMER: Have them call me at 473-6062. I'll be here all day.

SALESPERSON: OK, Rosie. I'll call customer service as soon as I hang up. Oh, and, Rosie, call me back if you have any questions. I don't want you having a loveseat you can't live with.

CUSTOMER: You can count on it.

 SCENARIO VI: MY TABLE'S HARD TO OPEN

CUSTOMER: Say, Lou Ann. This is Denise Larsen. Guess what about that table you sold me that's supposed to be so easy to open.

SALESPERSON: What about it, Miss Larsen?

CUSTOMER: Are you people trying to kill me? I'm 92 years old. You said I could open that table all by myself. You forgot to mention I needed a can opener.

SALESPERSON: How's that, Miss Larsen?

CUSTOMER: I got on one end of that table and I pulled and pulled and pulled until I thought I yanked both arms out of my armpits. That table just stood there as tight as a clam.

SALESPERSON: (Acknowledges) You certainly don't deserve that. Why I remember how easily you opened up the one in our store.

CUSTOMER: I sure did, but the one you sent me is a mule of a different color. I tugged on that beast till my tongue hung out like a red necktie.

SALESPERSON: I certainly apologize for that, Miss Larsen. Let me have someone in customer service send someone out to your home at your convenience so we can solve this. (Next offer the options available).

SCENARIO VII: I CAN'T WAIT
THAT LONG FOR DELIVERY

CUSTOMER: Phil. This is Mr. Wong.

SALESPERSON: Mr. Wong. What can I do for you?

CUSTOMER: You mean what should you have done for me?

SALESPERSON: What happened?

CUSTOMER: Nothing happened. That's the trouble. I've waited 10 weeks for my sofa sectional. Now I find out it'll be four more weeks. Why didn't you tell me they deliver their furniture on a slow boat from China?

SALESPERSON: (Acknowledges) Four more weeks? I can see why you're disturbed.

CUSTOMER: You bet I'm disturbed. I need to have that sectional while I'm still alive. Four more weeks is unreasonable.

SALESPERSON: (Acknowledges) I can understand why you feel that's unreasonable. Let me call our vendor to find out what went wrong and I'll get back to you. Are you still at 544-1667?

CUSTOMER: Yes, and you'd better get to the bottom of this, I'm not a happy camper.

SALESPERSON: I'll get on this right away, and thank you for calling me, Mr. Wong. I am concerned about this. I will get to the bottom of this, be assured of that.

SCENARIO VIII: "NO REPAIRS, PLEASE."

CUSTOMER: No way, John. No way.

SALESPERSON: Who is this?

CUSTOMER: It's me. The guy you sold the oak dining room set to, Bill Porter. I'm not going to keep this damaged furniture. You either replace it or I'll have you take it all back. You're not going to repair it.

SALESPERSON: (Acknowledges) I can't blame you for not wanting to end up with furniture that looks repaired. Let me assure you that when we repair your set neither you nor anyone else will be able to tell it was repaired. May I please have the number our customer service person can call you at to set up an appointment for our professional repairmen to come to your home?

CUSTOMER: You sure they'll repair my set the way you said?

SALESPERSON: You bet, Mr. Porter.

CUSTOMER: OK. Have them call me at 835-7777. And you'd better be right.

SALESPERSON: Everything's going to be just fine Mr. Porter, and thanks for getting back to me so soon.


THE CORRECT PHILOSOPHY OF CUSTOMER SERVICE

The best customer service people immediately begin to prove to their customers that they are on the customer's side. The worst error you can make is to start out by trying to show the customer how much you truly know. Customers don't care about how much you truly know until they know how much you truly care. The following are some ways to show you truly care:

Acknowledge all concerns: For example, the customer calls and says the following: "Mary, this is Mrs. Jones, I'm upset with the sofa you delivered. The stripes just don't match even though I tried reorganizing the cushions. Remember how much I loved the way the one on your floor matched. I'm so disappointed."

You should acknowledge the customer's concerns in a way that shows you picked up on the emotional content of her concern. She is upset; she is disappointed, and perhaps may feel duped. You might acknowledge in the following way. "Mrs. Jones, I am truly sorry. You've a right to feel upset and disappointed."

Offer the kind of assurance that neither over-promises nor under promises. You might assure her as follows: "Certainly we're going to do whatever we should do to correct any errors on our part."

Then get permission to probe for information: You might ask: "Mrs. Jones, may I get some information from you that'll help us make you a happy customer again?"

Probe for information: Use open probes to get the customer to talk freely; closed probes for confirmation and specific details. Generally start out with an open probe. You might ask: "Could you describe what's wrong with the stripes so I can have a clear picture of just what you mean?"

Use a closed probe to confirm the information you've received whenever necessary: You might say: "Mrs. Jones, let's see if I understand this. The stripes don't seem to match on the side of the cushion and reversing them didn't help. Is that it?"

Wait for agreement or not of your confirmation.

Next reassure the customer that you are going to take the proper steps to find a satisfying solution for her: You might say: "Mrs. Jones, let me assure you again that I am concerned about this and will take the proper steps to correct this."

Then inform the customer that in order to remedy the situation you need to have someone in customer service call her back, but arrange this so that you do not put undue restraints on customer service: For example, if the customer calls you in the morning, ask if it would be all right for someone in customer service to call her back in the afternoon. If the customer calls in the afternoon, ask if it would be all right for someone in customer service to call her back later that afternoon or early the following morning. You might say: "I'll need to have someone in customer service contact you. Would later in the afternoon or early tomorrow morning be OK?" Pause to hear the customer's acceptance. Should the customer say, "I can't wait. I need to have someone call me as soon as possible," you might reply: "I understand. I'll share that with someone in customer service. At what number can you be reached?"

Provided the customer agrees to the call and does not have more to say, conclude the call as follows:

  • Thank the customer for calling. "Thank you for calling, Mrs.Jones."
  • Review commitments, hers and yours. "We're agreed then that someone in customer service will call you.
  • Encourage her to feel free to call again for any reason. "Mrs. Jones, please call me if for any reason you feel you should. This is important to me."

(Note that in the above example the use of "someone" is better than "customer service." "Someone" denotes an honest-to-goodness person. "Customer Service" by itself is abstract and therefore impersonal, uncaring, and unreachable.)

These are the general steps for handling service calls. It is not always possible to follow these steps exactly. The degree of emotion on the caller's part, the number of interruptions she comes up with, etc. will dictate how to use these steps. 

Furniture World is the oldest, continuously published trade publication in the United States. It is published for the benefit of furniture retail executives. Print circulation of 20,000 is directed primarily to furniture retailers in the US and Canada.  In 1970, the magazine established and endowed the Bernice Bienenstock Furniture Library (www.furniturelibrary.com) in High Point, NC, now a public foundation containing more than 5,000 books on furniture and design dating from 1620. For more information contact editor@furninfo.com.