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Exceed Your Customers' Expectations

Furniture World Magazine


Seven Keys to Winning & Keeping The Toughest Customer in History.

"Remember: you’re the overhead, the customer is the profit.” I never forgot that advice from Charles Curtis to the executive staff of Curtis Bros. Furniture. Another axiom that helped make Curtis Bros. of Washington, D.C. America’s leading Furniture store in the sixties and early seventies was: “A promise is a promise.” That was long ago, but the advice remains valid.

Even so, times have changed, and what wowed customers back then does not make a blip on their radar screen today. Customer expectations are so much higher that only the most dedicated furniture professionals can deliver a shopping experience that meets them. And those few, those fortunate few, who can exceed customer expectations will win and keep greater market share. Delivering a shopping experience that exceeds customer expectations is doable. It just isn’t easy.

Of all the things customers are looking for when they shop these days, by far the most important is trust. I hear this from furniture people from all parts of the country. Trust and integrity are the foundation of a gratifying shopping experience.

The seven keys toward meeting that tough customer's demand are:

• Win My General, Overall Trust.

• Help Me Trust You to Guide Me with Professionalism.

• Help Me Trust That You Will Do What I Want.

• Help Me Trust That You Will Not Let Me Make a Mistake.

• Inspire Me With Your Energy and Insights.

• Make The Shopping Experience Easy and Fun.

• Exceed My Expectations for Style, Value, Service and Relationship.

Note that the first four keys involve trust. Once trust is established, the rest is much easier. How do you go about establishing trust? The same way you close the sale. Just as you ask for the sale, you should ask for the customer’s trust. This can be done with a single sweeping statement that embraces all first four Confidence Keys. First, you must hit head-on the anxieties your customer brings with her. When your customer first looks one of your sales consultants in the eye, they should imagine that she is saying this: “Help me trust you . . . dispel my three greatest fears.”

You’ve read this before, but it is worth repeating: Your customer won’t tell you she is full of anxiety about shopping for furniture. But she is almost always afraid of three things:

•You will sell her something she does not want.

•You will not listen to her wants and needs.

•You will let her make a mistake, and her friends and family will disapprove of what she bought.

So, early in the confidence conversation your sales consultants should always say something to this effect:

“I understand. I want to assure you of something, Mrs. Brown. I will listen carefully to what you say, and I am trained not to let you make a mistake. When we are all done, I promise that your friends and your family will praise your selection, and you will be proud of what you purchased.”

This is a big promise. And, your sales consultants must deliver on it. This disarming statement, or a version of it, is so important that a friend told me the single key reason he dominated his market was he insisted that every sales person recite their version of it to each customer early in the sales presentation. Asking for the customer’s trust is an essential beginning, but it is not everything. Several other factors come into play during those first three minutes when the sale is usually either won or lost, and all of them involve the first four Confidence Keys. Also, know that TRUST again must be addressed near the end of the sales presentation, when your sales consultants must show PROOF that what they have told the customer is true.

The customer takes in a great deal of information about your store before the sales consultant ever says a word. We all know that store appearance is critical. Next is the general appearance of the staff. Does the sales consultant look like a professional? All of these factors are melded together by a phenomenon called fusion. The composite package must be credible. Obviously, a professional appearance means some kind of a dress standard must be in place and working. My preference is uniform blazers, and statistics prove they help customers buy into the professionalism of the sales consultant.

The trust factor dominates the entire sales presentation… it is a kind of background noise that is always there. And it emerges full force again near the end of the sales sequence. Having established trust, and made claims about a product and asserted that it is worth more than its price, how does the customer come to be convinced that all these claims the consultant made are true? What proof can he or she show? What can they say that sets your store apart and brands you? In other words, what are your unique factors? Every sales consultant should verbally touch the bases of your unique factors in every sales presentation. These are the things that distinguish you, the things that you can say that other stores cannot.

Years in business is an obvious one, and probably the most neglected of the common unique factors. The store that has served for thirty years so often blows off that advantage because their longevity of service is never mentioned in ads or sales presentations. When this philosophy of silence prevails, “Thank you!” say your competitors with just a few years under their belts.

Branding is not some mysterious, new, ethereal concept. It has been around for a long time. Branding consists of hundreds of small easily defined specifics … “trifles” some might call them, the gathered power of which can be overwhelming. Some examples:

• Selection can be another unique edge to brag about. Train sales consultants to say something specific, such as: “We have a million dollar selection, so let me show you to the best place to begin browsing for that leather sofa.”

•Guarantees should always be mentioned in the sales sequence.

•Special Services such as removal of old bedding and in-home decorator options are valuable in building trust in the professionalism of the store. When possible, quantify and be specific to be believed. And then go another step.

Visual Proof
A series of visuals prepared for the use of sales consultants can be very effective. At the appropriate time, the sales consultant can show a photo of the huge automated warehouse… or your uniformed delivery team (Red Carpet Delivery or Professional White Glove Delivery are good phrases if you have such service)… of course, if it’s FREE, brag about it. Show a picture of your primary satisfaction guarantee… make it a simple assurance of satisfaction of some kind. In the case of a mattress sale, show a certificate with a 120-day (or whatever) “sleep on it” Guarantee of Satisfaction. Have your consultants been trained in a special way, such as by a mattress factory? Have them show a certificate of completion to the customer. (If the factory does not supply these, make them up yourself). Do you have fifty or so brand name suppliers? Provide sales consultants with a page of brand names… “We have developed precious relationships with some of the greatest home furnishings makers in America… that is one reason we offer so much value and fashion for the money.” Do you belong to a buying association? Tell your customers! “We are a local business with national buying power…” These are a few ideas… brain storm with your consultants and provide them with some visuals to illustrate your unique factors, win trust and close more sales.

Inspire Me With Your Energy And Insights
There is no woman in America who has an interest in her home who would not love to go to a major furniture market. Manufacturers are tireless as they attempt to inspire jaded buyers with their product innovations. Most buyers return home excited about what they have seen. I strongly recommend an information sheet that summarizes these market experiences for the sales consultants. And, I would go farther. Send out a newsletter a couple of times a year and inform the customer about all the exciting new trends you have seen... no hard sell, just an informative, relationship building communication. Consider doing a monthly seminar on site to inform customers about what to look for when they shop for furniture. This should include a tour of the store. Select reps to help in this. Feature mattresses one month, leather another, and so on. Consider inviting local high school groups to free informative lectures on buying home furnishings. Inspire with awesome room group packages that are carefully accessorized, provide lots of options that are within the reach of their customers’ budgets. Again, brainstorm with your associates about these ideas and constantly come up with fresh ones to exceed your customers’ expectations for inspiration.

Make The Shopping Experience Easy and Fun
Some of the very best ideas are the simplest. Ease and speed are the key standards… from ease of parking to ease of selection, to professional delivery of the product. One year free financing is table stakes these days. Stores are experimenting with two and three years now. Of course, if you do a good job of selling a specific event in your advertisements you can get by with six months or a year easily. Too many stores are using free financing as a crutch, and forgetting to sell the customer products. Imagine walking into a furniture store and being greeted by a sales person shouting: “Three years free financing!” Sounds silly, but many ads feature financing in this way, and products are an afterthought.

Make your ads easy to understand
For years I preached that mattresses should be priced and sold as sets, not by the piece. Now it looks very old-fashioned to see the old ploy: “$149” in large type followed by “each piece, sold in sets only.” The newest version of this old technique is illustrated on page 56 in the ad showing an illustration of a dining set (including chairs, of course). Note the large type price “$199” followed by the text “table only.” Nowhere in the ad can you find the price of the chairs. Does such a presentation inspire confidence in a store’s integrity? Does it make it easier to shop?

Brainstorm With And Listen To Your Associates
Brainstorm with your associates about this. Learn to listen more. One study revealed that American managers give six to ten suggestions in a meeting for every one they listen to. Japanese managers achieve a one-to-one ratio.

Exceed My Expectations for Style, Value, Service and Relationship
Remember that the customer is looking for ways to make her home more beautiful and comfortable. Don’t get hung up on lowest price. Offer a price guarantee and let it go at that. Unique design treatments in a furniture piece should be pointed out. A quality feature such as a 17-coat finish is meaningless without attaching a benefit to it. Never talk about a product point without a benefit attached to it, and never talk about outstanding value without also talking a trendy (or timeless) style and design. Outstanding service comes from exceptionally well-trained associates.

Relationship is the operative word here. The idea of sending customers a flyer once or twice a year to just talk about furniture is a way of building relationship. Remarkable service that goes the extra mile is another. Relationship is woven all through the sales sequence and the shopping experience. When the delivery team arrives with the furniture and one of them is trained to congratulate the customer on their selection and express admiration for it, that is relationship. That is an added value that costs nothing. Finally, do not let the customer leave the store empty-handed. Have an attractive brochure that features all the unique factors you can think of… tell the story of your brand in the very best way you know. Hand that to the customer… it will mean so much more than a business card.

The Visionary Leader is the individual who must light the torch of superlative service and keep it burning. He or she must be the one who enhances the performance of associates. Constantly think of new ways to exceed the expectations of your associates by providing them the inspiration and tools they need to exceed the expectations of your customers.

Larry Mullins has 30+ years experience in the front lines of retail furniture marketing.  He is President and CEO of UltraSales, Inc., a company that specializes in creating customized advertising solutions for home furnishings retailers. Questions about advertising or related management topics can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at lmullins@furninfo.com.