To fix customer service problems, you first need to know what your customers are thinking and saying about you.
What is Customer Service? A simple quiz for you and your staff... first, write down your definition of customer service. Then ask each of your staff members to write down their definitions of customer service. You will probably be surprised at the responses.
I train furniture companies across the country in sales, management and customer focus. While conducting a customer focus workshop, for example, at a company with 30 employees in attendance, I will ask each employee for their definition of customer service. Generally there are thirty different definitions. If there is a common thread among these thirty definitions, it is that customer service is serving the customers needs. That is prehistoric!
For a company to provide uniform, excellent customer service, each staff member must first know and understand it's company's view on customer service. In today's competitive marketplace, simply serving the customer is not enough. This is particularly true in retail furniture stores. Customers are exposed to a mass amount of advertising and know that they have many other places to shop and spend their money... and they will if they are not enthusiastic about your salespeople and your company.
The goal of a progressive company must be to exceed it's customer's expectations! This means pleasantly surprising your customers- even dazzling them! Why should we do this?MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHAT CUSTOMERS ARE SAYING ABOUT YOU:
Word of mouth advertising is far less expensive and much more powerful than conventional advertising. Most people have many occasions to show off their new furniture. Their impressions and feelings about your company will determine if they rave or bash you. So how do you make sure your customers are raving about you? First find out what your customers want. Find out what they like and dislike about your company and any other suggestions they have for you. You will be surprised how great some of the suggestions will be. Remember, these are the people who matter the most.
THE CUSTOMER SURVEY
Doing a Customer Survey will make a dynamic impact on your customer base and provide you with tremendous information for a very low investment. Some of these benefits will include:
Customers will be impressed by the fact you are taking the time and you care enough about them to ask their opinion. You are involving them in your company which will help increase their loyalty.
Provide you with specific employee performance information. This will build accountability and therefore escalate employee performance. Once an employee knows that you are paying attention to him/her they will generally go out of their way to do a better job. Most people want positive recognition. Let your employees know in advance that you are going to use a customer survey to stay on top of customers' impressions of the company. Do not tell them you are specifically checking on them.
Assess customer demographics which can help you target and maximize your advertising investment. By assessing your customer's demographics you will be able to tell where to best invest your advertising dollars and how to maximize your return on special promotions. If you are drawing customers from a certain area in which you do not have a location, consider working with a complimentary type of business to gain exposure. Some examples of complimentary businesses are custom fabric or drapery companies, wallpaper and carpeting retailers. You may want to exchange coupons to include in each other's mailings... particularly thank-you cards. The coupons should not include a "hook" such as buy one, get one free. You should offer a percentage off or dollars off.
Verify that specials and add ons such as fabric protection are actually being promoted by your sales staff. One of the reasons I had a 90%+ closing ratio on fabric protection was because I actually told my customers about it. Why did I do that? Two reasons: I wanted the spiff and I knew the owner might check up on me. I'm not sure which motivated me more. Again, don't make anyone feel singled out, just deal with it as a way of checking on customer impressions.
Verify the effectiveness of your advertising. Let's say you have been advertising in a particular section of the newspaper and you want to determine if people are seeing it. This survey is a great way of telling what percentage of customers who actually bought from you, came in due to that ad.
Check on the promptness and courtesy of your delivery crew. One company who did a customer survey found that leaving boxes in the home is a big no no. They responded by cutting up the boxes and leaving them curb side, Another company takes them back with them and found a source for removal. Both companies found customer satisfaction went up measurably.
One progressive furniture retailer found out that their customers wanted the same instant gratification from a furniture purchase that they received in almost every other purchase they made. Customers do not want to make a decision on their furniture and then hurry up and wait. So Ray Ruby of Ruby-Gordon Furniture, Inc., makes sure his merchandise is in stock. This way he is able to get the new furniture to his customer with his Zoom (Same Day) Delivery. He quickly discovered that customers were willing to pay extra for quicker delivery service. It is a popular service. This gives them an edge over the competition... and not just in terms of delivery. Prospective and existing customers perceive Ruby Gordon Furniture, Inc., as being in tune with their desires.
Keeping in touch with your customer's current desires. This information will assist you in stocking proper inventory, minimizing excess, even outdated inventory (see July FURNITURE WORLD for additional ways to track outdated inventory). By asking a question such as "What additional furniture purchases would you like to make this year?", you will be able to spot trends. You will also be developing a future contact list. If customer style preferences are a concern, ask about them in your customer survey. This information will help you with proportionate floor planning.SURVEY SPECIFICS
- Prepare a questionnaire of 8-10 questions. These questions should target the above areas. Where appropriate, begin open-ended (who, what, where, why and how) to prompt the customer to give you more than a simple yes or no.
- Start with 50-100 of your customers who have most recently had their furniture delivered. This way You can gather information on the entire sales process.
- Have an enthusiastic, friendly employee who is well trained, make the phone calls.
- Prepare a log to track the results.
- The best calling time is generally 6:30-8:30PM, Monday through Friday.
The reason most companies do not do a customer survey is they feel they either lack time or are afraid of hearing any negatives. It is critical for a company to take a long hard look at itself from time to time. This strategy will give you an edge over your competition because you will be more in tune with what your customers want from you!
Laura Laaman is a popular sales, management and customer service trainer. Questions can be directed to her care of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine at firstname.lastname@example.org.