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The Customer Service Challenge

Furniture World Magazine


Decades ago this story made the rounds of the Borscht Belt, aka the Catskills Resorts to anyone born after 1957. A 40-year old son of immigrant parents does extremely well in his chosen field. So well in fact, that he is able to purchase a yacht and hire a full-time crew. He brings his aged parents on board for the inaugural voyage. He greets them wearing nautical garb, with white pants, navy blue double breasted blazer (with gold buttons and braids) and a captain’s cap.

Once on board, he says to his father, “Pop, isn’t this great, 50 years ago you came to this country on a boat, and here I am, CAPTAIN of my own yacht”.

The old man looks at his son squarely in the eye. He admonishes, “Son-by me you are a captain, by mama you are a captain, and by you, you are a captain, but by a captain, YOU’RE NO CAPTAIN!”
The Challenge

This story points to a truth. People may not see you the way you see yourself. Likewise, your customers may not view your store’s customer service the same way you do.

 Todays shoppers can spend their scarce retail dollars in many different places. Your goal is to help them choose to enrich their lives with a comfortable home environment, and make sure that their rooms are filled with furniture and bedding purchased from your store. The truth is we are up against tough competition both in and out of our industry, and when shoppers decide to furnish their homes; they find a lot of look-alike merchandise in the market place. Everybody has great products, great prices, and long-term financing.

When I ask Store Managers, Sales Teams, Operations and Delivery Teams why a shopper should choose their store to buy, the words “Great Customer Service “ almost always is given as a reason.

I challenge you to define for your team what Great Customer Service means. Look at the two examples below, think about Great Customer Service, and then choose which one comes closer to your ideal. Here’s a hint, there are at least 5 “opportunities” in each example that could turn the level of customer service from good to GREAT. See if you can find them!

Example #1-All Quiet on the Kitchen Front

In a typical furniture store a couple enters a store early in the month. They tell the salesperson they need a small dining set for daily use. The salesperson takes the shoppers to the casual dining area where they fall in love with a five-piece pub set, especially the cloth padded seats on the stools. They ask the salesperson when it can be delivered, and after some checking he tells them it will be 10 days. They request delivery on the 15th of the month, which is open on the delivery calendar. The salesperson starts to enter the order, and the wife mentions that her mother often comes to visit, and is there any way they can get one additional stool for the set. The salesperson says they can, quotes the price, and enters it in the order.

The merchandise arrives on the 13th of the month. The customer is called to confirm delivery. They ask what time the truck will arrive, and are told they can call a number the evening before delivery for a time frame. Calling back at 5 pm on the 14th, they are told the truck will arrive between 2 and 6 pm.
The truck arrives at 4:30 pm, and the five stools are set in the kitchen. Table legs are attached in the truck; the customer looks at everything and says that it is ok. The drivers get a signature and leave the house.

Example #2 - No One likes a One Nightstand

On the same day, in a neighboring furniture store, another couple decides to spend their tax refund on their very first new bedroom set. The salesperson greets them, finds out what style they like and the size bed they want. They soon find a mid-priced group, and ask for a price on the bed, dresser, mirror, chest, and two nightstands. The quoted price exceeds the amount of their refund, so and they decide they can do without a chest. As the customer has reached their budget, the salesperson figures she better not ask them to overspend and doesn’t mention the mattress department. They also ask for delivery before the 20th of the month as their old college friends are coming in to town and they want to show off their house and decorations. Everything is in stock and delivery is set for Saturday, the 19th. The bedroom comes in on the 17th, and the delivery is confirmed. The customer asks for a delivery time, and is asked to call back on the evening of the 18th. On the Friday before delivery the customer calls and finds out the truck will arrive between 2-5 pm.

At 4:45 the truck arrives and the set is brought in. The bed is assembled and the customer’s existing mattress is placed on it. The mirror is attached to the dresser, but when the drivers go to get the nightstands, it seems only one was placed on the truck. They bring in the one, and tell the customer they will ensure that it is brought out first thing on the next delivery day, Tuesday. The customer says this is unacceptable, calls the store, and is connected with the manager. The manager requests time to check things out and asks the customer to sign for what they received, so the drivers can leave. The customers signs off on the partial delivery. The manager calls back and says the “DC is closed until Monday”. You can imagine the response. The manager asks for a few more moments, and explains that she will call them back. She then calls the store owner at home, who calls the DC manager on his cell. It is agreed that the DC manager will bring the nightstand out to the customer in the service van the next day, Sunday, before 12 noon.

The manager is relieved, and feels that she has moved heaven and earth to satisfy the customer. She calls the customer, and an agreement is made for the Sunday delivery. To compensate them for the inconvenience, she offers to send out a $25 store gift card.

Which did you pick?

Which did you pick? Which example is more common in your store?

The point of these stories is that with few exceptions, store owners, managers and their team members believe that they provide GREAT customer service every day. The more important question is... would our customers agree?

Here’s what I think

Example #1 is an example of good customer service. The store team did everything they said they were going to do. The furniture came in promptly; everything got loaded on the truck, and arrived unmarred at the customer’s house. The walls and floors were not injured on delivery, all within the quoted timeframe. We in the retail field often mistake this for GREAT customer service. But certain actions and information were left out of the sales and delivery process. What could have made this good experience GREAT?

Example #2 is an example of good intentions gone awry. That store team made an error and disappointed a customer. Notice I said the store team and not the delivery department. Customers buy from a STORE, not any one department, and we win and lose as a team. Everyone scrambled to make it right. Even the Owner and DC manager got involved, and one put in time on his day off to personally resolve the situation. We also believe this is GREAT service, but how do you think your customer views it? Add to that the service on the sales floor; do you believe that even approached GOOD? What could have made that customer experience GREAT from the time they entered the store until after delivery.
your turn to do better

Both Example #1 and #2 depict good, average, and poor customer service, some obvious, others less so.
Great Customer Service begins from initial contact (think phone), store shopping, experience at the customer service counter, delivery contact, and after delivery contact. Our business consists of buildings, trucks, inventory, equipment, and valuable associates. Our most valuable, expensive, and hardest to replace asset, however, is the customer walking into the store, or waiting at home for a delivery. Take command of the situation, Captain, and treat them with the kindness, attention, and care that their value is worth, and your business will flourish. If you don’t treat them GREAT, someone else will.

Five Ways To Improve on Example #1

1. The barstools have cloth padded seats. On a dining table that is used daily, there is a very good chance that those seats will get soiled. Offering fabric protection or cleaning instructions would ensure that the stools would look good for a long time.

2. When the couple asked when the dining set could be delivered, the salesperson should have asked “When do you need it?” This allows the salesperson to develop alternate choices should the first-choice merchandise not be available when needed.

3. The salesperson should have asked how many people will be using the dining set before the couple requested an additional barstool. Also, adding one stool is okay, but the salesperson should have added a sixth stool, as it may be difficult to get one more added in the future.

4. The wife mentioned that her mother visits often. A great salesperson would have asked if anything else was needed at the house to make “Mom” more comfortable, perhaps a new guest room mattress!

5. When confirming delivery, the customer is told to call back for a delivery time. Good service companies initiate that call. GREAT service companies utilize routing software, GPS, and texting to alert customers for delivery times.

Five Ways To Improve On Example #2

  1. I hope you did not miss this one. The salesperson did not offer the customer the opportunity to upgrade their mattress set.

  2. Although the customer had a budget in mind, the tax refund, the salesperson should have offered to extend that budget with the store’s finance offer. Remember, the couple scratched the chest off of their order to save money. However furniture collections get discontinued and finish colors change, often with no notice. It is almost always better to provide complete room groups. 

  3. Sure, it was a mistake to forget both nightstands. Outgoing orders need to go out complete and in showroom condition. Beyond that, store owners need to empower their showroom and DC managers to work together. The store manager should not have had to call the owner to get the special delivery made. Optimally, the store team should develop a “crisis response” procedure ahead of the botched delivery, so the delivery can be completed SAME day. 

  4. The $25 Gift Card is a nice thought, but our customers have busy schedules, and with gas at $3.50 a gallon (or more) you can bet that card will never be redeemed! Why not make the gift something that will be remembered-like a pair of lamps or area rug. Or create a package of accessories worth $200 or more at retail that will have a real impact. If tight margins limit you to under $50, send a restaurant gift card. 

  5. Besides that, the apology gift should be delivered on Sunday with that missing night stand. Think how that will look on Facebook! 

Five Winning Tips for GREAT Service

1. Great Salespeople learn their shopper’s names in a friendly manner, and use them often. They understand that most shoppers are not furniture buying experts. Great salespeople offer solutions to ALL of their customer’s furniture needs and leave it up to them choose the items and services they want to purchase.

2. Great Store Managers greet as many shoppers as possible, and congratulate buyers at the point of purchase.

3. Great Owners ACTIVELY seek information from shoppers and buyers on their experience, and then fearlessly share that information for recognition and improvement.

4. Great Companies recognize their Most Valuable Customers (think about the 10, 50, or 100 people who purchased the most from you in 2014), keep in contact with them, and invite them back to shop often. They use a complimentary gift to enhance that invitation.

5. Great Operations Teams wear uniforms with name badges or ID cards, drive clean trucks, even the cab and box! They pad and protect customer homes, polish wood furniture, clean glass and mirrors, and fluff sofa cushions. They take time to compliment the customer’s choice, thank them, and leave a card with service information in case it is ever needed.

About Gordon Hecht: Gordon Hecht is a business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry. You can reach him at Gordon.hecht@aol.com