26 May 2024, 07:22
By Gordon Hecht Sept 29, 2023

Are you a captain of great customer service?

No matter how strong you think your customer service game is, there’s always room for improvement, writes business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry, Gordon Hecht …

Today’s shoppers can spend their scarce retail dollars in many different places. Our goal is to help them choose to enrich their lives with a comfortable home environment, and to make sure that environment has a comfortable mattress from our store. We are up against tough competition both in and outside of our industry, and when shoppers decide to furnish their homes, they find an overwhelming number of choices in the marketplace.

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” are almost always given as a reason. But I challenge you to define for your team what ‘great customer service’ actually means. Look at the two examples below – which one comes closer to your definition. Is it both, or neither?

Example 1: All quiet on the bedroom front

A couple enters a mattress store early in the month. They tell the salesperson they are buying their first new mattress since getting married. The salesperson asks several qualifying questions and then introduces a mid-priced mattress for a test rest. The couple decides they want something a bit softer, and soon choose a pillowtop mattress.

They ask the salesperson when it can be delivered. After 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.

On the 13th of the month the merchandise arrives. The customer is called to confirm delivery. They want to know what time the truck will arrive. They are told they can call a number the evening before delivery for a timeframe. They call back at 5pm on the 14th and are told the truck will arrive between 2-6pm.

The truck arrives at 4:30pm. The bed is delivered and set on an existing metal platform. The drivers get a signature and leave the house.

Example 2: Thinking without the box

One the same day, in another store, another couple decide to spend their tax refund on a new king-size mattress. The salesperson greets them, finds out what feel they like and the size of bed they want. They soon find a comfortable bed that they agree upon. The salesperson demonstrates an adjustable base.

It is more than the money then they received on the refund, and they decide they can do without the base. As the customer has reached their budget, the salesperson figures she’d better not have them overspend, and switches them to a boxspring base.

They also ask if it could be delivered before the 20th of the month, as their old college friends are coming into town and they want to show off their house. Everything is in stock. Delivery is set for Saturday the 19th.

On the 17th 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 2-5pm.

 At 4:45pm the truck arrives. The set is brought in. When the drivers go to get the boxsprings, it seems only one was placed on the truck. They bring in the one and tell the customer they will ensure that the other 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. The manager calls back and says, “The DC is closed until Monday.”  You can imagine the response.

The manager asks for a few moments, and she will call back. She calls the mattress store owner at home, who calls the DC manager on his cell. After a brief discussion, the DC manager agrees to bring the second boxspring out to the customer in the service van later that evening.

The manager is relieved and feels that she has moved heaven and earth to satisfy the customer. She calls the customer and arranges the late evening delivery. For the inconvenience, the manager offers to send out a $25 gift card for the store.

Which did you pick? Which example is more common in your store? Before you answer, let me tell you a story (my friends say that I don’t know any short stories, but I’ll be as brief as I can).

A 40-year-old son of immigrant parents does extremely well in his chosen field. So well, in fact, that he purchases a yacht and hires 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 gives his parents a tour and the voyage begins. 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 his son squarely in the eye, and 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 point of the story is that, with few exceptions, store owners and managers believe that their teams provide great customer service every day. And I would guess if you asked every member of the team, they would surely say they give great customer service. We all would agree that the service we provide is our best competitive advantage. But the question is, would our customers agree?

Here is what I think. Example 1 is an example of good customer service. The store personnel did everything they said they were going to do. The bed came in on time, all got loaded on the truck, and arrived unmarred at the customer’s house. The walls and floors were not damaged 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 good intentions gone awry. The store made an error and disappointed a customer. Notice I said ‘the store’, 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?

 Now it’s your turn. Both examples depict good, average, and poor customer service. Some are obvious, others more sublime. See what you come up with and what you would improve. There are at least 10 ‘opportunities’ in each example that could turn the customer from good to great. Challenge your store team to see how many they can find. 

Great customer service begins from initial contact (think website and phone), and runs through store shopping, experience at the customer service counter, delivery contact, and after delivery contact.

Our business consists of buildings, trucks, inventory, equipment, and valued associates. However, our most valuable, expensive, and hardest-to-replace asset is the customer walking in the store or waiting at home for delivery right now. Treat them with the kindness, attention and care that their value is worth, and the business will flourish. If you don’t treat them great, someone else will.

Gordon Hecht is a business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry, and a regular contributor to Furniture News. He can be reached at [email protected].

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