The importance of making a good first impression has never been more vital than in the social media-facing society in which furniture retailers now operate, says Mark Williamson. There’s nowhere to hide from bad customer reviews, and so much to gain from glowing testimonials – so retailers really should reassess their approaches to services such as on-hold marketing  …

Interior decor has never been more on trend. You can barely switch on the TV without tuning into a home makeover show or renovation series. Newsagent shelves are packed with house and garden titles. 

This trend represents a huge opportunity for furniture retailers to jump on the bandwagon and help people fall back in love with their homes – and grow their business.

The furniture sector has always understood that quality, well-designed products and exceptional customer service are integral to business success. But the more savvy business owners also recognise that the customer experience, from the first product enquiry through to delivery and aftersales service, is all part of the process in making sure your customers leave happy, return and recommend you to their friends and family.

Make your customers feel at home

Just because you’re not available to pick up 24/7, it doesn’t mean your telephone can’t still do a job in making customers feel at home with your brand. 

The telephone is often your company’s first interaction with potential customers, and should be treated as instrumental in ensuring they buy their next sofa or dining table from you – not your competitors. 

An Englishman’s home is his castle. And he wants the best quality and most stylish furnishings to adorn it. Furnishings are a considered, and very personal, purchase, and people invest a lot of time researching interior decor trends – and undoubtedly refer to online forums to get insights into who are the best companies to buy from, and who to avoid. As such, customers will only buy from you if you can give inspiring design advice, deliver on time, answer product queries and provide exceptional aftersales service.

If a customer is answered by an impolite or uninformed employee, or if a call is left unanswered or put on hold for an unacceptable length of time, you could create a negative perception – no matter how stylish or well-crafted your furniture may be. The damage is done, and your reputation is marred after just one phone call. 

In fact, a survey carried out for PHMG by TNS Kantar revealed that almost three-quarters (73%) of Brits won’t do repeat business with a company if their initial call isn’t handled to their satisfaction. 

You never get a second chance to make a first impression

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. How frustrated do you feel when greeted by monotonous beeps, repetitive ‘please hold’ messages or even silence? The same survey revealed that 38% of firms still leave customers listening to nothing but generic music, while a further 29% leave callers in silence and 28% subject them to beeps. 

Almost 30 seconds is enough time to make callers hang up, wondering which retailer to call next. 

Are you sitting comfortably?

Putting callers on hold doesn’t need to be a negative encounter. Instead, it represents a unique opportunity to provide informative dialogue that keeps callers engaged – tell them about seasonal offers, finance deals such as interest-free credit periods and payment plans, or new ranges added to your portfolio.

Give customers added reassurance that they are dealing with a reputable company by reinforcing your award accreditations or biographies about designers and how you source your materials and fabrics. Give general advice about what kind of products to use for maintenance (for example, leather polishers) or tips on how to best care for outdoor furniture during the winter. 

The promotional opportunities of on-hold marketing are endless, providing brand-congruent and timely messages which perfectly represent your business. 

Home is where your story begins

On-hold marketing can transform previous ‘dead air’ into a highly-targeted interaction. Unlike other costly advertising which often falls on deaf ears or goes unseen, on-hold messages allow you to engage with customers – encouraging them to bring your furnishings into their homes.  

It has even been shown to reduce caller hang-ups by 79%, while also decreasing the perceived waiting time.

Your customer will feel reassured that they are dealing with a reputable company. And you will have another happy customer who can subsequently recommend you to their friends when they show off your furnishings during their next dinner party or Instagram post. 

Mark Williamson is the sales and marketing director at audio branding specialist PHMG, which blends creative copy, voice artistry and brand-matched music to transform the caller experience offered by more than 32,000 clients in 39 countries.