Flexsteel responds to the ‘Voice of the Customer’

Company research initiative included live interviews, questionnaires and town hall meetings to hear the wants and needs of its retail partners

DUBUQUE, Iowa — When Flexsteel launched its Voice of the Customer initiative in July 2021, the goal was to get a sense of what the company described as friction points in the selling and delivery process.

It appointed company executive Dan Wallace to the role of vice president of customer experience, a position created to improve accountability throughout the customer experience, including many of its core retail partners — and ultimately end consumers.

Now, after some 600 live interviews with Flexsteel Gallery customers between last fall and this past winter and the fielding of some 1,600 surveys, the company has a plan in place to improve the customer experience.

The result can be viewed as a textbook example of how a company puts its customers first in both listening to their needs and concerns and then responding with an action plan.

Of course it was a challenge to actually meet retailers face to face during the pandemic. So it conducted many of the interviews on Microsoft Teams calls. These calls were recorded and transcribed and the company then used AI software to identify key themes.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Flexsteel-upholstery-resized.jpg
Flexsteel showed this sectional at Premarket. It is part of its South Haven collection.

“We took the top themes and did a deep dive to better understand,” said David Crimmins, vice president, sales. “This was a learning process over several months so we would alter our questions based on previous learnings to understand the root cause.”

The key themes that emerged ranged from issues dealing with order visibility and the importance of RSA (retail sales associate) training to the types of marketing materials the company was offering to its dealers. Finally, it led to ideas on how the company could enhance its gallery program.

With the order visibility component, it implemented an Order Status tool in its Backroom Portal that now allows retailers to be able to check order status in real time.

“We’ve seen a 70% reduction in inbound customer calls related to order status since implementation,” Crimmins said, noting that Flexsteel continues to modify and improve the technology.  “This tells us that retailers have the information they need, real time.”

The company also learned that its retail partners enjoyed the types of training that Flexsteel offered in years past with Flexsteel University.

“With RSA turnover and a rapidly changing product mix on the floor, training was a huge, unmet need in our industry,” Crimmins said.

In response, the company promoted Laura Smeltz to retail experience manager and asked her to develop and relaunch Flexsteel University. So far, the company has introduced 20 training modules, hosting them on an online platform linked to the Backroom Portal. The courses, Crimmins said, take five to seven minutes to complete. And, so far, more than 2,000 RSAs have participated. Of these, nearly half completed the curriculum, which gives them the designation of “Flexsteel Certified.”

“Some of it also is generalized information,” added Tim Newlin, vice president, product management at Flexsteel. “It is industry knowledge as well as knowledge about Flexsteel.”

Crimmins said that the company has continued to develop new courses each quarter, noting that there have been 20,000 courses completed so far.

From its interactions with dealers, Flexsteel also learned that customers like print catalogs, which the company had moved away from to focus on its digital marketing assets. But retailers wanted them back, so the company is now reintroducing the catalogs with an on-demand print format that the company said is “effective, sustainable and in line with our ESG (environmental, societal and governmental) efforts” that reduce the amount of unused and overprinted quantities that ultimately get thrown out.

This instead “delivers the selling tool to those that desire it,” Crimmins said, and limits excess waste in printed materials.

Newlin also noted that the print medium offers simplified and consistent messaging throughout the company’s many different marketing initiatives.

“We have tied the simplification all the way through,” he said. “So the catalog page looks like the in-store (marketing) piece and looks like the content on the website. It is consistent messaging.”

Another key development from the research? The company is revamping its gallery program by engaging gallery retailers and taking a “renewed, critical look” at the value of this type of in-store initiative.

“We believe this program can be so much more than exchanging floor space for co-op investments,” Crimmins said, noting that Smeltz also is leading this initiative.

“We aspire to be thought leaders in areas of digital strategy, product innovation and the understanding of consumer buying habits,” he said, adding, “We are pursuing partnerships with leaders in digital strategy, social media marketing and order-to-fulfillment contributors that can enable better business for our Gallery retailers and us.”

Thomas Russell

Home News Now Editor-in-Chief Thomas Russell has covered the furniture industry for 25 years at various daily and weekly consumer and trade publications. He can be reached at tom@homenewsnow.com and at 336-508-4616.

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