In a recent column, I discussed the often less-than-glowing reviews consumers share about their furniture purchasing experiences.
In case you missed it, here’s the link.
At the end of that column, I promised I would follow that with an update of what can be done to help the industry improve those ratings.
In doing my research on that topic, I interviewed Jonathan Schulman, an independent home furnishings rep who recently was named president of CeXperentia, Medallia’s partner to the furniture industry.
Medallia is a pioneer and global market leader in customer, employee, citizen and patient experience. The company has partner arms for specific industries, with CeXperentia being the partner for the home furnishings sector.
What follows is an interview with Schulman about consumers’ experiences with the home furnishings sector.
HNN: In terms of customer experience, how would you rate our industry versus others?
JS: It’s not good. I don’t want to point fingers, but take a look at Yelp, Google or TrustPilot. Three stars would be a massive score in our sector. The bigger stores are usually the ones with the lower scores because the volume of issues can be overwhelming.
HNN: What challenges does the furniture sector face that impedes a great customer experience?
JS: The customer journey for furniture is unique. From inspiration to destination, there are so many touch points with a customer before the delivery is made that it can be difficult to stay on top of it all. Each interaction is an opportunity to delight or to disappoint, and when companies come up short of the customer’s expectation, then they start to lose customer loyalty, oftentimes to the point of creating some really ugly sentiment. When that happens, it starts costing money … lots of money. … And the bottom line gets crushed. Bane and Co. did a study and found that just a 5% increase in customer retention could return 25% to 100% more profits based on the lifetime profitability of a customer. We sell high-ticket stuff, so the upside is huge, and it ought to be paid attention to.
HNN: What steps should someone wanting to create positive customer experiences take?
JS: The first and biggest step to solving your customer experience problem is admitting you have one. If you are a stakeholder in a customer-facing business, go look to see what your customers are saying about you on the review sites, or even on your own website. Ask yourself if you care.
Once you do decide that CX is important, then someone in the organization needs to own it and be empowered to make decisions to improve your customer experience. Call that person the customer compliance officer and give them the admin password to the system so they can act in the best interest of your customer.
The companies that really thrive in business have a passion to serve as part of the culture, or at least an understanding that the difference between a customer who buys and a customer who does not is rarely decided based on the product in the store or the price of it, but rather the experience they have.
Put someone in charge of advocating for the customer to ensure that your policies are fair. If you charge a restocking fee or a redelivery fee, would you really be happy to pay them yourself if you were the customer?
Have that person measure results. Using Net Promoter Score, you can quantify how well you’re doing without subjectivity. So much of our industry is decided in the gut. I learned process and measure at Ashley, and I often proved myself more wrong than correct when I tried to prove to my partners that my way was the right way. I’m not a cliché guy, but if you can’t measure it, it’s not real.
HNN: Tell me about your solution. What is it, how does it work, how do you measure its effectiveness?
JS: Everyone knows about Medallia, even if you’ve never noticed them. Medallia is the leader in customer experience metrics (Forrester Q1, 2023 report on Customer Feedback Management) and has been solely for enterprise-level businesses. When you check out of a Marriott, return your Avis or land in any airport, you will get a survey from the company inquiring as to the likelihood of you recommending them to someone you know based on the experience you just had. Medallia not only crunches the responses they get and gives a score based on those responses, so you can see exactly how a company is doing; they will also send an alert if there is a loop to be closed explaining who the customer is, exactly what was wrong and how to contact them to rectify. … All in real time. It’s very sexy and, as Medallia’s partner to the home furnishings industry, it’s now very affordable for our industry.
HNN: What happens when poor customer experiences are not addressed?
JS: It’s a mess. Everyone has dealt with customers who are less than satisfied with their experience or product. It’s a draining call to receive, and it takes you away from running your company and moving it forward. If you are a larger store with a call center, think about your operating costs for just that department and the morale inside of it. Customers you paid big money to get to walk in your door are now sitting on hold waiting to talk to someone who really doesn’t want to talk to them. Those customers are far more likely to tell people about the rotten treatment they feel like they received and will more than likely never show you their credit card again. … And that’s a big lose.
These customers that you were so happy to welcome in once upon a time are often the ones that move to social media to vilify the retailer in a public forum. Hell hath no fury like a scorned customer, and now there are video reviews online, so you can actually see the person describing in horror just how appalling the lack of service was. We call these people detractors, and they are also the ones to file a lawsuit against you, which can also be expensive and take your focus away from your primary mission. It’s just so much easier to take care of them early. … Even if it hurts a little, it will hurt much more later on. Just because these losses don’t show up on your balance sheet doesn’t make them less real.
HNN: How does your solution impact the rep?
JS: A savvy retailer is much better for the rep. I’ve been a rep on the road for 13 years and when my customers have fewer issues and are firing on all cylinders, sales are better, POs come easier and containers get booked. Retail salespeople don’t have customers ruining their day because someone in the call center or a delivery driver did something wrong. Life can be great, and I’m on a mission to make sure that happens. The good news is that the bar is so low right now and our customers are being underserved. Smart retailers can swoop in and serve those people and make them customers for life. … If they measure it.