Ask an independent dealer, cabinet shop or decorative plumbing and hardware showroom why a consumer should deal with them instead of a big box store, and the answer invariably is “customer service.”
Yet a friend’s recent experience turned this blithe assumption on its head. He has been waiting 18 months (no kidding) for a drawer front to be replaced by an independent dealer. It was drilled for the wrong hardware, and has two unsightly holes on either side of a handle. Voice mails go unanswered. Emails vaporize into cyber space. Drawer heads are ordered, lost or come in the wrong size.
Meanwhile my friend ordered an RTA cabinet from a big box store and it arrived with a damaged part. The friendly store associate immediately apologized, got in touch with the vendor and called back the same day to say a new part would be in the store in three to five days. And it was.
Admittedly this is just one incident, but it feels indicative of the challenges of customer service today. Everyone is busy and short staffed, consumers are more demanding and negative online reviews take seconds to post. Yet referrals remain the lifeblood of the business.
By sacrificing customer service, a business shoots itself in the foot. So now is a good time to rethink the current landscape of customer service, which is what the book What Customers Crave by Nicholas J. Webb is all about.
Actually Webb maintains, “Customer service is dead. If you’re using customer service as a way to lead your market segment…you’ve already lost. ‘Good’ customer service will kill your business because most customer service initiatives are not enough to allow you to compete effectively in today’s market.
“It is no longer about customer service. Instead it’s about customer experiences, and those had better be exceptional and relevant ones.”
Webb says he is “frequently shocked at how many companies have never asked themselves, ‘What is it like to do business with us?’”
He cautions that, when companies become really busy, they can unfortunately transition from being customer centric to operations centric. They focus too much on internal processes and lose sight of the customer.
“Inevitably customer interactions sour. Just because you have to manage operations every single day doesn’t mean you can put customer experiences on the back burner. Develop a philosophy of customer first, operation second,” Webb urges.
Businesses can do this by creating exceptional human experiences, both digital and non-digital, across what Webb has identified as the five customer touch points: pre-touch, first-touch, core-touch, last-touch and in-touch.
To resonate, the experiences should be tailored to your customers’ loves and hates, and that’s how you should segment your customers.
Some kitchen consumer segments might be: loves to cook; loves design more than function; loves to entertain and impress guests; loves new technology; or hates the idea of doing a kitchen but loves the thought of maintaining the value of a home.
Similarly bath consumer segments might be: sensuous types who love to relax and indulge themselves; sports and health enthusiasts who love the hydrotherapy of steam or whirlpools; pragmatists concerned about home values; technology lovers; or people who hate the idea of moving and love the idea of staying comfortably in their home as they age.
What might customers hate about the experience of redoing a kitchen or bath? The expense? The long process? The complicated decisions? The inability to visualize the finished room? The chaos and disruption?
Once you’ve identified your most common customer segments according to their loves and hates, you can then create ways to delight them at every touch point.
At this point, prospects are researching you, most often without your knowledge.
People’s excitement and engagement grows when they are anticipating an experience to come. Research shows, for example, people are happiest in the eight weeks before their vacation, rather than afterwards.
So you need to help prospects anticipate an exciting experience. Paint the picture on your website of the great kitchens and baths to come, with photos grouped with your market segments in mind.
“Content marketing is the biggest marketing buzzword on the planet today,” notes Webb. “Basically that means providing useful information to prospects.” It can be especially powerful in our industry where purchases can be so complicated and unfamiliar.
“The best way to have a good pre-touch experience for your potential customers is to deliver free and valuable resources prior to their commitment,” Webb adds.
“Sharing content in the pre-touch moment is giving something valuable without asking for anything in return.”
Just as important as your digital presence is putting an eagle eye on your brick-and-mortar presence. “In order to understand how to develop the perfect pre-touch moment, you need to get out of your chair and do research,” Webb says.
“Drive down the street and envision how customers might perceive the quality of your experience based on what they see. Walk around your building and peer through the windows as if you were a potential customer. What do you hear, smell and think?”
At the first non-digital touch point, customers’ brains rapidly absorb the smells, sounds, tastes and sites of that encounter, Webb points out. So ask yourself if your showroom is filled with exceptional sensory details.
How are people greeted? What do they experience?
According to a leading architect, Ken Nisch, whose firm JGA designs retail spaces, the first touch should prepare customers for the experience they are looking forward to.
“Whereas traditional retail is at the end of the ride,” Nisch says, “think about retail at the front of the ride, to get you excited about the experience to come.”
No doubt it keeps getting tougher and tougher to create meaningful first-touch experiences. Experiential retail concepts that once might have surprised and delighted prospects, today have become ho-hum. “It seems like every store has a coffee bar or a workshop on the sales floor,” he points out.
How can you get prospects excited about a new kitchen or bath? What additional content can you supply them with at this stage of their journey? Can they leave with something of value?
Once a prospect becomes a customer, it’s essential to manage each experience along the way as the project comes to life. It’s all about how easy it is to do business with you.
How many meetings or showroom visits does it typically take? Over what period of time? What normally happens in each one? Where is there the most danger of something going wrong, and what can you do about it in advance? How can you leave the customer feeling good every time? How long does it take for you to respond to an email or phone call? Does the customer understand the next step in the process and the timeline?
Don’t neglect content marketing during the core touch phase. If it’s time to select countertops, offer information on materials. If it’s time for installation, provide tips on preparing the home.
The last touch is where our business often falls down. We may be looking ahead to the next project. Yet the customer has issues that, frankly, may seem nitpicky to us, but are important to them.
Prepare the customer ahead of time that there will be final project tweaks. Otherwise they may be alarmed when they see something that needs adjusting. Reassure them you will do a final walk through together and you will handle the punch list within a certain time frame.
Here is when you want to deliver an experience that is so exceptional that you receive five-star ratings on social networks. Webb cites the example of one company he knows that delivers all of its jetted tubs with an enormous basket of spa goodies.
Webb then shares two personal home improvement experiences: one positive, one negative.
“I recently hired a contractor to lay tile in my home. He was pleasant and professional and delivered on his promise throughout. What he did at the end surprised me. When everything was cleaned up and the floor looked fabulous, he asked if I could sit down for a moment. When I did, this is what he said.
“‘Mr. Webb, I’m a small contractor and the opportunity to do this kind of work is an honor for me and I just want you to know that I appreciate the opportunity to do this work for you. If I can ever be of service to you in any way in the future, it would be a genuine honor.’
“He said this with a hundred percent sincerity. It wasn’t robotic. He wasn’t faking it. In fact…he pulled out his wallet and showed me a picture of his family.
“We have a low expectation for the customer service in this type of work. He wasn’t selling luxury cars. He was laying tile. So it really stood out when he showed this exceptional service and touch-point moment. He made me not just his customer but his advocate. At every opportunity, I recommend him to friends, family and acquaintances.”
The author had a different experience with a contractor who installed a rotating rack in a closet to accommodate his large collection of suits. The night after the job was done, the entire rack collapsed. When the contractor fixed it, he said, ‘Just so you know, this wasn’t my fault. Your clothes are too heavy.’
“If only he kept his mouth shut, he might still be in business today,” Webb says. “He’s not…I wasn’t the only one he mouthed off to.”
Staying in touch with customers after the job is done can’t be about trying to upsell or ask for referrals. It has to be genuine. Follow up asking if everything is okay with their project. Ask for feedback on how the project went.
You can also send reminders like: “Sometimes we find as things settle after a few months, cabinet hinges may need adjusting. Here’s how you can do it, or we are happy to come do it for you.”
Or, “Now that you’ve had your new kitchen or bath for a few months, you may be wondering how to clean your cabinets, counters, faucets and so forth.” Then send an email on each topic. If you installed lighting, where can they get replacement bulbs? And what kind and size should they be? Keep your market segments in mind.
“We know you like to cook. Here are a few recipes we thought you might like.”
“We know you like to entertain, here are some great wines or cheeses we recently enjoyed.”
As Webb points out, creating exceptional customer experiences for all customer types across all five touch points is not a one-time event. “Constantly live your customers’ experiences and then collaborate with your colleagues to make them better and better.” ▪