We are in the midst of the largest retail shakeup in history. To put the DPH showroom performance in perspective, Coresight Research notes in its November 15 update, “U.S. retailers have announced 9,052 store closures and 3,956 store openings.” Having just returned from the annual Decorative Plumbing & Hardware Association conference, I can tell you that the overall feeling is that business is good and will remain that way for the next 18 months. While this is not a statistic, deeply researched or confirmed, the business outlook expressed by DPHA members has been a good indicator for years. Now we need to make sure we stay ahead.
Think back to the time before the term “customer experience” was used to evaluate everything. As the industry began to pull itself out of the muck of the recession, the term “product value” was all the rage. Its catch phrase was: “Is that a good value for my money?” Customers were looking for value – the best products for their dollars, not low price.
As the industry became skilled on the “value” sales conversation, that term slipped into the background and “customer experience” emerged as the overall, undefinable, defining metric. Repeatedly we read and have been told that, “All great businesses offer a top-notch customer experience.” We see it referred to in case study after case study but, as with “value,” the challenge is to define and measure great customer experiences.
Angel investor Darren Herman offers guidance in his blog, Operating Partner. He proposed the following simple formula:
Value = Experience/Price
On first thought, that formula appears to be too simple. However, when you evaluate the equation in more detail, it makes sense. The kicker is defining experience. Price is simple: the lower it goes, the lower the experience factor can be to still deliver attractive value. But, if you are playing on the luxury-premium level, you have to improve the experience to justify higher pricing.
It has been proven continuously that the lowering price value strategy is a never-ending race to the bottom and that’s not a successful formula for DPH luxury experiences. The decorative plumbing and hardware industry can deliver on its value paradigm by focusing on the following five touch points: showroom, website, salespeople, customer service and vendors.
Breaking them down into easily defined deliverables allows you to create a manageable list to use as a brand experience evaluation scorecard (equally applicable to manufacturers, representatives and showrooms).
- Is your website easy to use and comfortable for your customers to shop?
- Does your website offer the information your customers require?
- Is your website easy for Google to find?
- Are your key vendors’ presentations and product pages up to date?
- Is your website respected more than your competition’s?
- For e-commerce sites, does your showroom’s in-stock inventory cater to the products your customers really need before the vendor can deliver?
Today’s customer wants to do their work whenever and wherever they are. To have a poor website is interpreted as you are not interested in their business. An effective and easy-to-use website is a must have. There’s a reason that Airbnb is the largest hotel site in the world. It requires no more than three clicks to make a reservation. More importantly, the site is designed to make people dream.
- Are your salespeople more knowledgeable and respected than your competition?
- Are they consistent from customer to customer?
- Do they listen actively?
- Do they want to improve?
Every time I am at a showroom or attending a conference, the number one problem our colleagues mention is finding good people. Yet, few companies have formal or even informal programs for making good people better. I have never met a salesperson that cannot get better – and that includes me.
- Do you offer uncompromising cradle-to-grave service?
- Do you proactively communicate both good and bad information with your clients as their job progresses?
- Do you reach out to the client and end users after the job is finished?
- Is your product return process painful for the client? Are they presumed guilty before being proven innocent?
A significant factor in the continuing growth of DPH showrooms and vendors is based on selling more to good customers. Will that hold true if you fail to offer best-in-class customer service?
- Are they what they say they are?
- Do they train and keep your purchasing, sales and customer service teams up to date?
- Do they design and craft products in line with their pricing?
- Do they deliver on what they promise?
- Are their demands in line with their value to your business?
Vendors, when was the last time you surveyed the key 100 showroom salespeople about what they think will help your brand improve? When was the last time you and your distributor showroom surveyed their good builder and trade customers about what they think will help your brand improve? Sitting in your office listening to a few loud folks is not the best way to build your brand’s foundation.
- Is your showroom easy and comfortable for your customers to shop?
- Is your showroom easy for your salespeople to use?
- Is your showroom perceived as stylish by your core design trade customers?
- Are your key vendors’ displays up to date?
- Does your showroom’s inventory contain the products your customers need before the vendor can deliver?
Maintaining a showroom is hard work and expensive, but when done effectively it can be very profitable. The more vendors, representatives and distributor showrooms stay in step, the better for all parties involved.
This list provides a tool to evaluate your business and to determine your customer experience rating. Each point can be valued good or bad, or with a five-point scale. Determine which metric works best for your business and team.
There is one other factor to consider. Each point on the list focuses on eliminating friction your customers encounter when working with your company. Both trade customers and end-users hate friction. Removing friction requires an investment of money and time. Willingly taking back a polished nickel lavatory faucet that looks as if it was attacked by a steel grill brush is not easy or cheap, but sometimes necessary.
Do not lose sight of the fact that you are working to increase your customers’ perceived value of your business.
The bottom line is that each individual customer will evaluate your business. Having a metric to determine how your business is perceived will improve your customers’ experiences and help you develop effective strategies to address weaknesses. ▪