28 May 2024, 12:21
By Bill McLoughlin Feb 15, 2023

Looking for customer service inspiration?

Looking at how things are done outside of our industry can be a great way to reassess and shake up your business, suggests Bill McLoughlin, editor-in-chief of US trade magazine Furniture Today, and secretary general of the International Alliance of Furnishing Publications (IAFP) …

Attendees at Furniture Today’s latest Leadership Conference likely have a notebook full of ideas from keynote speaker Jesse Cole, owner of the Savannah Bananas minor league baseball team. For those not fortunate enough to see the high-energy entrepreneur live on our Leadership stage, I’d like to share a few thoughts.

It’s noteworthy that Cole does not think of himself as a baseball owner, or his goal as selling tickets. Instead, he views his mission as entertainment, and his goal one of building fans. That may sound obvious, trite or even simplistic. However, if you take that seriously as a mission and think carefully about orienting a business around those two simple principles, it’s game-changing.

Imagine for a moment orienting a furniture retail business around those two principles – entertain, and build fans. How might that change the way customers are greeted when they enter the store?

Cole shared a technique he uses to answer those types of questions with his staff. They hold regular ‘ideapaloozas’, free-flowing brainstorming sessions where the goal is to come up with promotions, activities and ways of engaging fans, that look at ‘normal’, and then do the opposite. The key, he noted, is to accept failure as an option. Not everything is going to work, but if you’re trying to create fun and entertainment, people come back to see what you’re going to do next.

Let’s look at the opposite end of the furniture-buying experience – delivery. If the goal was to entertain and create fans, how might that experience differ from what you’re doing today? 

I’ve had a good deal of furniture and bedding delivered in my day. Two experiences stand out. There was the time I had a mattress delivered, and the delivery person, dressed immaculately in white coveralls and white gloves, rolled out a red carpet into my home, donned booties to protect my floors, and left mints on the bed once the mattress was put in place (most industry veterans probably know which company I’m talking about).

The other was the time I had a sofa and loveseat delivered, and found the plastic wrapping stashed under my front hedges after the delivery people left.

Which one created a fan?

The opportunity, Cole noted, is to extend this effort to every single touchpoint, even small things like voicemail and invoicing. Have you called your own voicemail lately? Does it start something like, “Please listen carefully, because our menu options have changed?” It’s a small thing, but it’s a chance to either stand out or confirm yet another negative consumer stereotype about impersonal customer service.

At a time when consumers have more shopping options at their fingertips than at any time in human history, it’s more important than ever to stand out. How you do that is up to you.

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