Each day, as customers, we experience brands. Recently, my husband and I ate at a Subway restaurant. My husband ordered the “Sandwich of the Day”—an Italian sub. The employee responsible for making said sandwich asked him, “What meat do you want on your sub?” To which my husband replied, “I want the Italian sub.” She looked at him and said, “You need to tell me what meat to put on it.” Whaaat?
Now, obviously, a homeowner making a floor covering purchase is not the same as someone ordering a sandwich. But providing an outstanding customer experience represents a significant opportunity for you to differentiate your store (a.k.a. brand) from the large box retailers and online competitors. Plus, with the continued socialization of media, a homeowner receiving a great experience can segue into a third party advocating online on your behalf and solidly recommend your store to family and friends.
Also, let’s not forget about your Main Street commercial repeat business. Providing those customers with a consistent, positive experience will keep them coming back to you.
What is Customer Experience?
Customer experience is the subjective response that customers have to any direct or indirect contact with a company or brand. A customer’s experience encompasses every aspect of a company’s offering: the quality of customer care, of course, plus product, merchandising, service, financing, installation and post-installation follow up, etc. In addition, a customer’s experience begins before they step foot in your showroom. Advertising, website, social media, a neighbor’s recommendation, etc. all contribute to a customer’s experience and perception of your store.
Finally, a key component of customer experience is creating a process to obtain actionable feedback on the level of customer satisfaction your store has achieved. Think about the last time you went into a store and made a purchase. Did you receive a quick online survey asking you for your feedback? If so, they were looking for insights on how they can make improvements for your next visit.
Creating a Customer Experience Plan
One of my favorite commercials is by Post It called “Jump.” In this commercial, they say, “When you write something down, you are 42 percent more likely to make it happen.”
Most of you have business plans, operational plans, etc., but there is an opportunity to create a Customer Experience Plan. Creating a customer experience plan should be a cross-functional, team initiative. After all, all cross-functional teams will be part of bringing the plan to life, and living it everyday!
You will want to tailor your customer’s experience to each customer segment. If you have both a retail and commercial business, the needs of those customers will vary dramatically and so should their experiences. Your business plan and your growth goals will drive the priority and focus for your plan development.
Document the Current Customer Experience
An important first step in this process is to document your customer’s experience or path to purchase when they interact with your business. How are you currently marketing the organization? What’s the current protocol when they walk in the store? Are they greeted? At what point? What questions do your salespeople ask? What products do you offer? Do you offer design services? What’s your sampling policy? Having a good handle on what the current state is will better enable you to identify touchpoints that may represent an opportunity to create an enhanced experience.
Obtain Feedback from Customers as Framework
I’ve sat in meetings where I’ve heard, “Well, I think that the customer would like to see this….” The target audience customer, in this case, was from the segment: female, adult 35-54, an avid home decorator, loved animals, watched HGTV religiously and entertained frequently in her home. The gentleman making the suggestions had none of these characteristics, although he might have had a dog. Hmm. By obtaining direct customer feedback, a plan can be developed that is customer-centric and unbiased.
As a starting point, create a research survey and send out to past recent customers. There are various research strategies and tools you can use, such as Survey Monkey, or you can hire a professional to handle it. The insight that you can get from research can prove invaluable and should provide the framework for your plan development.
The survey should be crafted with the end in mind. What are you trying to learn? Each question should be asked in a way that will provide actionable results. The biggest mistake companies make when developing a survey is that they end up with results that are not actionable, and they don’t learn anything.
If you really think that merchandising is an opportunity, consider working with a professional to conduct in-store customer focus groups. If conducted correctly, they will provide specific feedback on what customers like and opportunities for improvement in your showroom.
All feedback will help inform and provide the framework for your customer experience plan.
Establish Objectives that are Specific, Measurable & Attainable
Based on the research learning, establish customer experience objectives that are quantifiable, attainable and measurable. They should tie to the learning that you gained about best ways to optimize the experience for the future customers. In addition, be sure that they ladder up and tie to your sales goals and business plan.
Potential Customer Experience Plan Components
Depending on the nature of your business, there are many functional areas that represent an opportunity to include in your research study and can inform your Customer Experience Plan.
- Marketing - Since a customers’ experiences start even before they come into your store, how you leverage marketing programs, including your website, advertising and social media, will have an impact on their perception of your brand and contribute to their overall experience. Ask about this in the survey: Where do they look for information for product options? Where to buy the product? How do they consume social media? What do they think about your website? How did they find you?
- Merchandising – This is a favorite topic of mine and, in floor covering, one that can have a significant impact on a customer’s experience. As customers walk into a showroom, in most cases there is a lot to absorb and take in. Through your survey there is an opportunity to get some feedback in areas such as product assortment, showroom design and flow, product presentation, services provided, etc. This area is ripe with opportunities for some rich, actionable learning.
- Sales Interaction – How salespeople interact with customers on the floor is a significant contributor to their overall experience. Ask about effectiveness of the approach, not the people. Are the salespeople experts in the field? Were they well-informed about design trends? Product features? Were they generalists or subject matter experts for a given product type? Were they good listeners? Responsive?
- Installation – This is where the rubber hits the road. You could do everything right and then problems or delays with installation can wipe all that good will away.
- Pricing/Invoicing/Financing – Well, I don’t think that I have ever received survey feedback where we learned that we weren’t charging enough, but there is an opportunity to get some feedback on the process and accuracy of invoicing, particularly for those of you in the B2B space. Homeowners may have some actionable feedback for you about financing programs.
Internal Launch and Follow-Up
It is important that all involved parties have an opportunity to contribute to the plan’s development. Only by getting cross-functional teams together to see the opportunities for themselves and design solutions as a group can you evolve processes that stick.
Go ahead and create some excitement and energy around this initiative and launch it to your team. Talk about it to some of your people in advance, share the initiative, ask them to be advocates and participate in the process.
Once an action plan has been developed to identify upgrades or changes to the customer’s original experience, jointly developed goals should be communicated with the team and celebrations planned when goals are met.
Once you have updated your Customer Experience Plan to include your plan improvements, don’t try to tackle everything at once. Pick the areas that you think will have the most positive and immediate impact. Focus on low hanging fruit or those initiatives that are easiest to implement and will have the greatest short-term impact.
Remember, this should be cyclical process—not a just a point in time. In the spirit of ongoing learning, providing a consistent customer experience will enable you to stay in tune with the customer’s needs, and reap the benefits and the power of improved close rates. Satisfied customers will leverage positive social media to showcase their newly remodeled rooms. And your store will be benefactor of that advocacy.