Most of us retailers say we care about service, but isn't it mostly just for mottos, mailings, mission statements and group hugs?
Service. Who cares? Seriously, who really cares about customer service? Most of us say we do, but we aren’t really telling the truth. We try to imagine that we do, though. We create flyers, drop mailings, hang signage, craft company mottos and mission statements, mandate management group-hugs. But if you’re not leaving work exhausted every day, then you’re lying to yourself.
One of my techs, Mark, recently went out on a service call. Here we call them 911s. This time it was to swap out a headboard leg with pins missing in the rail slot. Easy miss during inspection. The customer got delivery at 1:15pm, and by 2:15pm, she was satisfied.
Big deal, right? Actually, it was. To be in service, you must be able to think many steps ahead, gauge customer reaction, make quick cost-benefit analyses, and be able to muster your troops (or conscripts if you must) to achieve the objective: happy customer. Consider that Mrs. Smith, in this instance, bought a bedroom group. The right headboard leg didn’t have rail pins, so it couldn’t be fully assembled. Now, here’s where you have to have empathy, something the owner of my company talks about daily: You have to give a damn. Show me you give a damn. If we wait to schedule a visit, it might be a few days until we can get over there and get the leg swapped out. In the meantime, the bed—maybe her bed?—is on the floor. Every time she walks into the room to admire her new furniture, she has to see the bed stacked against the wall. Is it that big a deal to not have use of one’s bed? Go sleep on the couch tonight, and tomorrow night, and maybe even the next couple nights, and then answer the question. Of course it is.
So what did it cost me to send someone out? Well, one person at maybe $12 an hour, and a van. So maybe $20. A service call at our company involves two people and a van, and an admin to schedule everything, and therefore the call could have cost nearly $50. But it’s the intangible costs of poor decision making, procrastination and lack of give-a-damn that tarnish reputations and force ever-higher advertising budgets to replace lost consumers.
While Mark was gone I was down to one person inspecting on the line. We do that here: we open, inspect, assemble, deluxe and repair every single piece of furniture—including rails, legs, and parts—before customers see their new purchases. Some places won’t open rail boxes, or cut open upholstery… They claim that they don’t have enough problems in those niches to warrant the extra man hours required to do the work. I wholeheartedly disagree. Our damages tip slightly more towards casegoods, but we have an entire room devoted to nothing but upholstery. Frame damage is most common, followed by rub-throughs, tears and rips, mechanisms, and batting problems. Oh—those are problems we find on the dock during opening. If we shipped everything out sight-unseen, the next person to inspect the furniture would be our customer! Unacceptable.
Domestic and international manufacturers have made excellent progress delivering a less-flawed product and, in fact, many higher-end lines arrive in perfect condition, requiring no deluxing at all. So they’re doing their job, but maybe the new guy in your warehouse who dropped the 300 lb. dresser on its end this morning crushed the top corner, and "forgot" to tell the floor manager. In my distribution center, we’re going to catch that problem; will you?
If you ever get to visit the Ashley distribution center in Romeoville, Illinois, one of the first things that will jump out at you is its cleanliness. Literally, I don’t think you could sweep together a nightstand box-full of anything in the whole building. Why? It’s a culture. It’s a mindset. The people that work there understand that expectation. Customer service has to have the same urgency attached to it: The clock literally is ticking. Every day that passes without Mrs. Smith getting her bed fixed, she grows angrier.
Empathy, proper inspection, and a real sense of urgency—combined with a flexible, agile service staff and excellent resources to solve problems like spare hardware and a woodshop—can significantly reduce the amount of time a customer has to wait before their problem can be addressed. Your service manager should demand perfection but in a way that encourages, not discourages, staff members to perform. I am not the most understanding when my techs come back from service appointments without signatures because of something that, in my opinion, could have been solved with a little extra effort. In cases like this, you should review the photos, offer possible solutions, and go from there. Service techs should know that your expectations for them are very high. Service managers should set high expectations for themselves as well, lead by example and show drivers and repair techs that they understand the urgency of every service situation. And, they should demonstrate commitment by rolling up their sleeves and helping to get the job done when necessary.
Peter Schlosser is a backend furniture consultant based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. His focus is repair, quality control, exceptional customer service, and all things operational. He is a contributing editor to Furniture World. To see all his articles
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