When delivery drivers
are both the first and last people your customers meet
making a great impression becomes even more important.
There are some things in life we all accept as a given, like getting your cheeks pinched when you visit your grandparents, or waiting on hold for hours when you call your credit card company. But strangely—and I use that term because it makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever as a 54-year-old—there is a growing segment of our population that buys nearly everything, including furniture, online.
I'll admit, I do buy some items online because time is the only thing I can think of which you can't make more of. If I need sandpaper, for example, I can run down to the woodworker's supply store near the mall and get some, but if I plan ahead just 24 hours, I can resupply my stock from Amazon and never leave the house. Very tempting! Of course, I'm usually looking for a reason to take a drive somewhere, so this scenario is just for illustration.
Buying Without Seeing
Consider these statistics. According to the Washington Examiner Mar. 2, 2021, nearly 80 percent of millennial home buyers are willing to purchase a house sight unseen.
Are you kidding me? When we moved from Clarksville, Tennessee, to Winston Salem, North Carolina, I made a total of five turn-and-burn trips to see 15 different houses. My realtor and I would arrange the tightly-orchestrated trips and we'd knock them out in a couple of hours. It was startling how many of the houses that I saw on Zillow looked good in the online photos, but were completely unacceptable when seen in person. It is incomprehensible to me, given what I know about buying real estate, to make an offer on a house without seeing it.
And cars! An article in F&I Magazine. (Mar. 16, 2021) stated that nearly 80 percent of millennials are willing to buy a car online, sight unseen! Now, I can see a new car being bought that way, to a certain extent, but used? Too many factors to consider. Scratches, smell, condition, leaks—It's a little too risky for me.
People are generally curious about how their particular generation stands up in relation to others. In researching this article I found a lot of contradictory data about who buys what, and how they buy it. But historically, as a generation's buying power peaks (like the boomers and Gen X), the next generation molds selling strategies for the future. Clearly, a strong online presence is very important to all of us, but particularly for Gen Y and Gen Z. Years ago I spoke about the homogenization of furniture designs. A lot of the mass-marketed stuff looks similar—a sea of brown. If that is the case, then online is a perfect way to sell and to buy. Considering that younger generations are pushing a lot of money into the economy—setting up houses and building businesses—it's best to listen to what they want.
Who Closes the Sale?
This article is not intended to be a dirge for brick-and-mortar retailers, far from it. But the fact remains that there’s an unstoppable trend toward making major purchases sight unseen. And, if your customer buys without ever visiting your store, then who ultimately closes the sale? Actually, there are three possibilities:
What if the drivers are the first and only people to meet your customer? We never get a second chance to make a first impression, so what does that first impression say about you as a retailer?
UPS, FedEx, or another carrier. Retailers don’t get to choose these carriers used most often for flat-pack, RTA merchandise and anything drop shipped. This leaves you and your customers at the mercy of their degree of care.
Customer pick up: Will call is one of my favorite ways to make a favorable impression on a customer. Have a clean, presentable place for them to come, inspect and load their purchases. For many retailers, customer pickup resembles a prisoner exchange in the middle of the night with hardly any face-to-face interaction. Others provide a better experience that includes well-lit, comfortable places to wait, drink machines nearby, and neat, clean restroom facilities. They open and inspect furniture then re-carton, seal it and carefully load it into the customer's vehicle. It’s a much better close to the sale.
Your company truck. This is the method that retailers have the most to either gain or lose from. Many retailers relish the idea of delivering in their own vehicles, and they spend a lot of time fine-tuning delivery to near perfection. To them, delivery is another way to prove to customers that they made the right buying decision.
But when your drivers are the first and only people to meet your customer in person there are special challenges. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. The three components of that impression are your trucks, your drivers and your standards. How you manage each of these areas affects how customers will remember their experiences of purchasing from you.
Is there trash in the window? Decals scratched up? Roll-up door barely operational? You wouldn't let your store exterior become covered with graffiti or your parking lot become filled with trash. Your trucks are an extension of your store and you will be judged. No one wants to spend a lot of money only to have a raggedy truck show up in their driveway in front of their neighbors.
It is not lost on me that drivers are in short supply. Young men typically, don't dream of having careers that require carrying heavy, delicate items into people's homes. Finding workers with clean driving records can be like discovering the Holy Grail, but they are out there. The best are attracted to clean, safe working environments, good benefits and a decent working wage. I don't believe in salary mandates, but if you pay low wages you will get low quality work.
Retailers need to look closely at what the delivery experience is like for their customers. Do your drivers advocate for them—clearing the path, answering questions, protecting their purchases? Or, are they hurried, callous, cursory, irritated? Do they reek of cigarette smoke or some other smoke? Are they preoccupied by their phones while the delivery takes place? Do they speak in a different language leaving the customer out of the conversation? After the delivery, do customers get a hurried, follow-up telephone call from someone who clearly doesn't care what the answers are?
Good manners and kindness at the point of delivery should be on display at all times. Some customers will allow a certain amount of disrespect per transaction because they understand that people have bad days. My favorite lyric from the Talking Heads is in the song “Psycho Killer” where they sing, “We are vain and we are blind / I hate people when they're not polite.” Me too. And I will make a point of not going back to a place that treats me poorly, no matter the consequence for my convenience. Today, with websites like Yelp and Twitter, your reputation can be laid to waste, a death by a thousand cuts. Increasingly people fail to realize that one poor experience is not necessarily the norm for an entire organization. But if all a customer has to judge you by is one delivery experience, it better be pretty damned good.
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
. Questions on any aspect of this article or furniture repair can be directed to Peter Schlossser at