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Design For In-Store Customer Service

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Design For In-Store Customer Service

Design For In-Store Customer Service

How to re-imagine customer service areas to give shoppers the very best in-store experiences.

 

As online shopping continues to grow, furniture retailers need to do more to set their store experiences apart. Customer service must be at the heart of this effort. To succeed, stores must embrace new technologies, improve customer service amenities and reconfigure customer service areas to create a more seamless experience.

The Purpose of Customer Service

Retailers that provide superb customer service know what their customers want and use that knowledge to help their businesses grow. Fundamentally, it has to do with the way they interact with customers. Positive customer service builds relationships, creates rapport, and shows they care.

This applies to all aspects of their businesses, from customers’ personal interactions with salespeople to how well they deliver on their promises. Nothing is more important than building trust. Issues can come up that may tarnish a relationship, but in the end, retail operations are judged based on how well bumps in the road are handled and resolved. A focus on transparent, appropriate communication with customers is critically important.

Therefore, customer service should be a key part of your brand identity and a core tenet of your retail strategy. It should guide your business decisions and be integral to the way you train salespeople to be accessible, communicative, respectful, and non-discriminatory.

Online versus Offline

Platforms like Yelp, Google, Facebook and others give customers the chance to leave negative reviews. That’s just one of many compelling reasons for retailers to prioritize customer service and make sure they continually invest in all channels of customer interaction.

Effectively engaging with customers online requires an easy-to-navigate website and the communication of brand values through visual and written language. Providing quick responses and expediting purchases are additional baseline requirements.

A major drawback for consumers who use websites to connect with stores is that it is usually less personal than an in-store visit. With online chat, customers usually get answers from an automated bot. If they send an email, they don’t know how long they’ll have to wait for a response.

The good news for brick and mortar furniture retailers is that this lack of personalization and direct interaction drives customers into stores where they expect to have a better, more personal experience and get immediate feedback. This is a key point of differentiation.

Well-imagined in-store customer service areas give brick and mortar retailers an advantage. They increase the ways customers can find and speak with experts to feel comfortable, engaged and ready to buy.

Evolving Areas

The ideal of excellent customer service has changed from being transactional to relational. Customers do not want to feel like they are going to a payment station or a bank teller. They do not want to walk to the back of the store to get help or arrange for payments. They do not want to sit down with a manager or other staff in an office. They do not want to see any back-of-house spaces like break rooms or training rooms. They do want their experience to be friendly, relaxed, and easy.

 

BOULEVARD HOME
The design of Boulevard Home’s Customer Service area (top) at the center of their new Mesquite, Nevada, store will serve multiple purposes and be a hub of activity.

TEPPERMAN’S
With the shift of Customer Service from a transactional to a relational experience, new types of amenities are emerging, such as this Information desk near the entrance of a Tepperman’s store.


 

Location: Furniture retailers are now moving customer service areas from the back of stores to more central locations. These are being placed in accessible spots that customers can view from everywhere in stores. Ideally, multiple circulation paths lead to these areas, forming hub-and-spoke layouts.

The ideal of excellent customer service has changed from being transactional to relational. Customers do not want to feel like they are going to a payment station or a bank teller.

They are now typically centered on main entrances so salespeople can see customers as they enter. However, they should not be placed too close, since it can be intimidating. Clear and visible signage is important. Round shapes have become popular because they allow access from all sides, giving them a friendly and non-hierarchical feeling.

Amenities: Customers should be able to use service areas to make payments, ask questions, seek help or just chill out. Consider installing a comfortable lounge area with TV. A cafe or refreshment station can be integrated into the design or located in an adjacent space so customers can get food, drink and take breaks from shopping.

Financing: These areas can include designated places for customers to sit while filling out credit applications and waiting for processing.

Instead of standing in front of a counter to check out, customers are more comfortable sitting nearby or in a cafe where payments can be processed by salespeople using iPads. This helps keep the process from feeling transactional and encourages relationship-building.

Storytelling: Customer service areas are excellent places to tell stories about brand value and company history with photos or timelines. This helps customers feel connected.

Kids Zones & Design Centers: Retailers have installed Kids Zones near customer service areas so children are entertained while their parents shop.

Design Centers: Some retailers locate a Design Center nearby to increase exposure to customers who are milling around. Doing that often leads to questions being asked about customized products and design services. Recliner, massage chair and mattress departments have proven to perform well when positioned next to customer service areas.

Additional In-Store Ideas

Multiple Areas: Some furniture retailers have installed multiple customer service areas throughout their stores. A small welcome desk positioned near the front entrance can work in concert with a series of checkouts in various departments. These checkouts often are just kiosks where customers sit in adjacent room sets to get checked out. The welcome desk at the front of the store can then serve as the place where customers seek help and ask questions. Retailers are also adding Wondersigns, large-scale interactive screens that showcase a retailer’s entire product selection.

Separate areas for specialty destination departments such as rugs, mattresses, appliances, and outlet can be useful as well. Mattress departments with their own sleep specialists can have their own refreshment areas, seating pods, and checkout stations to serve customers.

Appliance departments benefit from providing specialty customer service amenities. Appliance salespeople need areas where they can comfortably sit with clients to review kitchen plans and layouts. Live demo kitchens have gained popularity to host culinary events and cooking demonstrations. Some retailers have been successful with customer service areas to cater to the needs of building contractors, for customized service and quick checkout.

Greeters: Concierges or greeters, typically located next to the front door, are becoming more common. Their purpose is to welcome customers without any sales expectations attached. It’s an ideal place to offer a beverage, a wheelchair or a motorized scooter. Some furniture retailers employ greeting areas to learn more about shoppers so they can be better matched to a salesperson. This area is all about creating a higher level of personalized experience. The greeter is also there to thank customers on the way out, creating a positive last impression.

Customer Pick-up: Customer pick-up areas are another important part of the customer service experience. These areas should be well-signed so customers can easily drive around to find them. They should have a designated place to wait, complete with instructions on how to find someone to help them with their order. The pick-up experience must be as seamless as the in-store experience.

New Name for Service

The name “customer service” has an old and tired association with telephone companies. After the introduction of toll-free numbers, service agents were employed to up-sell additional products or services. The result was often disappointed customers who interacted with bad service agents, experienced long wait times, untrained staff, and more.

Concierges or greeters, typically located next to the front door, are also gaining popularity. Their purpose is to welcome customers without any sales expectations attached.

That is just one reason why it’s time to give the in-store customer service experience a new name. A number of furniture retailers are experimenting with new names that have more positive connotations. “Guest Services” is quickly becoming the favorite as it speaks to a broader range of services and has associations with hotels and spas. The name suggests a place that welcomes customers and services their needs.

Other retailers are developing branded names to replace the generic customer service designation. The Furniture Mall of Texas, for example, refers to their area simply as Congrats Y’all. The Furniture Mall of Kansas uses Congratulation Station. Both of these celebrate the customer’s purchase. Others have added signs that read How Can We Help?, Information, Courtesy Desk, Customer Success, Service Station, Customer Experience and similar phrases.

The Future of Checkout

A 2019 survey by Capgemini found that 60 percent of consumers felt that the checkout process is the most painful part of the physical store experience. It is the last interaction customers have with your brand in-store, so it is worth the effort to make it a positive experience.

 

 

Apple was a leader in streamlining their checkout experience with a mobile checkout system that allowed the store associate who first helped a customer to take payment. Furniture retailers have largely adopted this approach, allowing sales associates to complete their sales and coordinate delivery. That way they become their customer’s point-of-contact throughout the experience.

Other retail sectors, particular grocery and convenience, are moving towards contactless and cashless systems. AmazonGo touts technology that eliminates the checkout process altogether, although it is more appropriate for retail stores where speed and convenience are key. Even so, technologies like Stripe, Square and Shopify along with “contactless cards” have changed checkout, allowing easy payments anywhere there is an iPad and an internet connection. Using systems like these enhances the experience by being fast, easy and convenient.

As online furniture and mattress brands like Wayfair and Casper have ventured into offline retailing, they’ve prioritized keeping sales areas minimal, customer-friendly, tidy, and well-branded. Other retailers are experimenting with “digital” seating areas where customers can browse their full catalog online, order directly through a website or do self-checkout.

The physical customer service experience, therefore, is evolving to be less about the checkout process and more about creating a place for conversation and relaxed decision-making. This is the more comfortable, fluid, seamless, easy and digital-focused approach to buying furniture. It’s something that furniture and bedding retailers should consider.

A Very Short History of Customer Service

1880s Department Stores: The modern idea of customer service began with the Industrial Revolution when mass-produced goods moved shopping away from local stores. In the mid 1800s, large department stores emerged, influencing what people bought and how they shopped. Stores like Sears and Macy’s first developed the concept of in-store customer service. Areas for returns and the repair of washing machines, blenders, and more, became common.

Sales Counters: The invention of the cash register in 1883 allowed retailers to quickly ring up sales and record transactions. Cash registers needed a home, so sales counters and cash wraps were created.

Credit Cards 1920s: Once credit cards came onto the scene in the 1920s, they became a preferred method of payment. Furniture retailers took advantage of this shift in purchasing habits by providing their own credit lines to customers. At that point, in-store customer service desks were created to meet a utilitarian need for writing up purchase orders, processing payments, and completing paperwork. That need largely disappeared since new forms of technology have allowed the checkout process to be completely seamless and paperless.

2022: Today, customers are looking for a place to go for expertise and to interact with a human being. The goal for the in-store design of customer service areas is now to create a personalized experience for customers and help them to navigate the decision-making process.


About Jennifer Magee: Jennifer Magee is an architect and designer who has over 15 years of experience in the home furnishings industry. She has designed over three million square feet of retail space. Working almost exclusively with furniture and mattress retailers, Magee has an in-depth knowledge of how to layout stores to create better customer flow, improve the way merchandise is presented, and increase sales. 

She is the founder and owner of Retail in the City, a boutique design firm offering a full range of retail design services from storefront design to interior design, branding, space planning, visual merchandising, signage, new store concepts and more. Her talented team of architects, interior designers and renderers creates exterior and interior design packages so retailers can become more competitive in their home market or expand into new markets.

For additional information, visit www.retailinthecity.com or contact Jennifer directly at 917-533-4372 or jennifer@retailinthecity.com.