The Case of the Scratched Part, A Whodunit/Time Suck for the Ages

In honor of the fabulous Fred Willard

When we talk of customer experience it is mostly related to the time when we are face-to-face with our customers, when we have a bit of control over the situation. But what happens if a situation arises when we are not by our client’s side? This is the moment of truth. The moment that we can show off our customer service and remove all that FRICTION.

For example, a large remodel is wrapping up right on time for the homeowners to host their daughter’s wedding. The plumber is trimming out the master bathroom. They open a box that contains a large part with a mysterious deep scratch and needs to be replaced. However, the product is handcrafted with a 6 to 8 week lead time. The clock is ticking, and time is not on anyone’s side. 

The plumber calls the showroom and is asked how it happened. Who did it? Not, let me call the vendor and see how fast we can get a replacement. DPH showrooms want to play Sherlock Holmes and find out who is guilty in “The Case of the Scratched Part”. Finally, after some very raucous back-and-forth, the showroom calls the vendor and they also want to know how such horrible disrespect for their handcrafted and lovingly packaged product occurred. Everyone is in lynch mode. All this accomplishes is increased FRICTION, damaging both the showroom and vendor brands.

All the plumber wants to do is get the part and get off the job. All the builder wants to do is wrap up the build and turn the home back to its owners. And all the homeowners want is to resettle in their abode and prepare for the big event. Does it really matter who is guilty? Is it worth the time to find out who damaged a $200 part? What about a $1000 part, which is more likely with a custom ordered piece? Let’s not lose sight of the reason we open our doors every day and why our customers choose us.

The word-of-mouth damage that the plumber, builder and homeowner can inflict on the vendor and showroom is substantial. But the benefit they can do is tremendous, if they know you’re there to help make it right. Why not eat the part and use this as a PR win? Look like a hero!

May I propose a new process for a field-damaged part:

  • When a call comes into the showroom, the first step is to properly identify the problem, agree on what is needed and understand the timeline.
  • When the showroom explains the situation to the vendor, the vendor investigates when the product can be made or assists in locating it and gives a firm ETA.
  • The showroom informs the plumber with the part information and makes any other follow up calls as deemed necessary to the parties affected.
  • The vendor delivers the part as promised.

Simple…Right? Decrease FRICTION, increase TRUST.

According to Narvar’s 2018 Consumer Returns Report, 89% of repeat customers who have a good return experience are likely to buy again. Offering a pleasant return experience can potentially improve your retention rate and increase revenue! 

A few decades back, management was charged to make every company division a profit center. In fact, for quite some time, one plumbing manufacturer’s replacement parts sales were contributing a very high percentage to its bottom line. In a spreadsheet world I can understand that, but it does not help to build trust in the brand. PR, good or bad, does not show up as a black-and-white number in a spreadsheet but it does strongly influence the sales numbers. 

Save your teams huge aggravation and gain a lot of positive word-of-mouth trust. Please repeal the process to investigate and punish the perpetrator in “The Case of the Scratched Part”.

A version of this posting appeared in the May 22, 2020 version of DPHA Connections.

Vendors: May we please improve training?

The training quality in our decorative showroom business is all over the place. 

A few companies create solid content, but have not trained their trainers on how to train (Say that fast three times!).

Selling is not like training. They are two distinct talents. Would you let a school teacher sell your portfolio? Other vendors weakly educate the local representative and tell them to go forth and educate all involved. They send them in with catalogs and some samples. 

Really, is that how a brand should be presented?

Here are some notes:

  • No one likes product knowledge trainings. Showroom salespeople are extremely busy and do not want to give up the time during the day. Also, no one wants to come in early or stay late. 
  • Abide by the venture-capital-pitch 30/30 rule. No font should be smaller than 30-point, and no presentation should be longer than 30 minutes. Our minds can only stay focused in a perfect environment for a maximum of 20 minutes. So build a solid 20-minute presentation and have time for questions. Do not overreach! You will not gain a thing. In fact, you will lose what you gained in the first 20 minutes.
  • Do not train on a product that is not yet on display and ready to ship. The salespeople will forget all the information by the time you are ready to receive orders, even if it is just a week away.
  • Beta-test your training content in the field. Present your new training program to a few local showrooms, then note and implement the feedback. 
  • Train your own customer service team first. Present the training draft to them first and gain their feedback. Then, when a showroom salesperson calls with a question that references the training, all are on the same page.
  • Do not hand out any reading material during the presentation. You want the trainees to look at the presenter, not at a price book.
  • Recap, ask questions and offer rewards during the 20-minute training. Questions keep them engaged, and rewards make all stay engaged.
  • Do share samples; A LOT of samples. It is proven if people have product in their hands they will remain engaged.
  • Feed them AFTER the session. If they have food during the session, they will focus on that.
  • Finally, if you really want to do it right, hire a 100% full-time trainer. As we noted above, your talented salespeople and representatives are not always adequate trainers. 

Do you really want to get into an automobile with new brakes that were installed by a mechanic who was trained by the brake manufacturer’s local salesperson? Then why do you ask talented salespeople to educate the salespeople who sell your brand’s story to design and building professionals? 

If your training content and presentation are solid, you’ll always get the best training timeslots and the showroom’s salespeople will gladly attend ready to learn.

A version of this article appeared in the March issue of Supply House Times.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

COVID-19 Opp: It’s A Good Time to Communicate with Your Customers & Improve Your Team

As I was reading the Monocle Minute’s update on Italy’s CONVID-19 situation, this paragraph popped out: “La Scatola Lilla, a bookshop in Milan, might be closed but the bookseller, Cristina di Canio, isn’t on holiday. Instead she is recommending a book a day and taking orders for free home deliveries.”  

Yes, the next few months will be rough, but there are opportunities to be had. Customers may not feel comfortable coming into your showroom or office. Why not ask them if you can deliver samples for a meeting and sit in to help present your part of the job?  This can be at their office or at their client’s preferred location. This is a good time to show how you can support your loyal clients. 

If they are also slow, ask them if they have time to talk about your shared business. This is a great opportunity to gather information on your product mix, service and sales support. They might be interested in you training their team on key product categories. This can be done in person or via Skype, FaceTime, Zoom or any other digital video conferencing tool. 

If your showroom slows down, this becomes a good time to improve your team. Reach out to manufacturers to see if they have time to do a video PK. These don’t have to be in person!  There is a plethora of video classes on everything from sales to AI. You could take a few key personnel, put them in the conference room and play a video discussing sales techniques and follow up with a round table discussion.

This is a challenging time and you cannot wait for your customers to come back to you. This is a good time to reach out to those customers that do not buy from you.  You just might get the attention and earn a new customer. In slow times it is those think creatively that will emerge with a stronger business. 

P.S: Should you like any suggestions on videos do use with your staff please email me

Image by www_slon_pics from Pixabay

To Sell Products To Experience Junkies, Tell Them Stories

It is all about the experience economy.  Millennials would rather buy an experience versus buy a product and they love the journey involved discovering those experiences. An experience that is memorable and that they will relish. 

These are the last of the mall kids.  Everyday they ventured to the mall to experience life with their friends.  Not to shop but to be together and share wild stories of what they will do in the future.  They have matured, they have replaced those daily dream sessions with a passion to make dreams realities.  They desire to encounter the new, the unique and the thrilling. They want experiences they will always remember and can share with their tribe.  Clothes fade from style, cars degrade and cheapen and rented homes can be vacated at a moment’s notice. They are so temporary. Our minds stay true to our viewpoint.  What we wanted to recall about our trip to some exotic destination remains in glorious images. The bad hotel and that one meal that made you sick have been minimized or recast as comedies.  The trip in our mind was WON-DER-FUL.

That is what the next luxury monied generation is: experience junkies.  And that is a good thing. They are not looking for the products that are sold in Home Depot, Macy’s and the local supermarket.  They are searching for stores that offer an always changing palette of small manufacturers and importing vendors that are centered on creating new looks or innovative ways for a product to function.  These stores will remain the destination when Millennial, Y and Z generation are looking for special products to transform spaces in their home into a unique experience from themselves and their guests.  It is about making a statement.  

That is the future of non-price-competitive retail.  New, different and sometimes challenging products. All selected with a story to move it far away from the expected and everyday.  A product with a memorable experience to share.

Image by Diego Delso at Creative Commons

Being listened To Can Also Be Transformative For All Involved.

We all know if we listen effectively, we will better understand our clients and partner’s thoughts, needs and desires.  This knowledge will help us expand our knowledge and create great solutions.

The other wonderful benefit of listening effectively is how it engages and rewards the person you are listening to.  They are immediately flattered. Think how you feel when someone attentively listens to you. You feel that what you are saying has meaning.  When people know you are listening to their every word, they will feel more comfortable sharing information with you. They will then repay you by listening carefully to your thoughts.  This forms a strong partnership of understanding and trust.  

Listening well is a powerful talent no matter your job and improves with constant practice.

Suggest reading: 4 Exercises That Prove Listening Matters by Allison Press from the IDEO Blog

An Engaging Way to Start Your Sales Call

Before you go into an account for the first time do your research and discover something about this business that you really admire. Plan to open your conversation with a question relating to that action. Number one: It never hurts to let them know you studied their business.  Number two: You are there because you admire something that they’re doing and want to be a part of it. Finally, if you open with a positively-toned question about their business, they are immediately positively engaged in the conversation. People love to talk about their businesses.

Do not simply pick something out of the air and say this is really great. If you are lying or blowing smoke you will get caught and it will be a difficult slog to reach your goals for the meeting.  It might be tough to get back in the door.

If you cannot find anything you truly admire about this company, that tells me that scheduling a meeting is a waste of both their time and yours.  I suggest moving on to the next target.

Starting a meeting in a positive tone and engaging your would-be client with an intriguing question will place you in a possible position to earn a new partnership.

No More Boring Retail Showrooms, PLEASE!

Great showrooms are memorable. Good showrooms have a few special products scattered about. Bad showrooms are well, boring. I believe those that take risks with their product and product presentations are more memorable and will win more customers in the long run.

A majority of today’s Internet shopping sites present a vast array of products that are easily viewed on your screen, but a customer is still not able to feel the material and see how colors pop in person. Luxury clients enjoy visiting creative spaces to see, touch and shop for beautiful products. This is why people leave their screens. This is why people seek out great brick and mortar showrooms.

So, what is a great showroom? A popular definition is one that continually both surprises and delights its customers with its engaging ambiance and inventive product mix supported by talented salespeople and five-star service. Simple right? Unfortunately nothing that can be labeled great is simple and therein lies the challenge and fun, yes FUN.

Your luxury showroom is catering to designers who fly all over the US and Canada and enjoy antiquing in Paris. If your showroom is populated with gray and white factory displays and has not had a colorful addition in months, these good customers will visit once and move on. They do not need to shop in your place, there are plenty of other boring showrooms within driving distance. If your showroom is to make their go-to list, you must let them know you are willing to take chances by showing new, unique, even startling products and learn what they crave today

The next step is threefold:

  1. First and most important: before you start working on numbers two and three, you must set a regular time, I suggest monthly, to quietly walk your showroom looking for ways to make it great. I suggest focusing on: 
    • Displays that are tired and need updating.
    • Displayed products that are not selling, boring and need to be replaced.
    • Discovering places where you can add an attractive display, small or large. This display should both provoke your salespeople and captivate your good clients.
  2. Second, commit to #1 above and start having fun in your showroom working to make it full of surprise and delight.
  3. Finally, start learning what you customers purchase and discover what they are dreaming of. This comes from your sales data and setting up opportunities to talk with your good clients. We will dig deeper into this in following post.

Now, let’s get to the fun part.

“The one thing we all agreed on, our chief aim, was to be totally unpredictable and never to repeat ourselves,” Mr. Terry Jones of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

So why not have a bit of fun in your showroom. I am not saying that you have to completely redesign your showroom with a Candyland color scheme, but use your imagination and create punches of color and inventive product vignettes that will challenge your repeat clientele, intrigue new shoppers and keep your sles people hopping. People love to see and touch shiny new things.

One note of caution: bold displays lose their edge over a period of 6 to 9 months. Construction should be simple and easy to change out. Paint and wallpaper are easy to change. Also, try to work with vendors that understand that products in your bold settings will increase the visibility of their brands and increase bands awareness.

Luxury showrooms are there to delight and challenge their good customers, so make some changes and get out of the white and gray palette. It is really dull.

P.S: A good play here is to allow a good, strong willed, designer to design the vignette. This helps them extend their brand’s reach and you will presents a new look to your clientele.

P.S #2.: Those daring displays will play great on social media. If you can set six and change one out every month, you will always have interesting content for you and your customers to share.

A version of this article appeared in the January 31, 2020 issue of the DPHA’s newsletter, Connections.

Related reading: From Nielsen.com: Battle of the Brands: Consumer Disloyalty is Sweeping the Globe

Flowers Are Also Nice

When was the last time you said thank you to one of your good customers.

Not, thank you for the order.

Not, we have this new delight for you to see.

Not, we have not seen you in a while?

Just a simple card saying thank you.

No more, no less.

Flowers are also nice.

Value = Experience / Price

We are in the midst of the largest retail shakeup in history.  To put the DPH showroom performance in perspective, Coresight Research notes in its November 15 update, “US retailers have announced 9,052 store closures and 3,956 store openings.”  Having just returned from the annual DPHA conference, I can tell you that the overall feeling is that business is good and will remain that way for the next 18 months.  While this is not a statistic, deeply researched or confirmed, it has been a good indicator for years. I would like to congratulate all DPH showrooms for continuing to run ahead of the brick and mortar pack.  Let’s make sure we stay ahead.

Think back to the time before the term “customer experience” was used to evaluate everything from Jiffy Lube to Hermes.  As the industry began to pull itself out of the muck of the recession, the term “product value” was all the rage. Its catch phrase was: “Is that a good value for my money?”  Customers were looking for value – the best products for their dollars, not low price. 

As the industry became skilled on the “value” sales conversation, that term slipped into the background and “customer experience” emerged as the overall, undefinable, defining metric.  Repeatedly we read and have been told that, “All great businesses offer a top-notch customer experience.” We see it referred to in case study after case study but, as with “value,” the challenge is to define and measure great customer experiences.

Angel investor Darren Herman offers guidance in his blog, Operating Partner.  He proposed the following simple formula:

Value = Experience / Price

On first thought, that formula appears to be too simple, when you evaluate the equation in more detail, it makes sense.  The kicker is defining experience. Price is simple: the lower it goes, the lower the experience factor can be to still deliver attractive value. But, if you are playing on the luxury-premium level, you have to improve the experience to justify higher pricing. 

It has been proven continuously that the lowering price value strategy is a never-ending race to the bottom and that’s not a successful formula for DPH luxury experiences.  The decorative plumbing and hardware industry can deliver on its value paradigm by focusing on the following five touchpoints: Showroom, Website, Salespeople, Customer Service and Vendors. 

Breaking them down into easily defined deliverables allows you to create a manageable list to use as a brand experience evaluation scorecard (equally applicable to Manufacturers, Representatives and Showrooms).

  • Website
    • Is your website easy to use and comfortable for your customers to shop?
    • Does your website offer the information your customers require?
    • Is your website easy for Google to find?
    • Are your key vendors’ presentations and product pages up to date?
    • Is your website respected more than your competition’s?
    • For e-commerce sites, does your showroom’s in-stock inventory cater to the products your customers really need before the vendor can deliver? 

Side Note: Today’s customer wants to do their work whenever and wherever they are.  To have a poor website is interpreted as you are not interested in their business.  An effective and easy-to-use website is a must have.

  • Salespeople
    • Are your salespeople more knowledgeable and respected than your competition?
    • Are they consistent from customer to customer?
    • Do they listen actively?
    • Do they want to improve?

Side Note: Every time I am at a showroom or attending a conference the number one problem our colleagues mention is finding good people.  Yet, few companies offer any type of sales training to make their good people better. I have never met a salesperson that cannot get better and that includes me.

  • Customer Service
    • Do you offer uncompromising cradle-to-grave service?
    • Do you proactively communicate both good and bad information with your clients as their job progresses?
    • Do you reach out to the client and end users after the job is finished?
    • Is your product return process painful for the client? Are they presumed guilty before being proven innocent?

Side Note: A significant factor in the continuing growth of showrooms and vendors is based on selling more to good customers.  Will that hold true if you continue to offer the least?

  • Vendors
    • Are they what they say they are?
    • Do they train and keep your purchasing, sales and customer service teams up to date?
    • Do they design and craft products in line with their pricing?
    • Do they deliver on what they promise?
    • Are their demands in line with their value to your business?

Side Note:  Vendors, when was the last time you surveyed the key 100 showroom salespeople about what they think will help your brand improve?  When was the last time you and your distributor showroom surveyed their good builder and trade customers about what they think will help your brand improve? Sitting in your office listening to a few loud folks is not the best way to build your brand’s foundation.

  • Showroom
    • Is your showroom easy and comfortable for your customers to shop?
    • Is your showroom easy to use by your salespeople?
    • Is your showroom perceived as stylish by your core design trade customers?
    • Are your key vendors’ displays up to date?
    • Does your showroom’s inventory contain the products your customers need before the vendor can deliver?

Side Note: Maintaining a showroom is hard work and expensive, but when done effectively is can be very profitable.  The more vendors, representatives and distributor showrooms stay in step, the better for all parties involved.

This list provides a tool to evaluate your business and to determine your customer experience rating.  Each point can be valued good or bad or with a five-point scale. Determine which metric works best for your business and team.

There is one other factor to consider.  Each point on the list focuses on eliminating FRICTION your customers encounter when working with your company.  Both trade customers and end-users HATE friction. Removing friction requires an investment of money and time. Willingly taking back a polished nickel lavatory faucet that looks as if it was attacked by a steel grill brush is not easy or cheap, but necessary.  

Do not lose sight of the fact that you are working to increase your customers’ perceived value of your business.

The bottom line is that each individual customer will evaluate your business.  Having a metric to determine how your business is perceived will improve your customers’ experiences and help you develop effective strategies to address weaknesses.

A version of this article appeared in the January issue of Kitchen & Bath Design News

The First Law of Listening

“An experience makes its appearance only when it is being said,” – Hannah Arendt 

And if we do not hear it, it disappears. 

We are told again and again, that the art of listening is the most important talent a person can have.  To be able to really hear what other people are trying to share with us is an advantageous skill.  Now we must ensure that the person or people you are listening to are comfortable so they will share their true thoughts.  They must know that they are speaking with someone that is genuinely interested in what they have to say because, if that’s not true, why meet?  When people are comfortable their true insights emerge, and we learn so much more. Honestly shared information from diverse backgrounds builds the foundation for the best new ideas. We want people to share what they really believe so together we can all get better. 

For example, you have arranged a meeting at a trade show with a key vendor to discuss projections and the pricing schedule for the upcoming year.  Now this meeting will require focus.  Your vendor has been meeting with dozens of people from all over the world, each with unique challenges and cultural concerns.  You have been skipping from booth to booth also talking with people from different countries and investigating everything from drains to crystal handles.

To make this meeting as productive as it must be, time clocks must slow down and all attendees need to be reset to focus on the opportunities to be discussed.

Let’s start with making all involved feel important.  If it is a one-on-one meeting, shake their hand, look straight into their eyes and thank them for sharing their time.  Make sure they know you are looking forward to this conversation.  If it is a multi-person meeting, welcome everybody and take a moment and introduce everybody.  Even if the group is familiar with each other, still take the time to bring them into the meeting by simply acknowledging each person directly.  

Now, with everyone feeling comfortable, it is time to get to work and hear all of the amazing conversations.  

A version of tis article appeared in the January 24, 202 issue of DPHA’s Newsletter, Connections