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.
Let’s think about walking into a showroom, a purchasing office or an interior designer’s studio during the holiday season. What do you see? There are large and small Christmas trees, twinkly lights, cookies and candy galore, tall rectangular lavishly wrapped booze boxes and holiday cards by the score. Lots of people exchanging numerous gifts, thanking their customers for a great year and others trying to be remembered in the New Year. So many companies and individuals trying to make an impression. So what happens to all of those gifts?
The business holiday season is a traffic jam of companies trying to be remembered by old accounts or impress new ones. Is this where you want to spend your marketing money? Hoping that Johnny at ABC will recall yet another logo coffee cup that will motivate him to lead his next customer to your display? How many gifts will Johnny receive? Will yours be the one that is magically remembered? It is a big HOPE. But you don’t want to be that company that plays Scrooge and does nothing.
I would like to offer an alternative solution for holiday brand building.
I always tried to find a solid charity that offered a holiday card where we could place a picture of our complete team on the cover wishing Happy Holidays. The money went to a good cause and when anyone asked a team member, they had a good holiday story to share and show where they are in the card cover image.
Doing this freed our holiday marketing money to use during a time when it made a more substantial impression. By mid-January, a lot of people are back in the day-to-day workflow and miss the “entertainment validation” of the holidays. This is a good time to take a target to dinner, bring in a catered lunch or hand out gift cards. By waiting until the January holiday hangover, you will be the lone brand thanking key players and it just might wash away the gift they received from your competitor way back in December. Some companies that follow this plan have a large event in early spring to welcome the building season and rev everyone up.
This plan also removes the stress of trying to do the best thing for your clients and allows you to better focus on your family’s holiday festivities. Because isn’t that what the holidays are all about?
P.S. Let’s never forget that HOPE is not a strategy.
This article previously appeared in the November 22 issue of DPHA’s Connections
Remember when one of your children brought you something that had broken asking you to please fix it? Then they would ask, why did it break? You painstakingly explained why and they would look at you again and ask why? They were simply searching for a complete understanding of the situation and trusted you to help them see all sides.
Now, think back to the last time a customer returned with a defective product? Our protective wall goes up and we ask, how did you do this? We are certain it was their fault, it could not be our product’s fault. This customer must have done something careless to make it “break”. Then, once the customer is confronted, their defensive wall goes up and the not-my-fault battle commences. How are we going to improve the product (and our reputation) with this not-my-fault attitude?
We have to create a comfortable space where there is no blame game, but instead a calm discussion of why this happened. Then the actual incident can be reviewed and soon both parties know how and why the product failed to perform. Now the manufacturer can learn more about the product and the customer has a better idea of how the part should work. All with no stress.
A little bit of listening and empathy goes a long way and offers so many benefits.
“This is a race. It’s a race to be relevant. The big difference between today and yesterday is speed. You need to be much faster on the execution.” Arthur Sadoun, CEO of Publicis told the Financial Times in June 2017.
Many luxury showrooms take the time to inspect each received product. Each piece is carefully removed from its shipping container and painstakingly inspected then returned to its box to wait for the customer to arrive. Such attention to detail separates your showroom from the competition and makes your clients so very happy.
Do you take the same care when you collect your customer data? Do you check the information to make sure it is correct and siloed in the correct slot in your computer program? Do you enter notes on each visit, carefully recording the points discussed and any information that might help you and your team better know each customer’s unique style and needs?
Please, if you are thinking it takes too much time, think again. If you have time to meticulously inspect each order to delight your good customers, why not work to get to know those same customers so well that you will exceed their expectations. Your data is a prime foundation of your business and, as the world slowly adopts Artificial Intelligence, good data will become your key to delivering great customer service.
Vendors, your data is also key to the growth of your market reach. You, too, take the time to design and handcraft each beautiful product. Then your team inspects every item and carefully packages them so all arrive in perfect shape. Yet, your data systems are not in line with today’s customer’s demands. Delivery changes, before and during the manufacturing process, are hidden from view. When a product misses its acknowledged delivery date no one knows until the date passes and the reactive “I am sorry call”. This upsets good customers and damages both your brand and the showroom’s. When vendors leverage their good data proactively they will make life less painful for all involved.
Put simply, today’s available Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not HAL-like but an overlay on Machine Learning (ML). ML churns the data and makes it available in a form so that when you ask your AI a question it returns your answer correctly at lightning speeds. Your questions can cover all facets of your business and help you effectively peek into the future. However, to accomplish this your data must be clean, consistent and well-integrated. Remember the phrase, “garbage in and garbage out”? That has not changed.
Even the mighty Microsoft had issues getting applicable answers from it AI. Its retail division crafted a complete AI sales support system and when they rolled it out, the AI notes and suggestions were worthless. They revisited the data and the AI questions they were asking and hit reset. Now, sales are increasing. Salespeople are easily able to access customer, product and order information. With AI, a customer’s entire purchasing history and delivery time for each order take just seconds to view, now that the data is clean, consistent and well-integrated.
This journey starts with your teams. Careful collection of quality, comprehensive data must become part of your company’s culture. If you can enlighten them on how it will save them time and strengthen their customer relationships and show them how it will allow them more time to do what they do best!
I believe that AI will be a part of successful showrooms in the next five years and foundational in no more than 7.
Everyday your showroom sends out products to finish up a job. They range from the final 3 cabinet knobs on a simple kitchen upgrade to finally delivering the wall accessories on a wonderfully large home. But once those products are installed, your showrooms starts to fade from your client’s memory. They will not be visiting your showroom next week or next month. In fact, the homeowner might not need your expertise for a year or two or even longer. Your challenge is to make sure you remain front and center in their mind for years to come when it comes to all things decorative plumbing and hardware. They may remember your business, but if some new “shiny new” company pops up or a friend works with a competitor, your brand will likely slip their mind.
Sixty days after the job has been completed, I suggest mailing the homeowners a simple thank you postcard from the point sales person. Nothing elaborates, just your brand on the front and a handwritten thank you on the back with an image of the salesperson. Then every quarter, send a simple postcard with four images of new products recently added to your showroom along with your logo to their home address. On the back, add a handwritten commentary on those new products, an image of the point salesperson and an invitation to stop by any time. That’s it. Don’t over think it. The recipient will probably quickly look at one side, flip to the other side and then spin it into the trash, but they will see a familiar face and a brand they know.
“Snail-mail” is not what it used to be, but it still offers communication opportunities that the digital world cannot match.
P.S. Only send postcards, since thank you cards in envelopes have to opened and read. That might not happen. Keep-It-Simple.
Consistent follow-up habits are one of the most important talents of great sales people. Here’s a giant fallacy – your sales team must be available for the customers at all times. Take a moment and think about that. Your top salesperson is on the phone with a homeowner discussing the differences of two satin nickel finishes from different manufacturers being installed in the same room. Talk about a waste of time, not to mention that this conversation has no “right” answer. So, while your top producer listens patiently to this conversation, potential sales wander around the showroom unattended. Frustrating?
When showroom owners are asked what they need, better and more sales people top the list. So what does one do? Search, hire and pray that all the planets align and this person becomes the “Tom Brady of toilets.” Alternatively, you can make more time for your salespeople to sell. Yes, sell – don’t chase orders or play psychologist – simply sell.
It usually takes 24 months to prepare a salesperson to obtain the knowledge where they are capable of working with a talented trade person, specifying plumbing and hardware for a luxury home. At this point, they are ready to make money for your operation, but you now need to protect your investment from burning out. The question you should be asking yourself now is “How can I find them more time to sell and at the same time, remove the annoying stuff?” Hire a full-time customer service person.
The main arguments against taking after-sales follow-up away from the salesperson people is that the salesperson wants to always service their customers and it strengthens the relationship. The client may also demand that they deal with their salesperson; this is the person they trust. So what to do?
The salesperson has to learn to trust that the company (and your brand) will them back them up and coddle their customers – their customers, your customers. Your sales professionals need to know that the company will service their customers no matter what the situation. The move to add a customer service person will help your brand expand its reach while allowing your best people to do what they do best. This process may take a bit of time, roughly 6 to 9 months, but when it is in place you will have a better company while probably adding even more to your bottom line.
Just do what you do best
A version of this article was in the August 2 issue of the Decorative Plumbing & Hardware’s newsletter, Connections.