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Friday, September 29, 2006

Final Issue: Endless Frustrations!

"From the Internet: Frustration" originally uploaded by Suzyn.
Hurray! My Mom is done! She's delighted with the end product.

But, she doesn't want to dwell on the experience. What a shame it wasn't better.

The story began with My Mom is in the Market for Carpet and continued with Next Issue: Dizzying Choices. Here we move onto the 3rd major issue preventing so many consumers - like my Mom - from joyously, whimsically and enthusiastically shopping for carpet: unexpected problems and endless frustrations! And, all you can do -like the dog in this picture- is passively and patiently wait for it all to be over with...

Now, problems occur. They are a natural part of our day to day interactions, especially in complex categories -like flooring-where there are so many factors beyond our personal control. Unlike apparel or food, it isn't just a matter of browsing, selecting, purchasing and walking out with one's acquisition. Other critical activities need to take place, namely measuring and then installing, which require coordination with multiple parties and can lead to problems!

Given the nature and complexity of flooring, why is it that stores and sales people aren't better prepared to manage problems? We're talking communicating vital information -aka doing follow-up- with the person affected: the customer. You may not be able to prevent the problem, but you sure can let the customer know that problems have occurred, help monitor the situation on her behalf, facilitate scheduling, maybe anticipate and prevent other complications, even create a solution. You are your customer's advocate, partner, advisor, enabler, facilitator.... and all of these communications tell the consumer that you care and you appreciate her business. [Remember in Going The Extra Kilometer with Iron Girl Judy Molnar how paying attention to a lot of little details can add up a very big difference?] And, what a way to develop a strong customer relationship!

At the very least your customer will be impressed with how seriously you take her business, her relationship, her overall experience. And all this attention will form the basis for the most enthusiastic word-of-mouth endorsements and referrals that you could ever hope for! So, shouldn't following up with your customer be embraced rather than shunned? [See A Good Hug is Worth.]

Back to my Mom. Timeline for her journey: browsed June/July. Signed for the jobs on August 3, 1st room done 8/28/06; 2nd room done 9/11/06 and the 3rd finally completed 9/23/06. Total time elapsed since signing: 2 months.

Problems and frustrations:
  • Bedroom - no one explained about the width of the carpet roll and the need to order so much extra carpet to do the room. She felt robbed; installers took away the extra carpet. Had she been prepared, she would have had it bound and given to my Nephew [sorry, Sean!].
  • Kitchen - didn't realize until the day before installation that she needed to find someone to turn the gas off. She doesn't remember her salesperson mentioning the need and the store couldn't recommend anyone. This meant that my Dad had to get involved, increasing the frustration factor all around.
  • Dining Room - it wasn't measured properly. Couldn't do an area rug [previous solution] so went with a wall to wall solution which required that a border be added. This meant an extra cost which did get communicated, also meant additional delays.
  • Lots of nasty comments about needing to move her own furniture. She emptied everything in her dining room several times; moving the few pieces in there would not be a big deal for 2 strong guys. Now, what's wrong with offering that service with a smile to a customer who has just spent a lot of money with you?

My Mom worked with 3 separate installation teams for her 3 projects. Make that 4 since the dining room required an additional redo/installation. Scheduling communications came directly from the warehouse. Her salesperson knew nothing about the details, yet wasn't the salesperson her primary point of contact? Whenever the call came to schedule the job[s], the person on the phone wasn't aware of the details either [Ok. So we're doing 3 jobs for you today. Oh, 2 have already been completed?].

The job would be scheduled and no one would show up as promised. No phone call. My Mom would call her salesperson to get information. For one of the jobs, she received a last minute call saying that the installers had food poisoning from eating seafood. My Mom didn't believe it! The story didn't match up with what she had observed about her hard-working, meticulous, focused, professional installers. Lucky for that store that she was impressed with the installers.

My Mom represents one of our typical woman consumers and she is frustrated. She hopes NEVER to have to go through this again. The sad thing is -given her carpet store choices- this is possibly the best retail experience available. Yikes! So, lucky for this store she won't actively discourage people from doing business with them. She will, though, be sure to lower their expectations drastically.

Given these lows, imagine what little effort it would take to delight the flooring consumer, and give her reason not to postpone redoing her floors! Given that the Big Box experience is usually even worse, imagine the opportunity for specialty flooring stores to truly differentiate themselves with the consumer! Consider these ideas:

  • My Mom didn't use the internet to do research. So, what about offering her brochures or reference materials talking about roll size and how to best match seams for traffic patterns? What about letting her know IN ADVANCE that she would have excess carpet to deal with and asking her what she might want to do with it?
  • What about a check off list in preparation for installing a new floor? What about a referral list for getting gas temporarily shut off? What about having someone on staff available to do that? Wow!
  • What about having the salesperson be my Mom's main point of contact and having that salesperson proactively and FREQUENTLY calling my Mom until the job is completed? And don't forget a followup call afterwards. Can't hurt. In fact, had my Mom not had to do the chasing around, she would have been considerably happier with her adventure. She felt let down, and unimportant. A 'thank you' note might make a difference.
  • What about showing up for installation appointments within the time window? And calling to let the consumer know what to expect.... My Mom was severely inconvenienced.
Our opportunity in retail is to make it easy for the consumer. So how do we convert endless frustrations into unlimited delight and desire to repeat the experience over and over again, and to tell everyone in digital range how wonderful it all was?

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Anonymous said...

Too often, the customer has to do the work of integration that the company does not. Resulting in just the sort of experience your mom had.
I think consumers/customers have come to expect this kind of headache, and it stops them from buying some kinds of things that they might otherwise do e.g. new flooring, new kitchen -- anything that might be complex to organize. Because we know no one will really help us, and things will go wrong, and then we are on our own.
Great story!

CB Whittemore said...

Thank you, Susan!

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