How do you go about creating unforgettable flooring experiences for your customers? Does it involve surrounding them with the right level of attention and professionalism to ensure they are delighted not just with their purchase, but also with how that product looks and functions once installed?
In this article, I'm borrowing from flooring industry guru, Tom Jennings, to bring you 11 tips to wholeheartedly embrace if you're serious about standing out in the marketplace. Whether you're in the flooring business or another, these tips are sure to make you more mindful of the interactions you have with your own customers.
11 Serious Tips for Creating Unforgettable Flooring Experiences Your Customers Will Love
1. Accept that products alone can't really differentiate you
This may come as a shock to you, but product (and price) alone won't sufficiently differentiate you from your competition.
You may have the most brilliant assortment of tile, the most complete selection of carpet samples, and the largest ever grouping of hardwood and engineered wood samples. However, without a team of passionate and dedicated experts who bring those products to life for customers, you are no better than your competitors.
Tom Jennings explains,
"Your staff is the only truly unique offering that your company has to sell."
The way you sell, install, and follow up are true differentiators. Only by delivering a superior service experience to your customers can your store distinguish itself from competitors.
Consumers actively use the Internet to explore options ahead of time so they can be more efficient when they make their purchase decisions. They comb through your website, your social profiles, and your customer reviews. They want to ensure they know enough to ask the right questions and to visit the right store.
If a consumer walks through your store doors, she has essentially pre-selected you and not just because of the product.
2. Embrace tile, carpet, and flooring installation as a true service differentiator
Carpet and flooring aren't completely sold until they are installed in the consumer's home. As beautiful as tile is, it's an abstraction until it becomes a backsplash, a wall, or a floor. These products take on meaning after proper installation when customers can enjoy their beauty and usefulness.
And, yet, installation usually gets relegated to areas farthest from the selling floor.
In the sales process, it is often treated as an after-thought when it represents a critical service experience -- bundled with product -- and a major differentiator. And one where expertise and current knowledge matter intensely.
In other industries, product installation or implementation represents an opportunity to develop a consultative relationship that paves the way for additional product and service sales. The entire organization appreciates the profitable interrelationship of installation and service.
3. Don't get complacent with your service experience
How high are your standards for service excellence? Do you assume your experience is excellent when it may be mediocre?
Don't become complacent with your service experience. Know that you will always receive the results that you are willing to accept, so be thinking about how to improve your systems, provide better training and generally stay ahead of the future and prevent failures. Jennings urges you to,
"Inspect what you expect."
This is particularly critical as flooring products evolve resulting in new technologies, standards, and practices for installation.
4. Realize that quality is never an accident
Quality is never an accident: it is planned for. Great companies prioritize for quality; they never expect their staff members to self-train; they never assume employees will know the latest tile installation standards.
Rather, they take control of the expectation for consistent and high quality by developing systems for ongoing training and education. They reward improved performance, pass on compliments, say thank you for doing things right, and generally encourage good attitudes. They focus on what matters to customers.
5. Ensure customer handoffs never break down
Think of your flooring sales experience as a relay race where the baton being passed around represents your customer. It starts with the salesperson, then moves on to measurement and installation. Everyone plays a role in ensuring that the exchange or handoff takes place smoothly.
If one handoff fails, the whole experience breaks apart.
What systems do you have in place for supporting smooth customer handoffs?
6. Tell your customers what you do well
The other aspect of embracing high-quality standards is ensuring that your entire organization understands what do you well, the role each plays, and consistently communicating that message.
So, rather than telling customers that you price-match the competition, focus on what's unique about you, your staff members, and your experience. Be human. Then, ensure your marketing, your website, brochures, sales process, installation experience, and customer follow-up reflect it. It's a virtuous cycle.
Customers will pay for peace of mind. They are allowing you and your installation crew into their house. They want to count on and trust that all will go as expected.
7. Be prepared for opportunities to customize
Customers will pay to have something done their way. Specialized installation services cost more, but return more. Customization is a point of differentiation. Are you prepared?
Do you have vignettes that demonstrate your capabilities? More often than not, installation-related services will generate more than the goods themselves.
As detailed in #1, the product is not enough. Any time consumers aren't able to build relationships, they go elsewhere. Think where the loyalties lie - with the person you can trust. So, be that person.
Offer great experiences and build customer loyalty. That loyalty leads to repeat orders which are more profitable than initial orders. People will talk. What are they saying about you?
8. Ensure your flooring installation staff looks and acts professional
Do you have a first-class installation staff? What image does that staff project to customers? Do they look professional? Do they act professionally?
According to Jennings, complaints cost the average flooring store 2-4% of annual revenues because the industry tends to embrace a "fix-it-if-they-complain" attitude toward installation. That strategy offers no long-term benefit.
Better to properly train and support your installation staff. Be proactive and spend that money on training, on inspectors. (Tom says he averaged 1/2 of 1% in complaints.)
9. Welcome feedback (including complaints)
Customer reviews and feedback are gifts to treasure and acknowledge. Even complaints.
Jennings tracked complaints and found that 5 out of 6 customer service calls were a function of poor communication, rather than sub-par installation. Complaints are usually concerns that aren't initially well handled, and expectations aren't met. Thank customers for calling.
Complaints also come from people purchasing the wrong product and not being happy with the end result. Learn more about each customer; don't rush to show product.
Rather, adopt a consultative approach.
10. Create a high level of confidence for your customers
First impressions leave lasting images. For that reason, plan to impress your customers.
- Call them to let them know you will be on time, and what you are driving. This creates a high level of confidence.
- Look sharp. Feel sharp. As a society, we respect crisp uniforms.
- Act and look like you know what you're doing.
We perform to a higher level when we are perceived to be more capable. Remember that it's the customer's initial impression that matters!
11. Be deliberate about completing a customer job
Finally, when it comes to completing a customer job, what is your process? How does your staff leave?
According to Tom,
- Installers should always leave a business card upon completion. It makes them accountable.
- Be sure to do a walk-through with the customer.
- Address any problems on site: have a plan, explain full details, including time expectations.
- Sales personnel should always follow up with customers within 24 hours of completion, giving them enough time to experience the job. When you call, use a positive tone; say "I trust we did..." (vs. I hope).
- Ask for referrals.
To put this stage into perspective, artists always sign their work. What kind of a signature do you leave on your work?
And Matt Skowron's 2/26/18 newsletter reminds us of the following story:
"When I was in retail, there was a wood flooring installer who truly considered himself to be a craftsman. He charged more than anyone else, but he was always busy. Whenever we had a job that required meticulousness and attention to detail, he was the one that we called because we knew he never cut corners. He took longer than anyone else, but when he was done, the job looked perfect, and the homeowners were always more than pleased with the job and his professionalism.
A long time ago, he had a metal worker make a branding iron for him. When the job was finished, he would heat up that branding iron and, in the back of a closet, would burn into the wood flooring "This floor was installed by John Dunn." He made sure that the work that he did was work that he was proud to put his name on."
How do you brand your work?
How do you create unforgettable customer experiences?
What would you add to Tom's Tips?
How do you differentiate your offerings?
Thanks for reading,
This article was inspired by Tom Jennings - Installation is Not a Dirty Word, an article I published on 2/13/2008. I originally published this article on 2/27/2018, and have updated it.