Maybe this is so intuitive that it is unnecessary to discuss, but as a business owner with 40% of our business in retail and 100% in customer satisfaction, I thought about a recent incident that happened to me. It made me reflect on the priorities of our business and, for that matter, any business. So often, the articles I read focus on understanding the customer and her wants from the perspective of the showroom and making the sale. I don’t see a lot of attention as to what is our responsibility to the customer after the sale is made.
At Riverchase we have weekly sales and staff meetings. We use this time for supplier product knowledge presentations and review each person’s sales vs. goals. We talk about the coming week and month and prepare accordingly. At every meeting, breakfast is supplied, either by the sales rep or by me, if no rep is scheduled. Breakfast biscuits are the norm.
On this particular day, the rep canceled because of illness. So, at about 7:45 a.m., I called a local restaurant and placed an order for an 8:20 pick-up to get the food for our 8:30 meeting.
I arrived at 8:20 and the order was being assembled. I waited for 15 minutes and was told they had run out of biscuits and it would be another 10 minutes. Since the order was 90% complete, I told her to just package it up and I would be on my way. She offered to refund me $6, but I told her it was not that big of a deal and not to worry about it, as I was now running late. She insisted on a refund, and reimbursed the entire order amount. I said it was unnecessary, but she insisted and profusely apologized for the mix up.
She did all she could have done under the circumstances to make it right.
As I left, I pondered what had just happened and considered how I felt as a customer. I had mixed emotions. I was happy for the refund and subsequent free food, but still somewhat disappointed about not getting my order as promised.
At our sales meeting, I brought this experience up for discussion. Most of my salespeople thought the store had done the right thing and deserved our repeat business. I agreed it had done the right thing, all that could be have been done, however I still had mixed emotions about the experience.
I had called the store that morning and found out what specials it was running and ordered both specially and regularly priced items. The bill was about $45. I was happy with the price and knew this restaurant had a good reputation. I had purchased from there before with a good experience.
Therefore, I had contracted with it to meet my needs; quality food in the amount I had ordered, and the delivery of the food in a timely manner. This was my expectation of how the transaction would proceed. However, its delivery on that expectation was compromised. Not to any large extent but, since I had called the order in, the delay was certainly avoidable on the store’s part. I left with free food, but would have been more satisfied with having paid the full price and having the order waiting for me when I arrived.
As I explained this to everyone at the meeting, I pointed out this is the same process we use to service our customers. By the time the contract is written, she is good with the terms and price and has changed her focus from making the purchase to looking forward to the experience. She has now developed expectations of our performance that were created during the selling process. If at any point we drop the ball and deliver less than what she expects, whether through over promising or under delivering, we have created a negative experience. Whatever we do from that point forward to “fix” a situation will never really create the same satisfaction in that customer that would have been accomplished if we had done it right the first time. Now we have a less satisfied customer and diminished revenue.
We should do all we can do to keep this from happening. We do this by continuously working on the whole delivery process to make sure we meet expectations the first time. There is but one opportunity to do so. Often it is the only opportunity we have to make a lifelong customer, or to maybe lose her (and her friends) for a long time. I remind our staff that, “In the end, service is really what we sell.” We are always working on the delivery process. Contract installers are appreciated additions to our business and we are always evaluating crews based on their ability to deliver a quality installation as well as have good communications with the home- owner. We work to make sure that each salesperson generates realistic expectations with customers and they then communicate well with the installation department to make sure all par- ties are on the same page. Accounting is tasked with sending out timely, correct invoices. We survey and follow up with all customers.
We see each piece as a critical part of the whole. Yes, making the customer comfortable and closing the sale is the point where “it” all begins, but we should not forget that all aspects of the company must be aligned to the proper and timely delivery of that sale. The installation is where it is completed and what the customer really remembers most about your store.
Yes, I will give the restaurant another chance. After all it did the right thing and it does have great biscuits. Most importantly, I got a free reminder about how we here at Riverchase must focus on all steps of the sales process. By doing so, we position ourselves to create customers who are both loyal and long term.
There are many restaurants (flooring stores) for a customer to choose. We need to make sure we are doing everything we can to get it right the first time. What systems do you have in place to make sure your delivery process meets the expectations you create in your customers?
John Wilson is the owner of Riverchase Flooring Center in Birmingham, Ala. With annual sales over $5 million, the single location retailer is active in retail, multifamily and commercial. He can be reached at 205.985.9555 or visit riverchasecarpet.com for more information.