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From Home Furnishing Business

Coach's Corner: Get Credit for the Problem-Solving Services Your Staff Provides

By Tom Zollar,

We have often spoken in this column about the fact that what we really do in our stores is provide solutions for the home. To do this we must first determine what concerns and needs a customer has in their house, then use our design skills and products to create an outcome they are seeking.

This is the same whether it is a store where what you see is what you can get or one that features endless customization of the products it has available. Granted, the task is more involved in the latter situation, but the basic function is the same – determine the need and provide a solution for it that fits the customer’s look, feel and budgetary considerations.

In essence, we must be problem solvers first and then use our selling/design skills to put the package together. It just does not work to do it the other way around, because if we start selling without first knowing what issues our customer is trying to solve, we will usually fail. Therefore, while most of us look at what we do as primarily a product sales function, in reality we are very much in the business of selling a much-needed service that uses our products to provide the final solutions to our customer’s needs and wants for their home. We need to understand that the act of problem solving is a service, not a product.

The reason this is important is that even though they are similar, product-based businesses are different from service-based businesses in some very important ways. Certainly, both involve customer interaction as part of a process that delivers a result the individual is looking for. However, a product business sells something that the customer can see, feel and touch. I am referring to tangible, physical items that when encountered by the customer can greatly influence the buying decision. We make a great effort in our stores and online to present our products in a way that enables the consumer to visualize them in their own house, which encourages our visitors to want to own them.

We also present features and benefits to answer questions the customer may have to help them better understand the product and assist them in their buying decision. In a service business, the “product” is the value provided by the intangible skills, expertise and time the provider spends delivering the results a buyer wants. In order to sell a service, it is critical that the target audience understands what makes that service valuable to them and why your staff is able to consistently provide it. In many cases, selling a service also requires a somewhat more trusting relationship with prospective clients than selling products does. Being able to get the point across clearly that one size does not fit all, and that each person gets individual, customized solutions adds a great deal of value.

Another difference is that products are mostly viewed as returnable if they don’t satisfy, while services are seen as “non-returnable”. You may get a refund, but the time and effort spent has basically been wasted. Therefore, when someone buys a service, it is the expectation of getting the results they want that really closes the deal. Since a person buying a service is paying for a desired outcome, it is critical to focus on the result of the effort in our selling process!

Both of these businesses actually have the same goal of customer gratification they just use different vehicles to get there. In a furniture store it is absolutely critical that they work hand-in-hand on the sales floor. The issue I see is that we often focus heavily on the product selling side of what we do in many important areas of our daily activities and business planning processes. Certainly, any selling system we use in our stores should be aimed at ultimately providing the problem-solving service addressed above, since that is the desired result we need to have for that critical aspect of our business.

In addition, most stores work hard to maintain delivery and customer care departments that solve problems every day for their customers. However, I believe that many furniture stores could do a better job understanding the value of the problem-solving service they provide to customers and find ways to improve how they sell and market it to their target audience.

Here are a few ideas that may help get you started thinking about better ways to sell and market the valuable problem-solving service you provide in your store:

  • In a service-based business, your people and what they do are the product. So, it makes sense to sell them and the importance of their contribution, as much as you sell the value of your actual merchandise. You should develop a features and benefits story to tell about your staff, from your salespeople through the delivery staff. Potential customers need to view them as reliable and trustworthy in order to want to do business with your store.
  • As stated earlier, service businesses are very relationship based. Therefore, it is important to let people get to know your staff and build some initial rapport with them. It is really common sense, but whatever you can do to connect your target audience to your staff such as online biographies and picture boards at the entrance will enhance your ability to make them want to work with you.
  • Since you are providing solutions for your customer’s needs, it is important to show that you understand what their needs are and that you can offer solutions to solve their problems. Prospects should see you as a resource they can rely on to deliver the total results they seek. Testimonials from clients, design articles/essays from staff members and picture boards of successful projects are a great way to get this point across on your sales floor and website.
  • Keep in mind it is not the actual service that the customer really cares about, it is the result it delivers when completed that truly matters. What is going to happen is more important than how it will happen and the way the effort will help them is really the critical issue. So, emphasize the results you can deliver more than the process to get them. Showing them how much their life can be improved as a result of being happier with their home is a great way to do this.
  • Remember that the service you are providing a client is intangible. It can’t be returned and their investment in time cannot be reimbursed. Emphasizing that your design assistance is complementary and part of the total package you provide with the products they purchase can eliminate these issues by reducing any perceived risk involved.
  • Your advertising, marketing and online efforts should strive to create an experience that reflects what your service will provide to the client. You need to identify the issues they expect to run into while creating their dream room and show that your service will solve their problems.
  • Many of your competitors do not offer the services you provide, so use this as an advantage in your market. Online venders, membership warehouses, many discount stores and major chains like Target or Ikea for the most part do not have staff to deliver the total experience you can. Take advantage of this in all of your marketing efforts to separate yourself from the pack and add value to the relationship you offer prospective customers!
  • Make sure all of your efforts answer the important questions your target audience will have, like: What services do you offer? Why are they important to me? What potential problems will they solve? What other benefits will they provide? What does it cost and what should I expect?
  • Be sure to emphasize that you provide one-stop shopping for your products. Using the services you offer, customers will save time and money by not having to get outside help to complete their projects. Your staff members are experts on the merchandise you carry, and they will provide all the assistance needed to create solutions to any problems.
  • Most service companies have found that email, website and social media marketing efforts work best to generate interest from their targeted consumer segments. Having your design staff post pictures of completed projects and testimonials from highly satisfied clients, creates a very powerful message about your ability to solve problems and deliver results. It is also extremely important to gather and post positive Facebook, Google and Yelp reviews both online and in your ads, since this provides support for your “we can do it” message!

Don’t take what your staff does and the valuable services they provide to your customers for granted. Make them a focal point for some of your marketing efforts and get credit for the difference they can make in your customers total experience with your company. I hope this helps you get started.

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