Over the past several months, I have been doing some (unscientific) research on the retail furniture industry. In conducting this research, I have discovered a common thread that seems to tie one furniture retailer to the next, regardless of product price point (e.g., luxury, premium, discount), product design/style (e.g., modern, contemporary, mid-century, etc.), geographic distribution (e.g., regional, national, etc.) and so on.
Reading through dozens and dozens of customer reviews on sites such as Yelp or personal blogs, I have found that customers consistently comment that the level of service that’s provided by furniture companies, how shall I say this, sucks. No matter whether the service is delivered in the store, on the phone or by the delivery team, a lot leaves to be desired when it comes to the delivery of truly superior customer service. Why should this be? And, why should this be such an industry-wide occurrence?
While I can understand and appreciate that there are many moving parts to a retail furniture business, other companies in other industries, however, have just as many moving parts to contend with and customer service, or the lack thereof, does not seem to be such an issue.
In reading through these on-line reviews, it seems as though there are three main customer service related gripes within the retail furniture industry. The first is quality, the second is the mismanagement of expectations and the third is customer service itself.
In regard to quality, one review after another discusses how merchandise was delivered broken or defective, or the color was not the one that was originally ordered, etc. Why should quality be such an issue? I would assume there are multiple check points throughout the fulfillment process, so why, in the end, should a less-than-100%-quality piece of merchandise be delivered? What purpose does it serve other than the company just being able to say, that was delivered, let’s count the revenue? None that I can tell knowing the power of word-of-mouth and social sharing.
In regard to mismanagement of expectations, here I’m referring to issues where a customer is told two weeks for delivery and it ends up being ten. Or a customer thought they were going to get eight pieces of an item, because that’s what was ordered, but only receives three pieces. Sure, instances like this can happen, because maybe there’s a problem with the manufacturer and it’s truly out of the retailer’s hands. But, if this does happen, why not compensate the customer for it? A $50 gift card, free shipping, etc., goes a long way in showing that the company realizes a mistake was made, or that it did not fulfill a promise, and is trying to make it right by the customer. Read that again, right by the customer, not what’s in the best interest for the company. The customer pays the bills, remember?
In regard to customer service itself, review upon review talks about the lack of communication and follow-up on behalf of managers, sales representatives, delivery people, etc. If a paying customer asks a question they have the right to an answer that’s delivered in a timely and courteous manner. Paying customers should not have to endure a run around. Additionally, any and all product information should be known by customer service representatives, so it’s not a matter of “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
After doing this research, I wonder if furniture company CEOs, CMOs, COOs, etc., actually take the time to read these reviews or, better yet, speak directly with customer facing personnel on a consistent and regular basis to learn about the issues that are directly affecting customers. My guess, they don’t and that’s too bad. My take, the biggest customer concerns, issues, problems, etc. should become priority one and, in the process, maybe by fixing one or two of them they end up becoming competitive differentiators as opposed to sales distractors.