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Do You Care What Customer Service Costs?

While many industries spent last year scrambling to stay afloat, the furniture and mattress space got an unexpected tailwind that propelled them almost a decade ahead in terms of technology and sales. 

In short: business is booming and furniture stores are scrambling to keep up with the uptick. 

And while businesses in the category are thrilled with the uptick, are they keeping consumers happy? 

If you’re a retailer, you might have a false sense of assurance when looking at your P&L, but the backlog and delays on furniture are taking their toll, and failing to handle it appropriately could be costing you.

Take, for example, my conversation with a friend who we’ll call Karlie. She and I were both in the market for new dining sets and I found an old table at a secondhand store that I decided to re-finish on my own. 

Given that I’m filling a dining room in a home I plan to sell within the next two years, I’m not in the market for investment pieces. Karlie, on the other hand, is in quite a different space.

Two years ago, a tornado in our area took out the backside of her house. As a result of rebuilding, she and her husband have decided to gut the inside of the rest of their home and do a major home remodel. 

She is not only in the market for a dining set, but also new everything—bar stools for the kitchen, a breakfast table, a formal dining table, chairs, accessory furniture for the formal dining, living room staples and accessories, plus a new media room to outfit. 

To put it bluntly, she has cash to spend and she’s looking to spend it on what she wants.

In December, she walked into a popular store in our area known for high-end, quality pieces and picked out a table and chairs. The sale was pleasant and the sales associate was forthright, explained the backlog issues, and assured her the piece would be in by February. 

February came and went. So did March. 

The last week of March, she called the store and asked for an update on her furniture. 

“It’ll be in April! We promise.”

Three weeks into April there was still no furniture. Furthermore, there was also no communication from the store. 

The last week of April, she called the store and asked to speak with the sales associate who had been her point of contact. He never returns her call. 

She calls again a few days later and the pattern is repeated. She does this one more time—for a total of three times in a week. 

Finally, she calls up to the store and asks to speak to the manager. The lady who answers the phone tells her she’ll leave a message for her sales associate to call her back. Karlie laughs and says no thank you because she’s been down this path.  

After some back and forth, my friend finally asks about the status of the item. The lady responds that the computer indicates that it’s eight weeks out. 

“So, it hasn’t even been built yet?” Karlie asks.

“It’s in pre-assembly, so we’re likely waiting on the parts.”

At this, Karlie asks to have the piece refunded. She was told eight weeks in December and at this point, she’s waited seventeen weeks and is being told it’s still another eight weeks out. The lady tells her she will refund her, less a 25% restocking fee. 

“A restocking fee? For what?” Karlie asks in disbelief. 

“For restocking the furniture.” The lady replies curtly. 

“But I never actually received the item. I’m not paying a restocking fee on an item that I’ve never taken home and moreover hasn’t even been built yet.”

The exchange goes back and forth with Karlie finally becoming so frustrated she tells the woman she’s coming up to the store. The woman tells her that won’t be necessary, she’ll ask the manager if she can just void the restocking fee. Karlie hangs up and gets in her car. 

When she arrives at the store, it’s Saturday around 2 pm. The store is packed, and she quickly notices that the sales associate who sold her the table received an Associate of the Month award for the month of March—their picture hangs prominently on the wall for all to see. 

She goes up to the counter and finds the manager. He’s pleasant and has clearly been informed of the issue, so he refunds her the full amount and tries to salvage the sale, offering to show her in-stock pieces they currently had available to take home today. 

She says no and leaves, then drives to another part of town to a store known for its high-end items and even higher-end price tags. She finds a table—$1,200 more than the one she was refunded for—and that she likes better than the table she had been waiting on. 

The final cherry on top: it’s in stock and can be delivered within seven days. She pays cash and purchases an additional two dining room furniture pieces and is out within an hour. 

On Monday, following the Saturday debacle, her sales associate calls to confirm her next Saturday delivery. She gets a text Thursday afternoon, again confirming the delivery. Saturday morning she gets play-by-play updates that allow her to “Follow the Furniture,” similar to the pizza tracker by Dominos. 

She saw it being loaded onto the truck, knew when it left the store, where it was en route, and the approximate time of delivery. It showed up within two minutes of the tracker update. She also received a follow-up survey an hour after the furniture was delivered. 

So what’s the moral of this story? 

Invest in customer care, especially in today’s environment. If you ask my friend how this situation could’ve been salvaged, she offered, “all I needed was a call or text at the beginning of every month after February to update me on my order. I went to where I did because they have a reputation for good furniture. I wouldn’t have gone elsewhere. I would’ve waited until June because they had a table I really liked. They forced me elsewhere. It’s just not hard to take the first 10 minutes of every day and go through outstanding orders and call one to two per day once a month to give them an update. Or take an hour or two and knock out all of them. Once a month contact just isn’t too much to ask.”

It really isn’t. Especially when you realize how infectious a bad review can be. Karlie did leave a bad Google review, but to this store’s credit, someone called and apologized, and she removed it. 

This was kind of her, but many people would have left it, and unfortunately, that review could be the only impression of the store many may ever hold. 

In a period where business is good and foot traffic is up, now is the time to be securing customers for life. Karlie has gone back to that second store twice more and spent thousands more dollars on new pieces, several of which she’s waiting on, but because she’s been communicated with she doesn’t mind. 

A $3,000 table mishap cost a store thousands in lost revenue because they undervalued customer service. 

So what is customer service worth to you? 

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