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Al’s column: Covering all the bases with sign-off sheets

July 8/15, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 2

By Lou Morano

 

(Editor's note: This is the third installment in a multi-part series.)

Many retailers have had to deal with customer complaints over the course of doing business. Perhaps you had a client who though her carpet was defective because there are pulls in it. Or she’s looking for monetary compensation because of the mess your installers made when you ripped out her old ceramic tile flooring to make way for the new materials. “No one told me this was going to happen” is the common response from the consumer.

We all could come up with dozens of other complaints from customers on things that are just normal and customary for the products and services we provide as flooring retailers. Over the years, my sales associates have been diligent in trying to manage our customers’ expectations by letting them know what could—and probably will—happen, yet we still receive complaints. The customer will often claim the salesperson never told her, which could be the case because it would be very difficult to cover all the scenarios verbally.

So how do you address this issue? Over the years we have utilized “sign-off sheets,” documents that aim to cover normal and customary expectations of product performance as well as scenarios that are inherent with the product they purchased. For instance, when we’re on a job that entails a hard surface removal we have a specific document that states the items we normally cover with plastic, and we advise customers on what they need to remove from the area to limit exposure to dust. We also inform the homeowner that the area will likely need to be cleaned after the job is done.

Every product category has its own sheet that must be signed. The sheets are self-explanatory and cover almost all bases. We’ve found this process has drastically reduced customer complaints. First, we educate the customer at the time of purchase to manage her expectations. Second, when a customer states, “I was never told…” we refer to the sheet she signed showing she was indeed properly informed.

Of course, as a retailer who is customer-service oriented, we always do what it takes to satisfy the customer. In the past this has cost us money and eaten into the profits for the job. But now that we’ve implemented sign-off sheets, when there is a situation that is clearly no fault of our own—or the manufacturer—we’ll still take care of it, but at the consumer’s expense.

A perfect example is our sign-off sheet for carpet installations, which states that “seam placement will be at Capitol Carpet’s discretion unless specifically indicated on the signed contract.” During a recent job, we installed a patterned carpet on steps and in a hallway. The consumer wanted the carpet to run in a different direction than we laid it, and she insisted that we change it at our expense. We explained that we did it the correct way and showed her the signed sign-off sheet. She argued she wasn’t home when we measured, and that her husband signed the contract and sign-off sheet. We explained that we are not responsible for lack of communication between her and her husband, but we would replace the carpet at her expense. She agreed.

Bottom line: Our salespeople can’t realistically come up with every possible scenario for product performance/expectations, nor can they come up with all possible installation scenarios. With these sign-off sheets customers are educated, they have realistic expectations of the project and/or products and they have proper maintenance guidelines.

 

Lou Morano started selling carpet for a major retailer at the age of 19 in 1981. In 1985 he and his father incorporated Capitol Carpet and opened their first full-service retail store in 1986. Today Morano operates five retail stores, including a commercial division, under the name Capitol Carpet & Tile and Window Fashions.