September 2/9, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 6
By Tom Jennings
It has often been said that the more things change, the more they remain the same. That hackneyed phrase certainly pertains to professional flooring installation in 2019.
When I ran a retail operation in Kansas City more than 20 years ago, I was among several dealers asked to monitor all installation-related interactions with customers. We not only tracked installations but all correspondence that we had with customers that may have led to disappointment with the service experience they received. There were single and multiple store operations included. This group represented dealers with both employee and contract installers. These surveys were gathered over a period of several months.
As a company, we all felt the primary cause of complaints was typically an installation team lacking the proper skills or using incorrect methods. We found this perception to be true less than 20% of the time. Nearly five of six customer calls were triggered by some form of poor communication, unrealistic expectations, etc. While surprised, we were also somewhat pleased. We thought this would be an easier fix than the physical installation process. Wrong again.
Fast forward more than 20 years to today. It’s debatable that much has occurred to improve the actual installation skills we can expect to find among flooring installation as a whole. While some specialty retailers have made strides to improve their staffs at the local level, the skilled craftsmen have inevitably gotten older as their replacements continue to not be fully trained. In our customers’ eyes, it’s not the problem.
Without question, our abilities to communicate with the customer have improved in ways no one imagined a generation ago. Virtually all of our installers have a smartphone in their pockets. Most have navigation systems to easily find the customer’s home. Despite these advancements, few of our problems have been solved over the course of the last 25 years.
Studies conducted in flooring and related fields seem to indicate the customer is still putting up with the same incompetence she had to deal with in the past If anything, what we have grown to accept as service has further deteriorated. Instead of conversing with an indifferent receptionist, we take orders from an automated digital voice. What’s more, there is now a new generation in the marketplace that has yet to experience care from a concerned retailer, as most of their shopping experiences have been with mass merchants or online.
While both the problems and solutions are frustratingly similar to the 1990s, one thing has clearly changed, and that’s our ability to shine when we satisfy our customers. Practice these simple steps to ensure consistent, quality installation services: 1.) Create accurate work orders for your staff; 2.) Use pre-installation checklist forms religiously; and 3.) Generate seam and layout diagrams.
It was considered easier and faster to improve communications and attitudes 25 years ago. Well, the same is true today. The goal hasn’t changed—only the stakes. With the proliferation of both big-box and Internet sources now available, great customer service will stand out more. Make the effort to widen the gap between businesses that proclaim to provide outstanding service and those that actually do it.
Tom Jennings is vice president of professional development for the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). Jennings, a former retailer and sales training guru, has served in various capacities within the WFCA.