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Lisbiz strategies: Lessons learned from my focus group

July 31/Aug. 7: Volume 31, Issue 4

By Lisbeth Calandrino

 

Lisbeth CalandrinoWhen it comes to selling flooring we keep hearing the big box is clobbering the independent retailer. I find this hard to believe, so I decided to hold my own mini-focus group to get a clearer understanding of the issues. I recently convened a panel of 21 women—ages 25 to 65—at a small restaurant near my house. I asked the participants to provide thoughts on their shopping experiences relative to home centers vs. independent retailers. I asked a friend of mine to take notes so I could collect my own data.

Following are some takeaways based on the comments of the participants.

Lesson No. 1: With customer service, perception is reality. “Customer service in retail today is worse than ever.” This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this sentiment. If you have a problem with a product or service, according to my focus group, the independent store is the worst place to get satisfaction. This seems to be due to a couple of things. The big boxes have more money, so they are more likely to solve a consumer’s problem quicker. The more a consumer presses them, the faster her problem will get resolved. Furthermore, it’s hard to find anyone in charge in the independent business. The big boxes often have a customer service department to handle problems, while associates in the independent stores have very little power to solve problems.

For many who have closely followed this industry, this flies in the face of conventional wisdom. It is a long-held belief that home centers and big discount merchandisers lack the skilled work force to provide personal, specialized attention—the hallmarks of the independent specialty retailer. Furthermore, there are countless stories of specialty flooring retailers who operate in the shadow of large home centers and still have managed to not only survive but thrive. And now with the big boxes dramatically scaling back the pace of new store openings, there’s an opportunity for specialty retailers to recoup some share.

My advice: Invest in a customer service department with a different phone number and have the calls go directly to the owner.

Lesson No. 2: Installation is critical. My focus group experiment proved consumers are indeed interested in the installation process and believe certified installers are the way to go. (Another plus in the column for specialty retailers.) They all seem to be aware the big boxes sub-contract their installation and feel that is a bad policy. It signifies that the home center has little control over the process and the warranty is confusing. Furthermore, many home centers continue to de-value the importance of professional services by promoting “free” installation, which is often misleading.

Thankfully, specialty retailers understand the importance of installation, as installers often have the last word when it comes to warranties.

My advice: Look for opportunities to get your installers certified. This will bring credibility to your business and instill greater confidence in the consumer.

Lesson No. 3: More consumers are utilizing technology. In working with my focus group, I learned people utilize technology in different ways. When it comes to ordering online, most prefer to use their computers rather than their phones. In addition, many enjoyed using YouTube to get information on how things work.

My advice: Create a YouTube channel to show your customers how to choose flooring and explain the installation process.

 

Lisbeth Calandrino has been promoting retail strategies for the last 20 years. To have her speak at your business or to schedule a consultation, contact her at lcalandrino@nycap.rr.com.

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Marketing Online: Turning negative reviews into positive outcomes

July 31/Aug. 7: Volume 31, Issue 4

By Ken Ryan

 

Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 11.34.03 AM

The above exchange between a would-be customer and specialty flooring retailer appeared on Yelp in June. While the complaint was relatively benign it nonetheless resulted in two dissatisfied customers walking away from a potential purchase.

The flooring retailer in question usually receives favorable reviews on Yelp, so the complaint was out of character. Still, even the best flooring dealers can receive negative online reviews no matter how great their intentions.

In this case, many social media experts say, the retailer responded appropriately.

“Nobody likes getting negative reviews,” said Taylor Cutler, demand-gen specialist for Podium, a company that specializes in social media and online marketing. “In fact, it can be hard to not get upset when a customer leaves a bad review. That being said, a small number of negative reviews adds to the authenticity of all your reviews. Consumers know that no business is going to be perfect, so they will be understanding when they see one pop up from time to time.”

The key to dealing with negative reviews, Cutler explains, is to view them as an opportunity to improve your business. “When responding to negative reviews the first thing you should do is remain calm. Lashing out at customers is never going to end well, even if you think the review is unwarranted.”

Here are a few tips from social media experts on dealing with negative reviews.

Be responsive. The age-old retort, “I am not even going to dignify that with a response,” might be a way to handle certain situations but not online complaints, experts say. It may be tempting to delete negative feedback. However, responding well to negatives can actually turn into a positive when other customers see a thoughtful and respectful response. “Typically when people come to social media with a complaint it is a result of some sort of miscommunication,” said Frank Chiera, senior vice president of marketing and advertising, Flooring America/Flooring Canada. He recommends flooring retailers reply as quickly as possible and do whatever they can to help the customer out. “Good service and a prompt response can go a long way to make that customer happy. In most cases, his members have already worked directly with the customers to resolve the issue they are experiencing, and they are a result of things outside of our store’s control—like subfloor problems or issues with independent contractors who installed our product. If you’ve done everything you can already to please the customer, we recommend you briefly recap the steps you’ve taken in your response and invite the person to get in touch directly if she would like to discuss it further.”

Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 11.34.22 AMFlooring America’s F.A.S.T. (Flooring America Social Tools) program, for example, provides comprehensive monitoring across all social media platforms so the buying group is able to find and address these complaints quickly as they come in. The My Floor Story creates a place for reviews to live on all member microsites.

Don’t wait too long to act. Numerous surveys have found that a high proportion of customers regard online reviews as credible. While negative reviews still make up a relatively small portion of all reviews posted— according to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, only one in 26 customers will take the time to complain publicly—when you do get a bad review you should take it very seriously.

Research the incident. If necessary, speak to your staff to get their side of the story, and communicate privately with the reviewer to find out more details. If you’ve joined a review site, you should be able to message reviewers privately. If you haven’t joined, you can post a public message asking the reviewer to contact you offline (i.e., by phone or email) to discuss her concern. If the negative comment is on a blog, Facebook page or Twitter, you may have to respond publicly and ask the writer to contact you privately. The last thing you want is a public he-said-she-said argument. You can respond to inaccurate reviews to set the record straight about facts without getting into a tit-for-tat conversation.

Learn from it. Successful business people learn from negative reviews, improve their business—if need be—and then move on.

Offer a solution. According to Podium’s Cutler, apologizing to your customers is great but what they really want is a solution. He recommends including a detailed plan of action to remediate the problem as part of your response.