Tuft Talk - December 2012
By Frank Hurd
What can the carpet retailer learn from successful auto dealers? For one thing, the best auto dealerships work hard to build customer loyalty from the very first time an individual enters their dealership. They strive to create this loyalty at all levels of the dealership: with the salesman who sold the car, with the service manager who interacts with the customer and schedules the work, and with the mechanic who makes the repairs or installs new features.
The best dealerships also send a thank-you email after each purchase or repair, offering the buyer a direct number to call should they experience any problems with their vehicle. They contact their customers when it is time to service their vehicles and ask if they were satisfied with this service. They send a birthday card or email on the anniversary of the purchase. All of these efforts keep their name in front of the customer and remind them that the dealership appreciates their business. Compared to a carpet retailer, the auto dealer may have more opportunity to get in front of its customers, but that doesn’t mean a carpet retailer can’t replicate these practices.
My experience when buying carpet has been this: my wife and I visit a flooring retailer, and she selects the color, texture and style that fit her decorating scheme. Next, a salesman measures the job and provides us with the cost of the carpet, including installation. The order is submitted to the manufacturer, and an installation date is arranged. Next, the installer shows up with our new carpet and installs it. That is the end of any interaction with the carpet retailer, unless the installer does a poor job. In that case, we contact the retailer to get resolution for improper installation.
Is this the way it should be? Under the scenario I just presented, the customer has no incentive to return to the retailer until the next time they have a flooring need. The retailer has not given the customer any reason to remember his brand. Is there another way to approach this, learning from successful auto dealers how to best build customer loyalty, encouraging them to come back and even referring others to the flooring store?
In all the years I have been buying carpet, no retailer has ever followed up after the carpet was installed. If you are doing this, then you are well ahead of most of your competition. To remain competitive in the flooring market, consider a yearly follow-up notice with a “tips for cleaning your carpet” information piece or, better yet, an invitation to an upcoming private sale. Or perhaps invite the customer to a seminar by a home decorator on the latest trends in interior home décor. This is a great way to let the customer know that you remember them and hope they will remember you when they next need new flooring. With email, routine contact with customers is convenient, inexpensive and professional.
Beyond following up with email, I would like to offer another suggestion to improve your business and build even stronger customer loyalty: diversify with a carpet cleaning division or partner with an established local carpet cleaning company. The first option, opening your own cleaning company, is more costly and may present a risk if you are entering a business with which you are unfamiliar, but it offers the best opportunity to control the message going out to the customer. The second option, partnership, is less costly but demands that you convince a partner that it is to their benefit to work with you.
I am sure by now you are starting to see that what I am proposing is, in a small way, replicating what the better auto dealers offer by providing a full-service maintenance department. Why not offer the same with carpet cleaning? If you choose to partner with an established cleaning firm, you will need to make certain that your name is part of the package and that you are an active partner in guaranteeing quality service. A short three or four question survey will let you know if this is happening. Of course, you will not limit your marketing efforts to those who have purchased carpet from your store; you will also reach out to those who use your partner cleaning service as well.
Regardless of which option works better for you, I would suggest taking this concept one step further by including a deeply discounted carpet cleaning six months to a year after the sale. This is an easy way to get in the door, while instilling in the customer the need for a routine deep cleaning of their carpet. Another added service you might consider is to arrange for a certified installer to inspect and repair any defects, including those that may not be noticeable to the customer, before the carpet is cleaned. Doing so demonstrates your commitment to excellence and your willingness to stand behind your products. It is also an opportunity to see if there are any future carpeting needs in the home. This is a great way to build customer loyalty, and, hopefully, build your customer base from the carpet cleaner’s customers.
Yes, this plan will cost money. And, at present, the economy is still soft, so it’s not without some risk. However, you should view the plan as a profit center, not as a cost center, realizing that it can help expand your business into new areas and generate business that you would not otherwise have.
There is another benefit as well. Many customer complaints about carpet are centered on cleaning issues. By offering a program like this, you are addressing your customers’ concerns directly, backing the cleaning with your reputation. The goodwill is reciprocal; if they are happy with the way their carpet is maintained, they will be more likely to buy from you the next time they need carpet.
To take the concept of full service one step further, consider equipping your firm to handle carpet damage from hurricane flooding, sewage backup, broken water heaters, fire and smoke. If your carpet cleaning service provides for quick water extraction and drying of carpet to save the customer’s investment, you are providing a great service. When the damage can’t be repaired, providing efficient removal of the damaged carpet can be part of this full-service approach. Reaching out to your customers with these services can only strengthen customer loyalty and grow your business.
Successful auto dealerships have cultivated their customers’ loyalty by foreseeing their auto needs and meeting these needs with confidence and competence. There is no reason a carpet retailer can’t do the same. Carpet may be seen as a commodity product with no brand loyalty, but that doesn’t prevent the retailer from building customer loyalty to their store and services.
Carpet retailers need to be proactive in maintaining contact with customers and meeting their service needs, so that when it comes time to purchase new carpet, they are the first to come to mind. Getting email addresses is relatively easy and a smart way to maintain contact. This won’t replace other means of advertising but will act as a supplement, hopefully building a clientele of repeat customers for your carpet business. It has worked for the auto dealer, why not the carpet retailer?
Copyright 2012 Floor Focus