Almost every business preaches the benefits of customer service.
Consider the aphorisms that exist in corporate America. If we
believed every trite expression, from “Quality is Job One” to “Have
it Your Way,” we would never have recessions. Many talk the talk,
but how many showrooms actually have the mindset and systems in
place to walk the walk?
Jack Mitchell, CEO of Mitchells/Richards Clothing Stores in
Westport and Greenwich CT, wrote Hug Your Customers. The premise of
the book is that for any business to achieve sustainable success,
the focus must be first and foremost on the customer.
Mitchell understands that in today’s world of immediacy and
instant gratification, customers want and expect more. He places
the customer at the center of the universe, and the company’s
commitment to building effective customer relationships is
practiced at every level of the organization.
Mitchell defines every act of personal service as a “hug.” A hug
can be as simple as remembering customers’ names when they enter
the store to being accessible around the clock to respond to
“clothing emergencies.” Hugs come in many sizes and shapes. The
goal is to personalize the shopping experience to create
relationships that become lifelong friendships.
Mitchell’s road map for his third-generation family business
should strike a chord with many decorative plumbing and hardware
showrooms. He delineates a process that successfully converts an
attitude into an operating system to not simply satisfy customers,
but to consistently exceed their expectations. Mitchell’s two
clothing stores generate more than $60 million in annual sales and
have among the highest margins in the clothing industry.
Passion is a key ingredient
in creating a showroom dedicated to exceptional customer service.
You need to be passionate about what you do and about life.
Passion is evident in our showroom and it becomes infectious
among our customers, the representatives who serve our business and
the manufacturers who supply our products. As a result, those in
our supply chain are passionate about providing extraordinary
customer service to our showroom.
Consistency is critical to creating a service culture. Recently,
a gentleman entered our showroom. He was shy and did not dress or
look like our typical customer. He needed a bidet but did not have
the resources to buy one. Instead of turning him away, our
salesperson who had won a portable bidet wand from a manufacturer
sales promotion volunteered to lend the gentleman her wand to see
if it met his needs. It did. He ordered one for approximately $100
and was so appreciative of the effort our staff member went through
to meet his needs that he wept.
Mitchell points out that, when you are customer-centric, your
bottom line benefits. At our showroom, we have empirical evidence
to support that statement. We view problems as opportunities that
provide one-time chances to cement relationships by converting
anger into hugs.
At Designer Hardware, we hug our customers by preventing
problems before they occur. On larger projects, we make site visits
after roughs are installed and before sheetrocking, regardless of
where the project is located. Recently, we traveled from Oklahoma
City to Vail, CO to check the thermostat and balance pressure rough
in an installation, only to discover the valves had been switched
and were installed in the wrong showers. Had the mistake been
overlooked, the large shower with multiple outlets would never have
The contractor was so appreciative of our effort that he has
since referred us to five other contractors who are using us for
their projects. The return we received on that investment has paid
for itself a hundred times over. So, it’s clear there’s a direct
link between the quality of customer service and
Information a key
At the heart of Mitchell’s
relationship-building process is access to information. He sends
flowers, small gifts of all types and birthday, anniversary and
announcements cards to his customers regularly. His sales
professionals are trained, in a non-intrusive manner, to obtain
personal information that can be used to communicate frequently and
Information of this type is necessary to develop long-term, loyal
customer relationships and to provide a quality of service that
constantly exceeds customer expectations. Union Hardware in
Washington, DC has created a technological infrastructure that
places customer interest first. From the moment the sale is made,
Union Hardware’s technology transmits an electronic “thank you”
with a link to the company’s Web page that allows customers to
review their order. Trade accounts can review sales tickets online
and download invoices and technical specifications.
The company has a database of purchases dating back more than a
decade. Because of this, a customer can come into the showroom with
a broken handle from a faucet purchased in 1992 and Union Hardware
can instantly identify the make, model number and part-ordering
As sophisticated as technology systems in showrooms may be, the
potential exists for using information even more effectively. For
example, creating databases that track trends, staff performance,
margins and other financial and performance data can help you
exceed customer expectations by providing information that makes
their jobs and lives easier. You can determine if particular
product lines or styles are frequently specified by designers. You
can also ask for permission to send a notice if the line or
manufacturer introduces new products they may want.
Decorative plumbing and hardware showrooms can further cement
relationships with designers by arranging for meetings with
manufacturers and representatives who can explain the trends
they’re responding to. By serving as a constant source of
information, showrooms can ensure that there’s no reason for the
design community to specify or shop from any other source. The
possibilities are endless. They don’t exist, however, if there is
not the technological awareness and commitment to use information
as a competitive advantage.
You can’t exceed customer
expectations if you don’t deliver products on time. Union Hardware
has developed a technology that proactively helps ensure delivery
times are monitored and met. Its system tracks, on a dynamic basis,
average order time. If a deadline is not met, the system
automatically notifies customers, eliminating the need for them to
ask when an order will be delivered. If the deadline arrives and an
order is not received, an inquiry is automatically issued to the
manufacturer and the customer is notified of the status and a new
delivery date via fax, e-mail or phone call.
“The system is proactive and sends a message to customers that
we’re looking out for their interests after the sale has been
made,”notes Union Hardware v.p. David Goldberg.
A similar result is achieved at Miller’s Fine Decorative Hardware
in Dania, FL, where it’s the primary responsibility of a full-time
customer service representative to track order status.
Owner Debbie Miller relates that the standard delivery time for
most orders at her showroom is four weeks. If an order has not been
received three weeks after it’s placed, the customer service
representative contacts the factory to determine if a new date for
delivery needs to be set. If so, the customer is called with a
status report and receives an update on what has been done and a
new anticipated delivery date.
Almost every showroom in our industry has examples of superior
customer service. However, there’s a need to raise the bar and
improve consistency. Decorative plumbing and hardware showroom
owners can compete and exceed the performance of much larger
organizations with greater resources by becoming
We must learn to “hug” our customers. Our competitive advantage
depends on it.
Faye Norton is president of Designer Hardware by Faye in Oklahoma
City, OK. She serves as the chair of the Decorative Plumbing &
Hardware Association Education Committee that is developing a
comprehensive product and sales training and education program for
new showroom staff and others who are new to the DPH industry. In
addition, she serves as
a director on the DPHA Board of Directors.
DPH Perspectives appears every other mount exclusively in
Kitchen & Bath Design News as part of a strategic relationship
between K&BDN and the Bethesda, MD-based DPHA.
By Faye Norton, President Designer Hardware by Faye, Oklahoma