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Customer Education Heads Off Surprises and Complaints

December 1st, 2014 | Posted in Blog

Ensuring customer satisfaction is at least a two-step process. The first, vital step comes well before you ever deliver your product or service. That’s when you ensure that the customer’s wishes and expectations are in synch with what you’re selling.

We call this education at the point of sale. It’s about making sure our customers understand what they’re buying, with all its pros and cons. And every product, whether it’s a car, an appliance, or a new kitchen, has those pluses and minuses. It’s something we encourage all our sales people to emphasize: Don’t ever let the customer be surprised by anything about what we sell.

To illustrate this point, I’ll mention how we educate customers about two very popular portions of our product line.

All-white kitchens are very much in fashion right now. They look great, are easy to decorate in creative ways, and tend to be “timeless.” But with painted wooden cabinets, every seam is visible. There’s nothing wrong with that. But we want to be sure the buyer understands that the white paint will magnify every place where one piece of wood joins another. Explaining this clearly doesn’t stop people from buying, but it ensures they aren’t disappointed by what they get.

Likewise, granite counter-tops are popular, beautiful and durable. Even so, we make a point of educating customers to understand that granite is a porous product. That means it requires a sealing process to keep kitchen spills from creating discolorations. We educate buyers about that, and about how to do needed upkeep and even repairs themselves—and when to call for professional service.

In any business, this education process starts with the fact that we are the experts in our own products. That harmonizes with the fact that customers are the experts in what they want. For us, that includes knowing what they like, and what they don’t like, about their current kitchens or bathrooms.

A typical customer will come to us with a specific idea of what she wants, whether it’s a particular look, a product line, or a layout. A knowledgeable sales person will be able to address the pros and cons of everything on the customer’s wish list, helping her make informed decisions. Product knowledge is vital, of course. Equally important is understanding the functionality of various design options, and knowing when to offer alternative ideas the customer might not have thought of.

That can be as simple as rearranging a pair of cabinets so their doors don’t clash with each other, or as elaborate as a completely new concept for a kitchen layout.

It sounds simple, but can in fact be overwhelming, especially for a new sales person. Even experts who have been in the business for years keep encountering new problems. Homeowners will always ask unexpected questions that even an experienced designer may need help to answer. That’s one reason why we have team meetings every three weeks, to share the new issues that come up, and to share the answers.

We believe, and we know our customers share this view, that nobody has all the answers, and we should never pretend we know it all. The first thing we teach our people is to be willing to say “I don’t know . . . but I’ll get the answer.”

Of course, even after we’ve been through this education process, a customer may decide, regardless of the pros and cons, that she wants what she wants. We understand that; it’s the customers’ kitchen, and they’ll be the ones using it every day. So we try to satisfy their wishes as best we can. We document the conversation, however. So if a problem that we warned about does arise, we can remind them, “Remember, we went over this,” even as we’re helping them resolve it.

We won’t ever compromise on matters of safety, building codes or warranty requirements. But we believe that, once our customers are well-informed, it’s our job to deliver exactly what they want. And that’s a formula for a satisfied and loyal customer.