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Opportunity Doesn’t Knock, It Rings!

Furniture World Magazine


"When shoppers call your store, they begin to judge
whether or not to include you in their shopping travels.”

Sure, I’ve been in our wonderful home furnishings industry for a long time, but I was not around 140 years ago when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. I’m pretty sure that there weren’t any fancy ring tones or call waiting back then, so the first call went through fairly easily. Legend has it that the first words spoken were “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you” was actually a call for help as Bell had spilled acid on his leg and was in pain.

If I were scripting that call today it would go something like this:

Bell: Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.

Watson: Thank you for calling! I want to see you also, how can I help you?

Bell: It seems that I have spilled some acid onto my leg.

Watson: Wow, that seems painful; tell me what kind of acid and I will bring you something to neutralize it and some new pants.

Bell: Thank you, I have another call coming in, can I put you on hold?

Okay, I might delete the last line. However, just like Bell and Watson, every day your business gets calls from people needing your products to relieve their pain, and every day your service or sales teams end the call without a solution or invitation. Chances are good that you are including those 7 to 10 hyphenated digits that are your unique phone number in every paid advertisement with the goal of encouraging shoppers to call you. When those shoppers call, they begin to judge whether or not to include you in their shopping travels.

It all starts with your greeting. Your initial goal is to pick up that call within three rings. Few shoppers will ever wait beyond six rings when making a sales inquiry. Unless your store is named Mega-Furniture Mart, resist the urge to use automated answering. And triple dog shame on you if your caller has to “Press One for Sales”. Most of your shoppers are human, and they prefer a human voice when they call. Next, synchronize your greeting with your promotion. If you are the “Home of Next Day Delivery” or are advertising “60 months Free Financing” make that part of your greeting. While working for a large Mid-Atlantic retailer in the 1990’s our office team was rewarded for using the phone greeting “Thank you for calling XYZ Furniture, we are your Bassett Bedding Headquarters!”

After the greeting, it’s time to LISTEN! Each shopper who calls you has a mission in making that call. It’s usually a product or promotion inquiry, but doesn’t always start that way. I’ll bet that at some point in the past week you got a caller asking “What are your store hours?” or “When do you close tonight?” There is the slim option that they are checking your hours because they want to do an after-hours raid on your break room fridge, thus explaining the missing half of olive loaf and cheese sub that you left there. More likely, they want to visit your store-and probably other stores on your street. It’s the golden opportunity to differentiate yourself from your vanilla box neighbor by simply asking a few questions. Start by giving your store hours, and do a quick follow up with one of these questions:

  • “Was there a special item that you were looking for?”

  • “Did you have a question about our sale ad?”

  •  “Have you shopped/visited us before?”

The cool thing about these questions is that shoppers are LESS RELUCTANT to answer them while on the phone compared to answering them in person. Perhaps it’s the anonymity, or perhaps it’s the surprise that you didn’t just say, “We’re here 10-8” and then hang up. I’ll take it a step further and wager that very few CALLERS will slip into the “Just Looking” mode that we hear in the stores.

Often your caller is asking about merchandise. Use that phone for a WIRE TRANSFER of ENTHUSIASM! Professionals will put a smile on their face and congratulate that caller for asking about their special item. They’ll even go a step further and describe the selection of goods available. The concept is to let the caller know that your store has a wide variety of choices with varying options on size, color, availability and pricing. After gaining permission to ask a few discovery questions, such as who the item is for, and when they need it, you can narrow the choices and make it easier for the shopper to decide, once in the store. Imagine a conversation like this;

Store Personnel: Hi, thanks for calling Mega Mart, home of same day delivery!

Caller: Hi, how late are you open today?

Store Personnel: We’re here from 9-7 pm every day! Is there a special item you are looking for?
Caller: Yes, I saw that you had queen size mattresses on sale for $399, I was wondering if you have that available in King Size?

Store Personnel: Great Choice, we have that mattress and many more available in King Size-and ON SALE! We want to make sure that you get the right bed for you-can I ask you a couple of quick questions?

Caller: OK

Store Personnel: Is the bed for you and for everyday use?

Caller: No, actually I am giving it to my daughter who just got married.

Store Personnel: Congratulations to them. Wow! What a great gift! If your daughter was shopping, what kind of a bed do you think she would want?

Caller: She would love to have one of those fluffy pillow top mattresses, I guess.

Store Personnel: Our $399 Queen Mattress does come in a plush style and in King Size too. It’s a little bit more in King at $599. I also have some really cool pillow top beds on sale, from about $799. Would you be willing to extend your gift budget a bit.

Caller: I can go a little higher, but want to stay under $1000, if possible.

Store Personnel: We have THREE great beds in King, all super comfy and all in your budget. Can you stop by today?

Caller: I can be there in about an hour.

Store Personnel: Great! My name is Charlene, ask for me when you come in. I’ll show you those three beds first so I can save you time and money. And if you remind me, I’ll be sure to put a great big bow on the mattress set when we deliver it!

It would be idealistic to think that EVERY incoming call will go like this. Years of retail experience has taught me that not every call is a happy call. However-properly designed, every TV, Radio, Newspaper, and web-based advertisement that you pay for is designed to invite sales call inquiries. Store owners and managers WIN when they train and rehearse their office and sales teams to engage the customer to see that a ringing phone (or whatever sound they make these days) not as an intrusion on their day, but as a Wake-Up Bell of Opportunity.

About Gordon Hecht: Gordon Hecht is a business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry. You can reach him at Gordon.hecht@aol.com