Design For In-Store Customer Service
How to re-imagine
customer service areas to give shoppers the very best in-store
As online shopping continues to grow, furniture retailers need to do more
to set their store experiences apart. Customer service must be at the
heart of this effort. To succeed, stores must embrace new technologies,
improve customer service amenities and reconfigure customer service areas
to create a more seamless experience.
The Purpose of Customer Service
Retailers that provide superb customer service know what their customers
want and use that knowledge to help their businesses grow. Fundamentally,
it has to do with the way they interact with customers. Positive customer
service builds relationships, creates rapport, and shows they care.
This applies to all aspects of their businesses, from customers’ personal
interactions with salespeople to how well they deliver on their promises.
Nothing is more important than building trust. Issues can come up that may
tarnish a relationship, but in the end, retail operations are judged based
on how well bumps in the road are handled and resolved. A focus on
transparent, appropriate communication with customers is critically
Therefore, customer service should be a key part of your brand identity
and a core tenet of your retail strategy. It should guide your business
decisions and be integral to the way you train salespeople to be
accessible, communicative, respectful, and non-discriminatory.
Online versus Offline
Platforms like Yelp, Google, Facebook and others give customers the chance
to leave negative reviews. That’s just one of many compelling reasons for
retailers to prioritize customer service and make sure they continually
invest in all channels of customer interaction.
Effectively engaging with customers online requires an easy-to-navigate
website and the communication of brand values through visual and written
language. Providing quick responses and expediting purchases are
additional baseline requirements.
A major drawback for consumers who use websites to connect with stores is
that it is usually less personal than an in-store visit. With online chat,
customers usually get answers from an automated bot. If they send an
email, they don’t know how long they’ll have to wait for a response.
The good news for brick and mortar furniture retailers is that this lack
of personalization and direct interaction drives customers into stores
where they expect to have a better, more personal experience and get
immediate feedback. This is a key point of differentiation.
Well-imagined in-store customer service areas give brick and mortar
retailers an advantage. They increase the ways customers can find and
speak with experts to feel comfortable, engaged and ready to buy.
The ideal of excellent customer service has changed from being
transactional to relational. Customers do not want to feel like they are
going to a payment station or a bank teller. They do not want to walk to
the back of the store to get help or arrange for payments. They do not
want to sit down with a manager or other staff in an office. They do not
want to see any back-of-house spaces like break rooms or training rooms.
They do want their experience to be friendly, relaxed, and easy.
The design of Boulevard Home’s Customer Service area (top) at
the center of their new Mesquite, Nevada, store will serve
multiple purposes and be a hub of activity.
With the shift of Customer Service from a transactional to a
relational experience, new types of amenities are emerging, such
as this Information desk near the entrance of a Tepperman’s
Location: Furniture retailers are now moving customer
service areas from the back of stores to more central locations. These are
being placed in accessible spots that customers can view from everywhere
in stores. Ideally, multiple circulation paths lead to these areas,
forming hub-and-spoke layouts.
The ideal of excellent customer service has changed from being
transactional to relational. Customers do not want to feel like they
are going to a payment station or a bank teller.
They are now typically centered on main entrances so salespeople can see
customers as they enter. However, they should not be placed too close,
since it can be intimidating. Clear and visible signage is important.
Round shapes have become popular because they allow access from all sides,
giving them a friendly and non-hierarchical feeling.
Amenities: Customers should be able to use service areas
to make payments, ask questions, seek help or just chill out. Consider
installing a comfortable lounge area with TV. A cafe or refreshment
station can be integrated into the design or located in an adjacent space
so customers can get food, drink and take breaks from shopping.
Financing: These areas can include designated places for
customers to sit while filling out credit applications and waiting for
Instead of standing in front of a counter to check out, customers are more
comfortable sitting nearby or in a cafe where payments can be processed by
salespeople using iPads. This helps keep the process from feeling
transactional and encourages relationship-building.
Storytelling: Customer service areas are excellent places
to tell stories about brand value and company history with photos or
timelines. This helps customers feel connected.
Kids Zones & Design Centers: Retailers have installed
Kids Zones near customer service areas so children are entertained while
their parents shop.
Design Centers: Some retailers locate a Design Center
nearby to increase exposure to customers who are milling around. Doing
that often leads to questions being asked about customized products and
design services. Recliner, massage chair and mattress departments have
proven to perform well when positioned next to customer service areas.
Additional In-Store Ideas
Multiple Areas: Some furniture retailers have installed
multiple customer service areas throughout their stores. A small welcome
desk positioned near the front entrance can work in concert with a series
of checkouts in various departments. These checkouts often are just kiosks
where customers sit in adjacent room sets to get checked out. The welcome
desk at the front of the store can then serve as the place where customers
seek help and ask questions. Retailers are also adding Wondersigns,
large-scale interactive screens that showcase a retailer’s entire product
Separate areas for specialty destination departments such as rugs,
mattresses, appliances, and outlet can be useful as well. Mattress
departments with their own sleep specialists can have their own
refreshment areas, seating pods, and checkout stations to serve customers.
Appliance departments benefit from providing specialty customer service
amenities. Appliance salespeople need areas where they can comfortably sit
with clients to review kitchen plans and layouts. Live demo kitchens have
gained popularity to host culinary events and cooking demonstrations. Some
retailers have been successful with customer service areas to cater to the
needs of building contractors, for customized service and quick checkout.
Greeters: Concierges or greeters, typically located next
to the front door, are becoming more common. Their purpose is to welcome
customers without any sales expectations attached. It’s an ideal place to
offer a beverage, a wheelchair or a motorized scooter. Some furniture
retailers employ greeting areas to learn more about shoppers so they can
be better matched to a salesperson. This area is all about creating a
higher level of personalized experience. The greeter is also there to
thank customers on the way out, creating a positive last impression.
Customer Pick-up: Customer pick-up areas are another
important part of the customer service experience. These areas should be
well-signed so customers can easily drive around to find them. They should
have a designated place to wait, complete with instructions on how to find
someone to help them with their order. The pick-up experience must be as
seamless as the in-store experience.
New Name for Service
The name “customer service” has an old and tired association with
telephone companies. After the introduction of toll-free numbers, service
agents were employed to up-sell additional products or services. The
result was often disappointed customers who interacted with bad service
agents, experienced long wait times, untrained staff, and more.
Concierges or greeters, typically located next to the front door, are
also gaining popularity. Their purpose is to welcome customers without
any sales expectations attached.
That is just one reason why it’s time to give the in-store customer
service experience a new name. A number of furniture retailers are
experimenting with new names that have more positive connotations. “Guest
Services” is quickly becoming the favorite as it speaks to a broader range
of services and has associations with hotels and spas. The name suggests a
place that welcomes customers and services their needs.
Other retailers are developing branded names to replace the generic
customer service designation. The Furniture Mall of Texas, for example,
refers to their area simply as Congrats Y’all. The Furniture Mall of
Kansas uses Congratulation Station. Both of these celebrate the customer’s
purchase. Others have added signs that read How Can We Help?, Information,
Courtesy Desk, Customer Success, Service Station, Customer Experience and
The Future of Checkout
A 2019 survey by Capgemini found that 60 percent of consumers felt that
the checkout process is the most painful part of the physical store
experience. It is the last interaction customers have with your brand
in-store, so it is worth the effort to make it a positive experience.
Apple was a leader in streamlining their checkout experience with a mobile
checkout system that allowed the store associate who first helped a
customer to take payment. Furniture retailers have largely adopted this
approach, allowing sales associates to complete their sales and coordinate
delivery. That way they become their customer’s point-of-contact
throughout the experience.
Other retail sectors, particular grocery and convenience, are moving
towards contactless and cashless systems. AmazonGo touts technology that
eliminates the checkout process altogether, although it is more
appropriate for retail stores where speed and convenience are key. Even
so, technologies like Stripe, Square and Shopify along with “contactless
cards” have changed checkout, allowing easy payments anywhere there is an
iPad and an internet connection. Using systems like these enhances the
experience by being fast, easy and convenient.
As online furniture and mattress brands like Wayfair and Casper have
ventured into offline retailing, they’ve prioritized keeping sales areas
minimal, customer-friendly, tidy, and well-branded. Other retailers are
experimenting with “digital” seating areas where customers can browse
their full catalog online, order directly through a website or do
The physical customer service experience, therefore, is evolving to be
less about the checkout process and more about creating a place for
conversation and relaxed decision-making. This is the more comfortable,
fluid, seamless, easy and digital-focused approach to buying furniture.
It’s something that furniture and bedding retailers should consider.
A Very Short History of Customer Service
1880s Department Stores: The modern idea of customer
service began with the Industrial Revolution when mass-produced goods
moved shopping away from local stores. In the mid 1800s, large department
stores emerged, influencing what people bought and how they shopped.
Stores like Sears and Macy’s first developed the concept of in-store
customer service. Areas for returns and the repair of washing machines,
blenders, and more, became common.
Sales Counters: The invention of the cash register in
1883 allowed retailers to quickly ring up sales and record transactions.
Cash registers needed a home, so sales counters and cash wraps were
Credit Cards 1920s: Once credit cards came onto the scene
in the 1920s, they became a preferred method of payment. Furniture
retailers took advantage of this shift in purchasing habits by providing
their own credit lines to customers. At that point, in-store customer
service desks were created to meet a utilitarian need for writing up
purchase orders, processing payments, and completing paperwork. That need
largely disappeared since new forms of technology have allowed the
checkout process to be completely seamless and paperless.
2022: Today, customers are looking for a place to go for
expertise and to interact with a human being. The goal for the in-store
design of customer service areas is now to create a personalized
experience for customers and help them to navigate the decision-making