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Retail Automation - Part 2

Furniture World Magazine

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Post delivery and service automation opportunities

by David McMahon

Whatever your business model, automation is needed to accomplish more with less time so your precious human talent can focus on what they do best.

At the time of this writing, home furnishings retailers are voicing their concerns about a slowdown in customer traffic for the first time since they were forced to shut down during the initial stages of the pandemic.

This slowdown was delayed but inevitable. Even before COVID, there were signs that the furniture industry was due for a challenging period as described in a previous installment in this series, “Planning for Uncertainty in 2019.” That article can be found here.

Uncertain Times

In uncertain times, it is more important than ever to use technology to accomplish more with less. In the March/April edition of Furniture World, ways were presented to automate pre-sales and open sales communications. This time, additional examples of how retailers are using automation in post-delivery, service, re-engagement, and other areas of operations will be described.

The purpose of automation is to improve how employees use their time and to create better and more consistent customer experiences. The result of continuous improvement in both of these areas is higher sales and better resource utilization.

Post-delivery Automation

  1. Delivery and pick-up follow-up: Most furniture operations’ delivery teams present customers with a tablet so they can sign off on delivered goods. At that time, photos are usually taken of the customer’s merchandise set up in their room. Functionality can be designed into automated systems to send customers a delivery receipt, as well as links to those images automatically. The result is a better customer experience by ensuring that:

    • Customers receive information of value.

    • They get an emailed record of who to contact should they need service or have questions about additional purchases.

    • Salespeople look professional because the messages are perfectly formatted.

    • The business builds a better brand experience. Relevant info is sent that is not considered spam.

    Trigger: The date of delivery and other information is synced from the delivery system / tablet.

    Auto-Action(s): A predefined email is sent once the delivery is complete.

  2. Salesperson delivery and pick-up information automation: In addition to emailing customers relevant information post-delivery, salespeople benefit from being alerted when and how successfully deliveries were made. Instead of having to go into a system to get this information, they can be automatically notified, prompting them to review images taken in the customer’s room. Salespeople are reminded to follow up with customers to make additional suggestions, setting the stage for future sales. If there Is a design or service challenge, resolution can be sought quickly.

    Trigger: Delivery complete.

    Auto-Action(s): Task opened for the salesperson to review pictures and make personal contact as necessary.

  3. Next purchase/next project phase automation: Today’s close can be tomorrow’s next sale. Customers commonly furnish rooms over time and purchase goods from more than one retailer. They will, however, buy more from businesses that provide the best overall experience. That’s why every salesperson needs to earn the right to ask a customer what additional purchases they might consider. When next purchase information is given, it should be entered into a CRM system that automatically sends salespeople follow-up reminders at appropriate times with suggestions for their customers’ next purchases. Relevant messages can simultaneously be sent to customers giving this information via automated “drip campaigns.”

    Trigger: Information on a customer’s next purchase given with an approximate date.

    Auto-Action(s): Task auto-entered so email follow-up reminders can be sent automatically. Suggested items are emailed to customers for next purchases at appropriate times.

  4. Related item ideas automation: This differs from a next purchase reminder in that a related item idea report can be triggered following a purchase. See examples in the related item report (below).

    Trigger: Purchase of a certain item.

    Auto-Action(s): Emails sent at predetermined time intervals highlighting related ideas based on prior purchase.

Related Item Report
Customer Buys Related Item Not Purchased Yet
Bedroom Set Mattress
Mattress Adjustable Base
Upholstery Set Area Rug
Sofa Protection Plan
Sectional Ottoman or Coffee Table
Sales|Design Consultant Sales
Recliner Reading Lamp
Desk Office Chair
Any item from a popular name brand vendor Any other items from a popular name brand vendor

When next purchase information is given, it should be entered into a CRM system that automatically sends salespeople follow-up reminders at appropriate times with suggestions for next purchases.

Service Automation

In the September/October 2021 issue, we looked at the significant disparity in how well furniture retailers resolve service issues. See “Organize Your Service Experience” here. Let’s continue this analysis by looking at how service automation can help to advance improvement in three areas:

  1. Product issue resolution automation: Post-sale product issues can be automated by providing customers with a URL or QR code that links to a website page where issue resolution can be initiated. This will result in faster resolution, fewer problems and a better overall customer experience:

    • The linked-to form creates an open service ticket in the CRM.

    • All service team members are notified automatically.

    • The customer receives an immediate auto message that their issue is being looked after.

    • Communication is continued until resolution. The ball does not get dropped!

    • The customer receives auto updates every step of the way.

    • Upon resolution, the customer receives an automatic survey to gauge their level of satisfaction with the solution.

    Trigger: Customer or any company representative completes a digital service request form.

    Auto-Action(s): Open service ticket is created, customer notified, service team notified, customer’s CRM account is referenced so everyone stays in the loop until resolution.

  2. Accident claim resolution automation: Selling accident protection adds value and contributes to higher profit margins. Retailers should make it as easy as possible for customers to file protection claims. This maintains customer loyalty and provides the best possible claim resolution experience. Accident claim processing can be automated in a similar way to product issue resolution. Customers are presented with a URL or QR code that links to a website where accident claim resolution can be initiated.

    • Form opens an accident claim ticket.

    • The ticket is auto transmitted to the protection company with all important information.

    • The customer receives an immediate auto message that their claim is being looked after.

    • The protection company notifies the retailer when the service is complete, and the open service ticket is closed.

    • Upon resolution, the customer receives an automatically generated survey to record their level of satisfaction with the solution.

    • Customer testimonials regarding the accident protection experience are requested.

  3. Internal work order automation: Internal work order automation: Work orders may be initiated for facility maintenance or be merchandise related. Either way, a similar ticketing process can be followed. The benefits of implementing automated processes to handle internal work orders is improved organization, tracking, productivity and accountability. It also provides data for quicker turnaround of credit requests.

"Data can be used by a CRM of your choice to trigger desired actions. In the end, automation saves time and money, produces more leads, enhances customer experiences and generates additional revenue.”

Re-engagement Automation

Re-engagement automation uses data to automatically send predefined, personal, and relevant messages. This type of data-driven communication results in much improved customer read and response rates, plus it lowers customer opt-outs and spam reporting. If you want to achieve better customer engagement, use the data in your CRM to trigger messages of value. Here are a few examples:

  1. Three-month follow-up and product review automation: Product reviews are fairly common today in most industries—with the notable exception of furniture retailing. Automation can make implementation of sales follow-up easier. Three months after merchandise has been delivered to customers, send auto emails detailing their orders. Ask them to rate product, services and give feedback. This will provide useful analytics and keep your customers close by building relationships.

    Trigger: Three months after the date of delivery.

    Auto-Action(s): Predesigned email auto sent with product information containing the common 5-star review rating and optional comments.

  2. Birthday month: Birthdays present an excellent opportunity to send relevant automated messages to customers. This information can easily be captured via web or register-to-win forms. Include an option field with a drop-down for birthday month.

    Trigger: Birthday field is filled out.

    Auto-Action(s): Happy birthday email is automatically sent from the salesperson.

  3. Open-to-buy with finance company automation: If you have access to customer open-to-buy information from consumer finance partners, integrate it into your CRM so customers can be alerted periodically about their balances and possibly sent buying incentives.

    Trigger: Open-to-buy field amount.

    Auto-Action(s): Predefined monthly email sent with open-to-buy amount.

  4. Survey automation: Surveys are a simple way to generate feedback from existing customers. This information can be used to create sales campaigns. For example, send a survey to past customers who haven’t recently purchased a mattress from your store. It might be titled, “How did you sleep last night? Take this survey to help you sleep better.” Survey responses are automatically recorded and, depending on the answer, customers are sent a predefined email offer such as a link to click on to schedule a sleep profile appointment along with a $50 credit.

    Trigger: Survey completed and responses recorded.

    Auto-Action(s): Certain responses auto- trigger customized follow-up messages.

Other Automations

Your organization may benefit from automated workflows with anyone you communicate with on a continual basis. Here are a few examples:

  • Realtor referral program automation: Many furniture retailers have tried these programs with varying degrees of success. Those who achieve the best results tend to reinforce relationships through constant, automated communication. Messages can be sent to realtors weekly to remind them how many points they have available to pass on to clients for merchandise credit. When a realtor’s client uses the points and makes a purchase, another message can be sent automatically to let the realtor know that their customer has used their gift. This increases value to the realtor, the end-customer, and the retailer.

  • Vendors open order communication: Open orders have ballooned due to supply chain challenges. This requires more follow-up with vendors. Where EDI is not available or used, order follow-up automation is the next best thing. This can save time for retailers who use their CRM to streamline processes. Here is an example of how it works. Purchase orders for customers that are past the expected arrival date, as well as non-acknowledged orders, are queried in the database. POs where follow-up is required are automatically merged with an email template. The vendor is auto contacted requesting updates. All communications are auto-tracked so that appropriate retail team members see if vendors reply to requests for information.

  • Candidates: Finding new talent is still the most common challenge faced by retailers. This was true before, during, and will be true after the pandemic. For this reason, retailers should treat candidate leads like new customer leads. Organizations can use various avenues to encourage new applications, such as email, social media website career pages, and in-store QR code links to applications. All of these avenues should include a link to a digital questionnaire with the ability to upload a resume. Once submitted, candidates become part of the CRM. Automation ensures that thank-you messages are sent out, hiring managers are notified, appointments are made with a calendar program, follow-ups are scheduled and a searchable catalog of past applications is available.

Conclusion

Workflow communication automation is only limited by your creativity and willingness to improve your business. Data can be used by a CRM of your choice to trigger desired actions. In the end, automation saves time and money, produces more sales leads, enhances customer experiences and generates additional revenue. In today’s world, this should be a part of any business model, especially during times of uncertainty. Now is the time to do things better than your competition. Now is the time to gain market share.

 

 About David McMahon: David McMahon is founder of PerformNOW Inc.  PerformNOW has three main products that help home furnishings businesses improve and innovate: Performance Groups (Owners, Sales managers, Operations), PerformNOW CXM (Customer eXperience Management systems and processes), Furniture business consulting.  Your can reach David at david@performnow.com.