[vc_row css_animation=”” row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” angled_section=”no” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern”][vc_column][vc_column_text]It’s smart business to study what your home furnishing competitors do successfully. Searching beyond your industry may be an even better idea. Retailers in different spaces offer innovative ideas you can apply to your business, even if they sell an entirely different product.
For instance, the auto sales industry uses some of the best CRM, marketing cloud and AI technology available, even though people still buy cars in person at a showroom. Combine these learnings with the information of your own online customers provide as they search your website to gain real traction in the marketplace.
Make Your Home Furnishing Website an Online Showroom
The auto industry evolved as information became more readily available to consumers. Gone are the days where an often lengthy visit to a car lot, facing high-pressure sales tactics, was the only way to shop for vehicles. Also, gone, the mystery pricing associated with high-ticket items.
According to digital marketing research, approximately 86 percent of car shoppers conduct online research before deciding to visit a local dealership, providing dealers not only the opportunity to brand themselves online but to gain insight into what the customer is looking for and where they are on their buying journey.
Websites now serve as the online showroom for many retailers. While you can’t physically see customers walk in the door when they are online, your store can add AI-driven web conversion software that captures data and information to assist in closing the sale when they do come in.
“You’re not talking to people — not a face, not a name — yet customers will provide detailed information and send it to us,” says Chris Thomas, Internet Sales Manager at Krieger Ford, of how consumers engage with the dealership’s interactive tools and assessments. “Our website allows the on-screen experience to work more like a conversation. Before [adding AI technology], we were getting 75 to 100 leads per month and now it is 150 to 200 leads.”
Thomas says while website traffic has grown over time, the number of online lead conversions have increased even more significantly.
Winning the Customer Throughout the Buyer Journey
It’s estimated there are over 35,000 car dealers and around 30,000 furniture retailers in the United States. With more consumers beginning their shopping journey online, providing a quality website experience is imperative. Car dealers understand that challenge and leverage a combination of integrated technology products to meet the consumer demand for instant information.
“Customers will get that guidance somewhere. We prefer it be from us, so we can build our brand and that relationship,” Thomas says. “If we are not helping customers and learning about their wants and needs, they will find it somewhere else.”
With people visiting fewer showrooms in person, it’s important to capture a consumer’s interest and start building a relationship online.
“We have heard less people come to showrooms. Whereas in the past, people would go to five to six retailers on a Saturday. Now, customers do their research online and visit one to two showrooms, tops,” says Jay Kinney, Client Success Manager at PERQ. “We know consumers start their buying process online, and 98% of sales still take place in-store.”
Collecting online information only solves one of the many digital problems retailers commonly face. What do you with that data potential customers give you? Are you engaging them at each stage of the journey? Learning customers wants and needs can’t happen without an integrated website strategy like most auto dealerships rely on, which can include digital advertising analytics, personalized customer experiences, email nurturing and refined targeting.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][vc_single_image image=”29445″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” qode_css_animation=””][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]
Use Data to Improve Lead Nurturing
Without analytics and accurate reporting, it’s impossible to know where the customer is on their online journey and what they’re looking to buy. If you’re not generating regular reports, how do you know what is working and what is not?
Your website should serve as more than just a brochure, gathering helpful lead information sales associates can use when following up with a website visitor, and website leads must be viewed with the same potential as in-store visitors. Engage leads based on what they were searching for online and convert them into appointments.
“What auto dealers are doing well, and home furnishing retailers can learn from, they’re bringing the customer information into their customer relationship management (CRM) tools,” says David Kain, President of Kain Automotive, a digital marketing and consulting firm for the automotive industry.
“They’re doing a good job of the initial ‘Hello, how are you doing?’ communications and providing answers the customers are looking for,” Kain says. “Yet, they can’t wait for this customer to see the next ad or get a generic email. Proactive sales people reach out prior and are willing to be the one creating customer engagement and a good customer experience.”
Find a Technology Solution Fit for Home Furnishing Retailers
Retailers may be tempted to select a default software platform that provides general data and anonymous reporting. However, each business is different with its own audience, goals and market circumstances. It’s best to choose a technology solution built specifically for the home furnishings industry, then customized to meet your store’s goals.
“PERQ offers seamless integration throughout the marketing cloud solutions – which include sales enablement tools such as email nurture, CRM, and digital advertising,” Kinney says. “PERQ’s CRM is designed specifically to handle PERQ leads, including color-coding based on the hotness of leads, auto-generated follow-up tasks, and lead history. Plus, we are able to show influenced revenue as a result of PERQ leads.”
Kain says it’s PERQ’s willingness to customize its AI-driven cloud, not only to the industry but to each retailer’s specific needs, that delivers success to its clients.
“Every retailer has their unique offers. The cost to go with a custom platform, like PERQ — who will literally dig in and learn the unique characteristics of the business — is far greater of an accelerator than to simply pull something off the shelf, do a plug-and-play, and then hope for success,” Kain says. “With PERQ, you will have a partner who really wants to help drive you to a higher level.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
[vc_row css_animation=”” row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” angled_section=”no” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern”][vc_column][vc_column_text]AI technology continues to change how multifamily properties conduct business, both internally to track leads and analyze data and externally to communicate with rental prospects, but the successful launch of one technology often presents a whole new set of challenges.
Before rolling out an AI-powered solution to capture more online leads or improve digital advertising results, a property management company must first ensure it can properly nurture that influx of leads without burdening an already taxed team of leasing specialists. They’re often the first and only people whose prospects interact with one-on-one when seriously considering an apartment option, so it’s best to use their talents and time wisely.
“Property staff is always busy, and most always behind on something,” says Keir Schutte, owner of KP Consulting Services, which works with multifamily companies to achieve a variety of business goals. “Sadly, as much as everyone complains about occupancy, lead management always seems to need improvement. I think that it’s important to automate anything you can for your properties.”
Artificial intelligence automates the lead nurture process on a property’s website by guiding a prospective renter through the online research phase while collecting their lead information as they engage with the website’s interactive tools to learn more about the community. AI technology can then take the lead nurturing process one step further by utilizing the captured data to automatically communicate with prospects and nurture online leads across multiple channels, such as email and texting.
More Prospect Data Drives More Personalized Approach
An AI-powered lead nurture solution uses a prospect’s own profile data to personalize all digital communication, using their name and remembering them every time they engage with a property, and serving up email and text content that’s customized to their unique preferences and search behavior. A lead nurture campaign can include dozens of different email or text templates and more than 100 different workflow triggers to deliver a truly personalized approach.
AI technology tracks users across platforms to deliver a cohesive consumer experience that makes prospects feel like the property staff already knows them and saves them time as they narrow down where they want to live. They’re never forced to start their search from scratch, and leasing specialists know so much about them before they ever show up for a property tour.
“By using AI, you are making sure the customer is acknowledged immediately, for one,” Schutte says of the benefits of employing an AI-driven lead nurture technology. “In addition, you keep the customer engaged and they’re able to find out more information.”
The goal of the lead nurture content is to drive prospects back to the property website to re-engage with the online tools or book a tour through an online scheduler, which ultimately results in more tours, more return website visitors, and more website engagement to increase online lead to lease conversions.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]
Target Leads in Different Stages of Renter Journey
The majority of online leads aren’t quite ready to rent, and those leads at the bottom of the prospect funnel who want to sign a lease now can cost the most to target through digital advertising. An AI-powered lead nurture solution reduces a multifamily company’s dependency on leasing agents to follow up on every lead when it first comes in.
By collecting detailed lead data on every prospect who interacts on the property website, your leasing staff can easily segment leads and focus energy on the renters ready to rent right now while the AI technology automatically nurtures those prospects who are still months away from moving. It also means leasing specialists can adjust messaging and their approach based on which phase of the renter journey a prospect indicates they’re in.
Build Relationships with Prospects through AI Lead Nurture
While it may seem counterintuitive to use technology to build authentic relationships with customers, AI is the piece that makes it possible to enhance a prospect’s experience with your property management team — even before talking to anyone in the leasing office. You’ve given them the information they were seeking online, continued to touch base through technology as they research their options, and your leasing staff knows everything they want in a property when they finally reach out to take a tour or sign a lease.
“It allows us to offer an enhanced experience for the customer and provides us with the data of those interactions to help our teams ensure a better experience,” says Jenny Richard, Director of Marketing at Gene B. Glick Company, one of the largest privately held real estate management and development firms in the U.S. “It aids our teams in moving away from collecting customer information in a ‘checklist’ approach, and instead allows the team members to already have this information and utilize it in a conversational way to make a connection.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
[vc_row css_animation=”” row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” angled_section=”no” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern”][vc_column][vc_column_text]If technology buzzwords like “artificial intelligence” and “machine learning” make your head spin, you’re not alone. Many store owners either don’t fully understand the capabilities of AI on a home furnishings website or think it’s only useful for big corporations and e-commerce sites. Others aren’t quite ready to trust the idea of machines making business decisions and automating some of the sales process.
AI can maximize every facet of a furniture retailer’s marketing strategy, lead nurturing process and digital advertising budgets. Today’s AI-driven data engines make it simple and affordable to integrate the interactive technology with an existing home furniture store’s website and digital accounts, and deliver analytics reporting to retailers that easily proves return on investment.
AI is no longer the stuff of scary sci-fi tales or only available on a national brand’s website. It’s not intended to replace your store’s sales, customer service and design staff. Rather, AI technology uses data to mirror and enhance those personalized services offered in your home furnishings showroom, increasing your chances at converting more online leads.
Still unsure of how AI really works or struggle to see the practical applications of trending concepts like machine learning? Let us break down the many ways AI can improve your home furnishings website, and your retail business overall.
AI On Home Furnishings Websites
Artificial intelligence collects and analyzes data, then uses that information to customize a consumer’s experience. While at the same time, AI allows for automation. AI taps into the collected data to serve up the best next step in the shopper’s buying journey, as well as automate and personalize everything from email nurturing to digital ads.
Here’s what that looks like on a home furnishings website:
- Tracking a consumer through cookies and behavior mapping technology, AI website software collects data on each online shopper and remembers them when they return.
- AI personalizes a consumer’s website experience based on gathered data, using smart pathing technology to serve up interactive tools, targeted incentives and recommended products that move them further down the sales funnel.
- Each time a website visitor engages with an interactive tool, such as a Sofa Style or Appliance Assessment, the store gathers more valuable information about that consumer.
- AI aggregates and analyzes the data to deliver stores with detailed consumer profiles on real leads who invested time and information while engaging on the website.
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AI-Driven Marketing Cloud
An AI-driven marketing cloud connects several separate marketing and data systems, so they communicate with each other. It centralizes the data gathered from a store’s online and offline marketing efforts, giving retailers a broader perspective on how each aspect of the business is truly performing and how they interconnect.
- All data collected by AI systems gets automatically stored and organized in a CRM database. Sales teams can access consumer profile information, see which salesperson is working on a lead, and follow every touchpoint a consumer makes with the store across the website, digital advertising, phone/text and in person.
- Your sales and design team receive valuable consumer profile information so they can better nurture customers and focus time on leads who indicate online they’re ready to buy now.
- For consumers who are not ready to purchase, an AI-driven marketing cloud tied to the website gives furniture retailers the ability to automate email nurturing campaigns. Using the consumer’s data, the AI system sends hyper-personalized, relevant and timely emails to drive them back to the store website.
AI to Manage Digital Advertising
Tracking and determining ROI for multiple digital advertising campaigns can be a real nightmare for retailers. An AI approach to managing digital advertising is much more efficient and effective than a team of humans trying to sort through the data as it constantly flows in and make adjustments on the fly.
- AI-driven software can tell exactly where a website visitor came from, so it can track consumers across multiple platforms and devices and deliver more accurate reporting.
- AI can automatically retarget website leads with targeted digital advertising on a consumer’s favorite news, shopping and social sites, using popular AI techniques like geofencing to advertise in a certain location and paid search ads with keywords related to that consumer’s home furnishings research.
- AI takes in-store sales data and tracks it to online leads to show which leads convert into revenue and which advertising avenues inspire the purchase.
Machine Learning Aspect of AI
While AI adapts and makes decisions automatically, it’s based on preset paths and information that’s input by the retailer and tech provider. Machine learning is a subset of AI; it uses the data collected through AI to predict probability and learns from the incoming stream of data to form new, actionable insights. The system adapts to new information collected in real time.
- An AI system featuring a machine learning component can aggregate a store’s collected data with millions of other relevant data points stored in the AI data engine to identify the type of consumer most likely to buy from that retail location and which digital marketing avenues work best to target that audience.
- Machine learning can automatically adjust digital advertising campaigns and make changes that maximize a store’s reach and return on investment. It allows you to reallocate online advertising funds in response to performance and emerging trends, and tweak the existing advertising campaigns to reflect the computer’s real-time predictions about what keywords, platforms, target audiences and messaging work best to convert a customer at the lowest cost.
Buyer Beware When Shopping for AI Solutions
If you’re new to AI technology, it’s important to understand there’s no standardized definition of artificial intelligence and machine learning. There’s a broad spectrum of possible AI functionalities available.
Some products rely on very basic AI technology that simply maps out a path of possible choices, while others utilize a powerful AI-driven data engine that can analyze giant sets of data points and automatically take action. You likely encounter some form of AI every day, from self-help kiosks at airports and post offices to targeted digital ads embedded in your Facebook feed and sent to your inbox.
Because there’s no minimal threshold of capabilities a vendor or product must meet to market an AI solution, retail stores need to make sure they understand the specific scenarios of how the technology would work on their particular website and when connected to their internal systems. Request real-life examples of how it’s used, sample reporting and a demo before investing in AI. Know exactly what analytics, technical assistance and implementation help comes with the cost you’re quoted.
Don’t be mislead, thinking every AI solution offers the same level of services. Understand what kind of data powers any AI product you consider, and ask how the AI would improve your home furnishings business.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row css_animation=”” row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” angled_section=”no” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern”][vc_column][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]
Additional Home Furnishings Resources
[vc_row css_animation=”” row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” angled_section=”no” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern”][vc_column][vc_column_text]For e-commerce companies, it’s much simpler to track and analyze consumer sales data and ROI on digital marketing because the entire transaction happens online.
Brick-and-mortar retailers in the home furnishings industry struggle to get the same level of visibility because they lack the capability to gather and accurately process consumer data across every online platform and unite it with sales data inside the store.
Store owners may know they spent X overall on digital advertising and made X amount at the store register last month, but they can’t break down exactly which digital ad campaigns inspired a customer’s purchase or what the shopper viewed online to prompt a visit to the furniture showroom. Linking digital advertising dollars to in-store transactions remains one of the biggest challenges for home furnishing retailers.
“That’s something that’s been very difficult to do in the furniture industry,” says Barb Davids, Digital Marketing Manager at Walker Furniture in Las Vegas and owner of a digital marketing agency.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][vc_single_image image=”29445″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” qode_css_animation=””][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]
Track Website Visitors Across Digital Advertising Channels
Many stores can’t capture lead information from anonymous website visitors who spend big chunks of time doing research online before visiting in person. Even if local furnishing websites do feature the necessary technology to collect leads, their data reporting fails to identify duplicate website leads that also show up in their Google Analytics reports (counting one lead multiple times) or track one consumer as they log in from different devices over the course of several web-browsing sessions.
Those stores end up with fragmented consumer profiles, with no way to tell if that person who used their smartphone and laptop to visit the website several times before clicking on a paid search ad is the same person who walked in the door the next week to buy a sofa. Every touchpoint is treated separately, which makes it impossible to calculate the true return on investment for each digital marketing traffic source and tie in-store revenue directly to an online lead source.
“PERQ overcomes that challenge with their customer shopping experience,” Davids says. “Collecting customer information and matching back to in-store sales helps get more visibility into the amount of traffic each of our online efforts are driving to the store.”
Centralize Online Data to Tie Revenue to Advertising
To track online leads, we assign a PERQ lead ID to each registered website visitor who interacts with a client’s website. That allows us to marry up and centralize all of that consumer data into an AI-powered marketing cloud, delivering detailed consumer journey profiles a retailer’s sales team can use to nurture leads as well as see which digital experiences drive the most sales.
Connected to a CRM database, the cloud also logs in-store transactions and all lead nurturing efforts across the company to give retailers a holistic view of how to successfully convert online leads to sales. Home furnishing stores learn just how much each advertising channel influenced showroom revenue, the cost to acquire leads for each traffic source, and return on investment per advertising spend.
“It enables you to prioritize your investments based on what’s most efficient,” says Russ Chandler, PERQ Marketing Product Manager. “Therefore, it allows you to make smart decisions based on market intelligence and actionable insights.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row css_animation=”” row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” angled_section=”no” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern”][vc_column][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]
Additional Home Furnishings Resources
[vc_row css_animation=”” row_type=”row” use_row_as_full_screen_section=”no” type=”full_width” angled_section=”no” text_align=”left” background_image_as_pattern=”without_pattern”][vc_column][vc_column_text]The concepts of AI technology and digital marketing don’t typically make the priority list when companies contemplate new ways to elevate their customer service experience. Let a computer automatically nurture leads?
For those who don’t fully understand how artificial intelligence works and the best way to utilize new business technology tools like a marketing cloud, the concept of online customer service seems counterintuitive. Yet, it’s the very key to successful consumer engagement in an online world that offers too many choices and endless access to internet research, resulting in shortened attention spans and higher demands for instant information.
Marketing clouds powered by AI aren’t designed to steal jobs, but rather make your employees more efficient and effective at their jobs by using a data-based approach that can adjust in real time as new data flows in from your website, digital advertising campaigns and in-person transactions. With everything connected, adjusted automatically and tracked in great detail, the online leads generated from an AI-powered solution guarantee your customers and your team enjoy a tailored customer service experience that makes buying (and selling) easier.
Instead of using your online website as an e-commerce platform or as a digital brochure, technology makes your strongest asset available online: your people, physical inventory and services like in-house designers or taking a tour of a rental property. It’s that customer service element that sets your company apart from giant corporations competing online for a share of your local market.
“Your job is to create a memorable website experience that’s both convenient and helpful as online shoppers research and narrow down choices from the comfort of their homes, while also highlighting the value of your in-store resources,” says Scott Hill, PERQ Co-Founder and Executive Chairman.
Here are 5 tips on how to create an influential customer service experience online that’s sure to capture and convert more leads, while giving your brand a big boost at the same time. [/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]
1. Give Consumers Information They Want Online
Don’t hold back on pricing and other details consumers seek when shopping online, thinking it will push them to visit in person. Our research shows they’ll likely bounce to a competitor’s website or click around Google and social media until they find what they want, because someone in your market — a competitor, manufacturer or industry group — surely offers the details or planning tools they’re searching for online. Help the customer help themselves.
“It gives transparency,” says Sandra Dellolio, internet manager at Atlantic Auto Mall in New York, of the leasing calculator and other interactive online tools available on the dealership’s website. “Especially in the car business, people go online because they absolutely want to have the knowledge before they go into a dealership. This is a way to show them what they want before they know what they want.”[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]
2. Deliver a Connected Consumer Experience
Adding interactive tools on your website personalizes the shopping experience as it gathers lead data from each visitor who engages with them. You’re moving them closer to a decision by helping them along the consumer journey and narrowing down what they want to buy, while also delivering a customer service experience that mirrors the service your staff offers in person.
“The beauty of [the website experience] is that they’re designed to engage our guests in natural, small steps,” says Dave Weiss, Marketing Manager at Sherman’s furniture and appliance retail stores in central Illinois. “We can’t jump straight from awareness to asking for the sale. It’s much easier for the guest to make those micro-commitments, leading them further down the path to purchase without feeling like they’re being ‘sold to.’”
By connecting all of your online platforms through AI and cloud technology, the customer gets an online shopping experience that feels personal, like you know exactly what they’re looking for online.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][vc_single_image image=”29351″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” qode_css_animation=””][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]
3. Show Online Customers the Exact Product They Want
Embed helpful planning tools in your automated emails and digital advertising to drive traffic back to the website and keep consumers engaged throughout the lead nurturing process. AI and cloud technology tracks where each lead is at in the process, which touchpoints they’ve encountered along the way and what they’ve looked at online, then automatically serves the consumer with customized incentives, emails and website prompts every time they return.
With machine learning, a type of AI programming, cloud software can learn and adapt its content based on a company’s own lead data compared alongside millions of other aggregated data points gathered across markets and similar industries. It can predict the type of person most likely to buy from a particular company, show where those people are most likely to be reached, and deliver the best experience proven to convert that lead type. Gathering all of that data helps AI-driven software deliver the most relevant results for each individual website visitor, making their online shopping experience easy and intuitive — a sure win in the customer service department.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]
4. Capture Lead Data to Better Nurture Online Leads
AI technology gives companies the power to collect detailed online lead data far beyond what the standard static contact form offers the sales staff. It can then use that intel to automatically nurture consumers via personalized emails pertinent to their search and customized digital ads with calls to action.
Your sales or leasing staff get a detailed consumer journey that accounts for every device a lead used to look you up online and every visit, something most analytic programs can’t do. That allows salespeople to see the big picture and not just the last thing the consumer searched before coming in to visit.
“That personal touch is a nice way to develop instant rapport with a prospect,” says Cindy Scanlan, Director of Operations at Thalhimer, a property management company with apartment communities in Virginia and North Carolina.
Capitalize on that lead information to give the consumer a personal customer service experience that will make an impression, and save the shopper valuable time by starting the sales pitch right where they left off online.[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]
5. Automate the Process to Focus on Live Interactions
Automating the lead capturing and nurturing process frees up your staff’s resources, so they can spend more quality time taking care of the customers who walk in the door ready to buy right now. It’s more efficient and effective than doing everything manually, and sure to be more consistent than any human.
Home Inspirations Thomasville in New Jersey automated its email nurturing campaign in late 2018, sending emails to website registrants that are personal, geared toward their interests, and scheduled and designed around the buying timeline the customer submits on the website.
“Our goal is to let the customer know we are there to assist them in any way, whether that be with design and we invite them into the store to work with our design team for a complimentary consultation or whatever else they require,” says Ed Massood, owner of Home Inspirations Thomasville.
With the right technological solutions, implementing an online customer service experience that converts online leads can be both affordable and easy. It also makes marketing decisions more effective, saving businesses additional time and resources.
More data and analysis mean more insights and better tracking of leads, ROI and results. That empowers your company to make smarter, data-driven decisions on what exactly your customers are looking for and how to best give them that shopping experience online.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]