Think about the very important people in your life. You care about them and know a great deal about what is meaningful to them. They receive special treatment for a reason. They earned VIP status. Now, consider your customers. They are important people to your business. You care about keeping them happy. Odds are you know a great deal about them, so do they receive special treatment? Are you offering VIP furniture consultations?
Creating exceptional customer experiences can set your business apart from the competition. Ritz Carlton hotels are known for going above and beyond. Management authorizes each employee to spend up to $2,000 per guest per visit to make their stay memorable and personal. A Google search for “Ritz Carlton customer experience” produced over 39 million results. What they are doing works for their business.
In the home furnishings business, arming employees with $2,000 to create an exceptional customer experience isn’t sustainable. Don’t let that keep you from providing a VIP furniture consultation. Begin with defining the criteria for who qualifies as your most important customers and reviewing the sales data. Ensure that this group is indeed worth cultivating and what you offer them will be considered desirable for each customer included.
Create VIP Furniture Consultations With Your Digital Sales Process
Start with what you know about those VIP customers. If they’ve been interacting with your website, gather their useful and insightful information. What are they shopping for, what’s their design style, preferred color, size, brand or desired features? Even better, collect their preferences from the results of an interactive online quiz.
Nudge them to tell you even more and launch the in-store engagement by giving them a way to schedule their VIP appointment while on your website. Without a way to collect this data from your store website, you and your team miss out on gathering crucial customer information and the opportunity to set the business apart by adding value through an in-store design or product consultation.
Ideally, the customer can schedule via your website a VIP appointment from preselected times. Strategically schedule those appointment openings during your sales team’s downtime or the least-busy hours for your store to maximize productivity. If the customer doesn’t schedule online, you still have a meaningful opportunity to reach out to the customer and offer a VIP appointment if you collected their lead data online.
Services You Can Provide the Customer Add Value
Give your customers the feeling they are getting something special and make them excited to visit your store. What can you provide that customer above and beyond what they can do on their own? Without added value, it’s just another visit to a home furnishing store. Strive to help them save time and feel important.
Take the information you’ve gathered through your digital efforts and tailor the experience specific to their situation. Do your homework. Asking questions they have already answered via website interactions may diminish the experience. Remembering their preferences and customizing the appointment to their needs makes for an impactful and effective interaction.
If your customer is looking for a couch in a certain color and size, offer a customized showing of different options. Give them a sneak-peek into recently delivered pieces. Prepare the space ahead of time to resemble the size and shape of the room where their purchase will ultimately be enjoyed. Give your salespeople a head start to think about accessories, lighting and other upsell opportunities.
Prepare ahead and take care of the time-consuming aspects of the transaction. Prepare financing information or get approval from management to adjust the price if required to make the sale. Look at delivery dates and times, and have that information handy to amaze the customer by anticipating their needs.
It’s also important to make them feel special in small yet significant ways. Greet them by name and stun them with your attention to detail by personalizing the entire shopping experience. Offer a special design consultation, drink of choice, a special gift or a chance to win an incentive only open to your VIP consultation customers.
Perfect the Appointment, Then Introduce VIP Furniture Consultations
Make the VIP furniture consultation unique for you, your store, and especially your customers. Once you gain traction and figure out what works, consider taking the next step and create a VIP program. Incentivize your customers and build brand loyalty by offering exclusivity, special offers, discounts and special events. You can also keep customers engaged and motivated by offering a tiered loyalty program. Make whatever you do memorable to create an emotional connection.
Surprise offers or gifts for being a customer (61%)
More convenient shopping process (50%)
Solving a problem or question (45%)
Recommending products based on needs (27%)
Keeping customers up to date on the latest news and products (23%)
Welcoming customers when they visit (20%)
Creating a VIP furniture consultation and potentially a VIP program takes customer data and some extra work, yet will result in highly engaged and satisfied customers. These customers will continue to give you a return on your investment by providing repeat sales, keeping your retention rate high and providing free marketing through word-of-mouth referrals.
Now, more than ever before, it’s critical for your property to create a multifamily team dynamic that fosters good communication, healthy competition and takes full advantage of technology.
Unaware of the impending quarantine and social restrictions about to strike the entire country, Sheehan Property Management held a team training session to emphasize the importance of using the multifamily company’s digital platforms.
“We feel fortunate we had the technology and partnerships in place to effectively lease without personal contact, but ironically, I conducted a training with our leasing associates in very early March to talk about how we were under-utilizing our video, texting and social platforms,” says Katrina Greene, Senior Regional Manager at Sheehan Property Management.
Greene says it became apparent shortly thereafter that their leasing team’s digital strengths were non-negotiable as properties paused in-person tours during the peak of the pandemic.
“We sent out directives and then watched the magic happen,” she says. “We had a handful of leasing associates really shine and put their personality to good use in the videos that are now so critical.”
Adopt a Virtual Approach to Communication, Create Team Competition
Gene B. Glick Company encourages its teams to consistently use virtual meetings to communicate with residents, prospects and other team members.
“A great way to create a team dynamic in a virtual way is to offer opportunities to stay connected and boost morale,” says Jenny Richard, Director of Marketing at Gene B. Glick Company. “Some effective ways we are staying connected is by offering virtual incentives.”
The Glick property management teams regularly convene online as one big group to highlight each property’s wins logged in the company’s cloud-based CRM system and compare the data.
“We meet every two weeks to share success stories, and offer an incentive for highest usage of virtual sessions,” Richard explains.
Sheehan shares top-performing leasing videos with the other teams within their multifamily portfolio and recently opened their leasing analytics platform to give all agents access to other associates’ leasing phone calls and to view rankings within the company.
“By sharing those videos, we see them challenging each other to be more creative,” Greene says. “And being able to hear other agents execute how we will tour has helped them all create a stronger, more-effective dialogue, not to mention it creates healthy competition as they see where they rank in the metrics we value most (asking their name, offering a tour, getting contact information, etc.).”
Utilize Data to Make Decisions
Both property management companies rely on prospect data captured online through AI-driven website conversion software to prioritize and personalize their lead follow-up tactics.
With the website data automatically organized in a linked CRM database, the properties can see at a glance which prospects require a leasing associate’s immediate attention because they’re ready to rent right away. They can also see other important details the lead divulged while engaging with the website’s interactive technology.
“We use the data and analytics available to us to help tailor our approach, and to ensure we can connect in an authentic way with our customers,” Richard says.
Leads higher up in the leasing funnel enter the properties’ automated lead nurture system, receiving a series of personalized emails designed to drive them back to the property website for further engagement until they indicate they’re closer to signing a lease. That gives leasing agents more time to chase the most qualified leads first.
Connect with Your Teams on a Personal Level
Greene knows people who work in property management choose that career path because they enjoy serving others and are naturally very social. They thrive on personal connection and the thrill of helping renters find their new home.
“As a company, we’re doing our best to make sure everyone feels part of something bigger,” Greene says. “To keep spirits up, we’ve done some of the usual things like sending lunch to the staff, but we’ve also kept it lighthearted by delivering rolls of toilet paper (with a special poem) to all team members to remind them we’re all in this together.”
Consumers want options. The way we shop, do our research online and who we choose to do business with all comes down to each individual person. There’s no difference when it comes to touring your property. Giving consumers options online for how they can tour your property on their own terms is necessary, whether that’s a video, virtual tour, self-guided tour or in-person tour.
While the majority of prospects will start their research online, the next steps they take depends on their comfort level of interacting with your team during this pandemic and how soon they’re ready to rent.
During our recent webinar, we talked to Karen Gladney, co-founder of Power Pro Leasing, about touring options, while focusing more specifically on how to offer better self-guided tours. She visited 100 properties in 100 days and says the results were alarming. “Forty-six percent of the time, I had to wait or was sent away. Just think if I had been offered a self-guided tour experience and how I could have been taken care of in that moment,” Gladney says.
When they started their “Tour Your Way” campaign eight months ago, Gladney says the studies were showing 95% consumers prefer to shop alone while going through a buying decision and 90% want to speak to a human being during that time. “How do you blend those?,” she asks. “You don’t operate in two different silos.”
Better Self-Guided Tours Start with A Plan
Self-guided tours aren’t new. Look at hotels, for example. We’re able to all check in at a desk, grab the key card and find our way to the room without hotel staff walking us there. “Walk through your property and make sure your signage is as strong as it can be to help guide prospects where they should go,” Gladney advises. It seems simple enough, yet so many properties lack the necessary signage.
Look at your current touring situation, too. What type of tours do you offer? How can you improve? As technology and smart locks continue to improve, so are self-guided tours. Gladney says even if you don’t have the budget to incorporate new features, leaving a key on a table and putting a touring plan in place will help you succeed. “You are going to see higher returns if you offer more tour options,” she says. “That’s just a fact.”
Start by sharing on your website the different options of tours you offer. Give people on your website the ability to book the type of tour they want and most importantly follow up with those who tour your property.
For someone who schedules a tour, confirm the tour time and ask them if they have any questions in advance. After the tour, ask them which unit they preferred if they looked at multiple options or ask them what their favorite features were of the property. It’s all about communication. “Follow up matters because you remain relevant and top of mind,” Gladney says.
First and foremost, be yourself when you’re talking to a prospect. “We are all salespeople, but be your authentic self. Some people will buy you and some people won’t,” Gladney says. You just have to try.
Self-Guided Tour Options Here to Stay
Training your team to role play can help each leasing specialist better understand what it feels like to be in the prospects shoes. “Make sure every team member acts like the prospect. Have them go online, go to your online scheduling tool, select the tour and then have another team member deliver the experience.” You’ll find gaps, missing signage, and most importantly how to improve.
As you map out your touring experience, you should also be able to identify gaps in technology you might have. Gladney recommends requesting a demo, not a slideshow, from vendors you’re considering. You’ll be able to see exactly how that technology will help your property.
“The best experiences and collaboration comes out of working with people you enjoy,” she says. “Be careful of vendors who try to be everything to be everyone. Typically, a jack-of-all-trades is a master of none.” Operators have the power to ask how vendors can work together to get the most benefit.
As we move into the future, remember that everyone has a different comfort level and you and your team will need to stay sensitive to that. By offering different touring options, including self-guided tours, you’re letting each prospect choose the best option for themselves. “I believe self-guided tours will stay and properties who keep it will be ahead of the curve against their competition,” Gladney says.
For many marketers, sales enablement is a newer marketing discipline. Irina Soriano describes it as the strategic use of people, processes and technology operating together to improve sales productivity and increase revenue.
As the Head of Enablement for Seismic, she would know a thing or two about sales enablement. Seismic is the global leader in sales enablement providing storytelling platforms to increase productivity and effectiveness across sales and marketing.
Learn from Irina as she breaks down the basics to this now fundamental discipline while giving listeners a plan to start. You’ll also hear how impactful it is to give back to the sales enablement community by networking and sharing ideas with other like-minded marketers and sales teams.
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Key Takeaways to Learning Sales Enablement
Build a business case for sales enablement to secure a budget from stakeholders.
Lean into those with sales enablement experience to foster your own growth.
Start by focusing on one area of enablement at a time such as onboarding new hires.
A furniture shopper sends a text message to Neal’s Furniture after hours on a Sunday to inquire about a product featured on the retailer’s website. The customer receives a prompt auto reply from the store, stating the showroom has closed for the evening but they will return the message as soon as possible.
A Neal’s Furniture sales associate receives notification of the online lead on his cell phone and decides to respond by text within five minutes. The shopper visits the showroom and completes the sale the very next morning.
In a separate sale made the same day, a first-time customer sends a text message to Neal’s Furniture requesting information on the home furnishing retailer’s No Credit Check program after visiting the store’s website. The customer makes a purchase 30 minutes after the text exchange.
These two text message conversations really happened and converted into a quick furniture sale for the local retailer.
“Oftentimes, a customer would be hesitant or perhaps embarrassed to ask for this information in person,” says John Neal Jr., vice president of Neal’s Furniture in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, a small town about 40 miles from Tulsa. “Getting past these initial apprehensions and making the customer feel comfortable could be the difference between making a sale and never having the chance.
“Furniture is an emotional decision, and oftentimes requires careful consideration and planning from the buyer,” Neal continues. “The more comfortable we can make the customer, the more likely we are to earn their business. Hopefully, they have our number saved in their phone alongside their family and friends!”
Texting Furniture Shoppers OK by Most
It’s suddenly common to receive appointment reminders from your doctor and hairstylist by text and shipping updates or coupons from businesses you’ve bought from before. How did it catch on so fast? Turns out, the majority of consumers really like the approach.
“I love, love, love when companies communicate by text,” says Sara Westrich, a travel agency owner who recently purchased a couch for her family’s new home. While that furniture retailer didn’t use text messaging, she says she wishes they had utilized that level of personal communication while she waited for three months to get the furniture delivered after an internal ordering mishap (wrong L shape). Instead, she spent her time repeatedly calling the store to get updates. In her business, she frequently uses text to communicate with clients and leads.
Recent business college graduate Nichole Marchand says she also likes it when retailers send her coupons and incentives by text. She regularly gets messages from a wide variety of businesses, like fast food coupons and reminders for an upcoming salon appointment. Westrich says Honda and Safelite were the last two companies that sent her texts.
“As a whole, text message conversations for follow ups and initial conversions have been received by our customers and sales staff as a benefit, if not a preferred method,” Neal says. “We definitely get the ‘Never text me again!’ customer but that is few and far between. We don’t do cold texts, meaning the customer either initiated the conversation or gave their contact information to a sales associate at some point.”
Shannon Anderson, owner of a food truck business and a busy mom to little ones, may be a millennial but she’s one of those few who hates receiving texts from a business. “I might be weird, but I hate it when companies text me,” Anderson says. “I find it lazy and unprofessional. Shipping updates and coupons I’m OK with, but if you need to say something for business, you should pick up the phone and call that person.”
Texting has Become Normal Communication Method for Shoppers
No one can deny that the way our society communicates and gathers information has changed exponentially over the past several years. Businesses must try new digital marketing tactics to keep up with consumers’ evolving communication practices.
“You have to communicate on their terms and be willing to talk to them how they prefer,” says Justin Bowen, web content manager at The Great American Home Store. The furniture retailer is currently working on implementing a new texting system to go along with their automated email lead nurture and marketing cloud solutions.
“A lot of people think they should be doing what was in vogue a few years ago, but the rules of the game are changing,” Bowen says. “Social doesn’t matter like it did. Facebook ads are harder to do right.
He adds that SMS is where email was about 20 years ago — just starting to catch on as a marketing platform — and no one knows for sure what it’s fully capable of doing to the retail marketplace. With so many companies already texting shoppers, the marketing method will eventually become as saturated as email and lose some of its effectiveness.
“The time is to start now, not later,” Bowen says, when referring to texting furniture shoppers. “People already prefer it, but most of the competition isn’t doing it, which presents a prime opportunity.”