Customer experience guru Shep Hyken explains what Simplicity Sofas has done to put it amongst the customer experience greats - and what we can learn from it.
Most of my readers should be familiar with Nordstrom's legendary return policy. One of the reasons people buy from Nordstrom's is that they know they don't have to worry if whatever they buy has a problem. I remember buying some very expensive jeans. Unfortunately, they ripped. I took them back and told the salesperson, "I bought these about six months ago. I wouldn't normally bring these back, but my wife insisted that I should at least show you what happened." The salesperson immediately replaced them, no questions asked, and no hassle. I was impressed.
I have no idea what Nordstrom's does with returned or damaged goods. Do they have agreements with their suppliers to accept returns? Do they just "eat the product" and attribute the cost to marketing and customer retention? To most people, it doesn't matter. What does matter is that the customers know that Nordstrom's will stand behind their merchandise.
As a result of that confidence, the customer is willing to spend a little more. Nordstrom's is not known for low prices. They are known for delivering value. At the same time, they aren't the highest price retailer either, even though their merchandise may be higher end. My observation is that they're competitive for the merchandise that they sell.
Zappos.com is similar to Nordstrom's. They are clearly not the low cost provider of shoes and other merchandise. Yet their amazing customer service, liberal return policy and a few other great customer focused strategies earn them a large group of loyal customers and a stellar reputation.
That brings us to a company you probably haven't heard of, Simplicity Sofas. They are a furniture manufacturer that sells direct to consumers through its website. If I may be so bold to make a prediction, Simplicity Sofas will become one of those customer service legends, similar to Nordstrom's, Zappos.com, Four Seasons, etc.
Their owner, Jeff Frank, is the perfect example of what it takes to be a legend. They have a good product, and while not the most expensive, it's not cheap either. It's made with quality materials and Jeff is willing to stand behind their product. Read the following story and I think you'll agree.
The making of a legend
After two years in business Simplicity Sofa's had a problem. Their sales doubled almost overnight and continued to increase. Their factory was not able to keep up with the orders. They had to move to a larger manufacturing facility to fill their orders.
The transition to the new factory took more than three months. The result was that over 100 customers had orders that were delayed between six to twelve weeks. They were failing on their customer promise to deliver custom-built furniture within 30 days.
As a side note, one of Simplicity Sofa's proudest achievements is that after more than 2,500 customers and $3 million in sales, there has never been a negative review. It seemed that due to all of the delayed orders that this amazing achievement might be in jeopardy.
In spite of this delay, Simplicity Sofas did not have a single customer cancelation or a single negative review. As Jeff Frank puts it, "On the contrary, many of the company's strongest customer relationships were established during this time period."
The secret to customer experience
How did they do it? They did two things. First, they kept their customers updated on the progress of the factory and their orders. They didn't just write one letter or email. It was frequent, regular contact that kept the customers confident that their orders would eventually be fulfilled. In addition, the company offered partial refunds and other incentives as gesture of appreciation for their customers' patience and understanding.
The big learning "take-away" from Simplicity Sofas dilemma is to communicate any bad news you might have with your customers immediately. Stay in contact with them to give them updates and progress reports. Knowledge is comforting.
Frank has implemented some other customer service and experience confidence builders that any business, not just a furniture company, can adapt and use.
Simply Sofas has a warranty designed to protect the consumer and not the company. "If you are not happy with our furniture for any reason whatsoever, you may return it for a full refund including all shipping charges for a period of one year after purchase."
Within one business day after each customer has received their furniture order they are contacted and asked three questions:
1. How do you like the furniture?
2. What do you think of our customer service?
3. Are there any problems that need to be take care of immediately?
And, Simplicity Sofas has created the ultimate example of customer evangelism. Their customers not only provide word of mouth advertising, but many of them volunteer to show the furniture in their homes and talk about their experiences with the company to potential customers. According to Frank, more than 50% of customers who first see Simplicity Sofas in another customer's home eventually make a purchase.
I wish that I would have known about Simplicity Sofas when I wrote my last book, "The Amazement Revolution". I featured 50 companies who were amazing at what they did for their customers. There is no doubt that Simplicity Sofas would have qualified as a customer amazement role model.