Anybody who has ever bought a sofa knows that the excitement of choosing the style, color, and fabric can be dashed by the not-so-simple task of getting the sofa through the front door.
This dilemma prompted Jeff Frank to launch Simplicity Sofas in 2007, a company that builds high-quality couches that are delivered in parts so easy to assemble that an unaided eight-year-old can build one in less than five minutes.
Tempting as this sounds to someone who wants to get a couch without having to measure doorways, Frank still faced two major hurdles: the recession that officially started three weeks after he opened Simplicity Sofas, and gaining customer trust. How could he get today's cautious consumers to make a significant investment in a piece of furniture that they had never seen or touched, let alone sat on?
The solution was to reward clients' trust by offering outstanding customer care and over-communicating throughout the purchase process, ensuring that customers become advocates. "We want to astound the consumer with great service. We do not just want to satisfy customers' expectations. We want to exceed them," Frank says, adding that clients are happy, enthusiastic, and extremely grateful when they receive service that goes beyond what they anticipated.
According to Frank, this is not as hard as it sounds. His starting point is extensive communication with customers, beginning from the moment they place an order until after they receive their purchase. On the same day that customers place an order, they receive an email with information about production and shipping timelines, together with other details about their purchase, including the quality of materials being used for upholstery. "By the time a customer receives his order, he would have communicated with us between 10 and 20 times," says Frank, who has been in the furniture business since 1976. He says customers enjoy the attention and nobody has ever complained about too much communication.
Each email is personalized for the customer, creating a sense of friendliness in the relationship between the company and its clients. Frank says that although such attention is time consuming, he intends to maintain it because it because builds a rapport with customers, even before their purchase arrives. This relationship works in favor of the company, since customers are eager to resolve any issues that crop up rather than ask for a refund at the slightest problem, despite a warranty that offers a refund if a customer is unhappy with his purchase, regardless of the reason. "They work with us because they know they will be taken care of," he says.
Frank believes that this customer service policy got the company through a potentially disastrous period, when sales increased dramatically and outstripped the capacity of its original factory, resulting in delays of up to eight weeks over the advertised shipment time. Frank says the company kept customers updated about the progress of finding and setting up a new factory and offered compensation for the inconvenience. Simplicity Sofas absorbed some significant financial losses, but did not have any cancellations and created some of its firmest, long-term customer relationships.
"When you look at customer emails from this transition period, the encouraging messages far exceeded those from upset clients," Frank says. "In the end, all of the upset consumers were fully satisfied with how they were taken care of."
Instead of waiting for customer feedback or complaints, Simplicity Sofas sends a personalized email to each client within 24 hours of delivery, specifically asking whether there were any problems. This, according to Frank, encourages consumers to speak up about any issues that they might not have brought up otherwise. "We are set up to expect problems and deal with them immediately," he says.
In one recent outreach, a customer reported a misaligned bracket, although he was quick to add that it was not visible and thus did not need to be fixed. However, Frank offered to have the bracket changed. Alternatively, he offered three options for compensation, including a $50 check. Despite the client's initial refusal of either having the bracket changed or compensation, Frank sent him a virtual gift certificate towards the purchase of furniture or throw pillows to give to a friend. When the latter caught the customer's attention, Frank arranged delivery of the pillows to him, but told the customer that the voucher was still valid for a friend to use.
"For us, fixing a problem doesn't mean eating into our profits. Rather, it is a marketing investment," he believes.
Frank runs his company by three cardinal rules: communication, education, and attentiveness. The company promptly replies to all queries, whether they come by phone or by email. If a customer requests a catalog, he is offered free fabric swatches, which can also be ordered through the company's website. Additionally, Simplicity Sofas is a promoter of educating its customers, so it provides detailed information on its website about how its furniture is built, design tips, and more. Finally, although many customers are able to place an order online without any help, Frank has set up a 24/7 customer service hotline that "90 percent of the time is answered within two rings," he says. This allows clients to ask questions anytime and get any assistance they might need with their order.
"After four years in business and more than 2,000 orders shipped, the Simplicity Sofas files are filled with hundreds of extremely positive compliments from our customers," says Frank, who takes pride in the success of his "extreme customer service" credo. Delivering on its promises and communicating with clients is a relatively simple strategy that not only builds customer trust, but also delivers business results as sizeable as an overstuffed sofa.