Volume 13, Issue 9 - November/December 2012

Guest Column

The Customer Experience
Not Just for Retailers Anymore
by Erin Johnson

Once upon a time, coffee was a basic commodity sold as beans that you would grind and brew at home. No one knew the difference between Arabica beans, Columbian or French Roast. Later, we were introduced to pre-ground, packaged coffee with maybe a few more options–but still nothing glamorous.

Indeed, coffee has come a long way in the past two decades. Nowadays, every town has at least one coffee shop on the corner, serving up lattes, espressos and mochas by baristas with free Internet, newspapers and a comfortable place to gather with friends. We know our beans and we love to order our favorite blends made for us, just the way we like it.

Starbucks has perfected a simple yet ingenious formula:

A positive, unique experience equals happy, loyal customers who tell all their friends (and are willing to pay a premium) equals higher profits.

This formula has caused companies in various industries, including our own, to re-examine the way they do business. In fact, many have dubbed 2012 as the ‘Year of Customer Experience.’

Okay, what does that have to do with us?
The fenestration industry has become a game of survival of the fittest over the past few years. Some companies have emerged and done well in tough economic times because they have invested in the future by re-tooling, re-designing and re-thinking everything that was once commonplace (i.e., they have turned plain old coffee beans into spiced mocha latte).

We must remember that the decisions we make as OEMs and suppliers ultimately impact the retailer’s ability to sell our products. We can create a trickle-down experience effect by offering the products, the services and the tools our retailers need to be successful and to differentiate themselves. Here are some examples of how, as manufacturers and suppliers, we can impact customer experience at the consumer level.

1. Build products people want.
What consumers want has changed dramatically in recent years. Their homes are a reflection of their personalities, so they are no longer content with a small standard offering of colors and styles. When considering the purchase of doors and windows, most do not want to sacrifice performance to get the look they want with energy efficiency, quality and long-term durability being primary factors in purchase decisions.

One notable trend is an increased consumer demand for hybrid door and window products that provide the beauty of real wood with the high-performance, low-maintenance benefits of a composite. The demand for wood-plastic composite materials is expected to grow 13.2 percent annually through 2015, according to the Fredonia Group’s 2012 study. Are you offering a window system to meet this demand?

2. Be visible online.
The 2012 online survey ‘The Complex Shopper’ conducted by the Integer Group indicated that door and window shoppers spend the greatest amount of time doing online research when compared to other home improvement categories before even stepping foot into a showroom. More often than not, window buyers already know exactly what they want before they even talk to a salesperson. Therefore, your online presence is vital. Have all of your options clearly defined. In the simplest way possible, help customers understand your unique value and where they can go to purchase your products.

3. Provide sales and marketing tools.
No one knows the features and benefits of your products like you do. Providing your dealer network with sales and marketing tools ensures your messages will be conveyed clearly. This can include traditional brochures, sell sheets and showroom signage.

Companies really looking to help create an experience might consider providing some more progressive tools, such as: mobile and tablet apps, social media programs, online content and product demonstration videos.

4. Be memorable for all the right reasons.
Most consumers buy doors and windows once, maybe twice, in a lifetime. You have to make the experience memorable if you want them to come back the next time or, more importantly, brag to their friends, relatives and neighbors about how happy they are with their purchase.

Get started by looking at consumer research, talking to your own customers about ways you can help them stand out and talking to your suppliers about available technologies.

After all, creating a positive customer experience ultimately is everyone’s responsibility—and everyone stands to benefit with improved loyalty and profits.

Erin Johnson is marketing director for Quanex Building Products.


DWM

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