Customer service in 2015

If independent kitchen and bathroom retailers do not get their customer service right in 2015, they may not be in business in 2016.

At the risk of kicking off the New Year by stating the bleeding obvious, if your customer service is crap, then it does not matter a toss how good the kitchens and bathrooms you have in your showroom are – or how many qualifications your designers have.

Keen prices in themselves no longer cut the mustard in retailing. It is assumed by many consumers that your prices are keen, and in today’s socially media savvy wired world, a price point is very easy to check. People shop at Amazon not only because it is very convenient or because its prices seem about right, but because more often than not if it says you will get your package on a certain day, that’s when you get it.

Of course, customer service has always been important, but in the new world order of 21st century retailing I believe it has become the most important part of a business. As I write, this year is less than a week old and two significant customer service stories have already made headlines.

On 6 January, The Sheffield Star reported on a failure by Wren Kitchens to complete by November 2014 a kitchen ordered in July of that year. If the report by Sam Jackson in The Star is accurate, this £16,000 kitchen project has been a catalogue of errors from Day One. “After five re-designs – including some after incorrect measurements were taken – only the shell of the kitchen had been fitted”, reports The Star.

Okay, nightmare kitchens are not restricted to Wren Kitchens – currently claiming to be the UK’s fastest growing kitchen retailer – , but it seems it took the action of a local newspaper to kick Wren’s customer service in to any sort of action as prior to this, as according to customer Alan McGauley, “When we ring Wren they never return your calls – it’s basic customer service”.

Even that bellwether of retailing John Lewis has fallen short on the customer service front, according to The Guardian on 7 January when it carried a report about a failure to replace a faulty item John Lewis had delivered. The John Lewis Customer Service department did not return calls to the customer, nor was the faulty item collected when promised.

Although the situation has now been resolved, the final comment by the customer is somewhat telling: “John Lewis has always been our ‘go-to’ store. I’m afraid we really will be thinking again after this casual, almost shoulder-shrugging service.” So much for the ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ mantra.

Wren Kitchens with its 50-odd showrooms plus a sizable advertising budget, and the mighty John Lewis may be able to shrug off customer service complaints, but is the same true about your business? Can you afford to have stories like the two I’ve quoted be said about your business floating around the world of social media?

My guess is that the answer to these questions is “No”.

Christmas tidings!

Five signs that tell you it’s the Christmas season

  1. The grocery shops are full of people buying enough food to withstand a siege when most shops will only be closed for two days.
  2. Trying to have a sensible service-related conversation with anybody from about a week before Christmas day until the first working day after the New Year is next to impossible – apart from with HRMC when this applies for 365 days of the year.
  3. The Magnet ‘sale’ has started
  4. Bathstore has a ‘special’ offer
  5. I dust off this video

I know, I do this every year but I have yet to find a Christmas video I enjoy more.

Anyway, a Very Merry Christmas to you and yours and I wish you all a peaceful New Year.

And if you have your own favourite Christmas video, feel free to post a link on the blog via the Leave a Reply service below.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

Five questions about Bertazzoni for Chris Honer

Chris Honer is a man of several hats. Currently the managing director of Britannia Living and responsible for a clutch of brands that includes Britannia, Bertazzoni and BEST, he was previously the MD of distributors BCG and has enjoyed stints with Waterline and MWD.

Chris Honer, managing director of Britannia Living Ltd
Chris Honer, managing director of Britannia Living Ltd

Britannia Living itself is part of the Glen Dimplex Group and it includes Stoves, Belling and New World – three very strong UK cooking brands.

The UK consumers’ love affair with range cookers is well-documented and to a certain extent Bertazzoni rode on the back of this by providing a collection of cooking appliances that had a high specification with a strong appeal to the more serious hobby chefs. It effectively carved a niche for itself that was above the other range cooker offers from within the Glen Dimplex Group and Britannia in terms of both product spec and price point.

Bertazzoni is on the point of being seen as a status symbol within range cookers. Increasingly owners are taking their Bertazzoni cooker with them if they move home and there are plans to extend the brand across a range of cooking accessories. But now arguably comes the Bertazzoni brand’s biggest gamble – can it equal this success in the built-in arena?

Grahame Morrison: Apart from the engineering quality of its appliances, what do you think it is that makes the Bertazzoni brand stand out from the crowd?

Chris Honer: What really sets Bertazzoni apart is its Italian heritage and passion for high-quality engineering, both of which are beautifully translated into its product design. Little touches like the oversized retro dials, branded brass hob details and the quality feel of the dials contribute to the stylish look and feel of Bertazzoni models.

Bertazzoni products are created in the region famed for its supercars – they are also painted in the same factory where the most prestigious and famous Italian cars are painted. A six-step process provides these designer range cookers with the vibrant and hard-wearing colours that they are renowned for.  Even the company logo itself, looks like it would be at home on a supercar, nodding to the heritage of the brand and making it a desirable marque amongst domestic chefs.

GM: A recent report from GfK suggests that demand in the premium range cooker market has started to slow down. Is this what has prompted you to push the Bertazzoni built-in collection?

CH: Britannia Living is not experiencing a premium cooking slowdown, if anything since last year’s acquisition and the initiatives we have put in place for our customers such as: a) increased stock holding b) home deliveries 6 days a week, we are gaining new accounts and growing share within our existing retailers.

The Bertazzoni Design Series built-in oven
The Bertazzoni Design Series built-in oven

The move into built in with the Bertazzoni brand..just makes sense for us. It is not new for Bertazzoni as it has successfully sold built in appliances in both Europe and the US for many years. We are positioning Britannia Living as the ‘Home of premium appliances’. Bertazzoni built in is just one of many introductions that will be happening over the next 48 months.

GM: We in the UK know Bertazzoni as range cooker specialists; can it successfully make the transition into the built-in arena?

CH: Predominantly famed in the UK as a premium range cooking brand, the company now sells its products in more than 60 countries internationally. Established by Antonio Bertazzoni in Emilia-Romagna in 1882, the company has a love of food and engineering at its heart. The Bertazzoni family were so passionate about cooking that they created a family recipe book and legend has it the original, handwritten version of which is still housed at the company’s HQ in Italy.

GM: What will be in the Bertazzoni built-in collection?

CH: The collection of Bertazzoni built-in appliances includes electric 60cm multifunction ovens, matching 45cm combi-microwaves, warming drawers and barista coffee machines. The line-up also includes a matching combi steam oven which combines steam, hot air and grilling for fast and healthy cooking that seals in flavour and vitamins.

Bertazzoni Professional Series Segmented Dual-Fuel hob with gas, griddle and induction zones.
Bertazzoni Professional Series Segmented Dual-Fuel hob with gas, griddle and induction zones.

It also features a choice of 90cm segmented hobs which can combine gas, griddle and induction within the same hob.

GM: The built-in market is a crowded sector too! What are the features that will give Bertazzoni built-in appliances their appeal?

CH: The stunning built-in collection from Bertazzoni epitomises Italian design. The oven models are available in both the Design and Professional Series. They feature micro-processor controlled cooking modes while the doors have at least triple-glazed insulation. New advanced materials are also used to insulate the oven cavity and further improve energy efficiency.

Showroom space – the final frontier?

Is your kitchen or bathroom showroom a honey-trap for kitchen or bathroom buyers? Is it poised, like an anorexic Venus Fly Trap, ready to spring shut the next time some juicy prey wanders in? Or is it a cross between Steptoe & Son’s yard and the local ‘recycling’ centre?

Ahh – another customer!

What is it about your showroom that is going to help you part your clients from their savings? Do you just rely on room-set displays of the fabulous kitchens and/or bathrooms you sell, or do you have a working kitchen or bathrooms to add a certain ambience to your surroundings?

Does the smell of freshly brewed coffee greet your weary visitors, who may have been on a grand tour of the other kitchen and bathroom showrooms in the area (or online), or does it have all the welcoming atmosphere of a Tupperware pot?

When was the last time you went into a showroom and couldn’t wait to get your cheque book out and go on a spending spree? Do you think the kitchen and bathroom markets can learn a trick or two from other sectors and if so, what are they – the sectors and the tricks that is?

I’m trying to find out what it is that makes a good kitchen or bathroom showroom tick in addition to product displays and knowledgeable staff. And if you have any little tips to offer, I’d love to hear about them via the Reply function on this blog – thanks!