As global supply chain problems continue and furniture and home decor items everywhere are backordered, delayed, or unavailable, one thing is certain: Customer service representatives at home goods companies (and those in other industries) are feeling the pressure. Unfortunately, if you’re the caller, it can often seem like the person on the other side of the phone either doesn’t want to or isn’t able to help—but that’s rarely true.
We spoke with a few customer service professionals to find out what it’s like on their end of the call, and what we should all consider when we need to ask for assistance.
Meet the Expert
- Georgia De Courtin is the operations manager at La-Z-Boy UK.
- Sabrina Hartel is the creative director and CEO of Sabrina Hartel Home, a home decor company.
- Kate Showalter is the vice president of customer care and PMO at Crate & Barrel.
The Current Problem Is Widespread
“The furniture industry is in a unique situation at the moment, as there is an unprecedented number of issues affecting every company,” explains Georgia De Courtin of La-Z-Boy UK. “[This includes] the huge demand for products and a shortage of containers and raw materials, combined with other supply chain delays, all exacerbated by COVID and [in the UK] Brexit.”
“But don’t let delays hold you back from ordering,” she adds. “Taking your time will only mean you’re joining the queue further back, as, despite these issues, the furniture market is, currently, extremely buoyant.”
Your Problem Is Not Personal
Sabrina Hartel of Sabrina Hartel Home has a decade of experience working as a customer service professional for top home furnishing brands. In her experience, customers often call with one of the following issues, all of which companies are prepared for and have a response to:
- WISMO, or where is my order?
- My item(s) arrived broken.
- The delivery guy destroyed my property while delivering furniture.
- The sofa that I had custom-made won’t fit into the doorway.
- The color is off, not the same color that I saw online.
Kate Showalter of Crate & Barrel agrees with this list—particularly in the current climate. “Customers most often reach out with inquiries surrounding an existing order,” she says. “Recently, the most common reason customers have contacted our customer service team has been for updates on their order’s current location and expected delivery date.”
De Courtin also adds warranties to the list. “Sometimes customers contact us about the 10-year limited warranty we have in place for all our sofa ranges, particularly if the retailer they originally purchased from has closed,” she says. “We then endeavor to solve their concern on that retailer’s behalf. Whatever a customer’s inquiry, however, we will always go the extra mile to provide a solution that the customer is satisfied with.”
It’s key to keep in mind that while your problem is frustrating and you deserve a solution, there very likely is a standard solution.
These Are Common Problems in an Uncommon Time
“Between supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic and early holiday shopping, retailers are facing many challenges,” says Showalter. This means that while your problem might not be impossible to solve, the solution could be less straightforward than in previous years.
“Crate & Barrel’s customer service team is committed to working with customers to answer questions and provide solutions,” she says. “Our team aims to share transparent updates regarding the status of customer orders. However, there are still factors that are out of our control, so we ask that customers be patient with us as we navigate this challenging retail landscape.”
WFH Issues Still Exist
As Hartel reminds us, many customer service associates are still working from home.
“Because of this, their internet connection may not be as fast as it was in the office,” she says. “This can result in echoing while the customer is on the phone with the agent, or sometimes it may appear that the customer service agent is talking over you. They are not … with a slow internet connection, there is often a delay in the delivery of the message because the customer service agent is speaking over the computer. Being patient is the most compassionate thing that a customer can do in this time of need.”
Customer Service Reps Want to Help You
“We treat every inquiry, order, and complaint individually, and we care about what you think—not just of the furniture you’ve purchased, but of our customer service and brand, as a whole,” says De Courtin.
“The customer service team is normally [a shopper’s] first experience … therefore, we want to ensure that we reflect the brand’s values positively and leave you feeling like you’ve been listened to and that you trust us to resolve your issue,” she says.
Patience Is Key
While it’s understandable that you want to call and vent your frustrations, Hartel tells us that this is rarely effective. “The best way to get assistance with a problem is to be patient and level-headed over the phone, chat, text, or email. The customer service associate is there to help you and that help will stretch further if you are not screaming at the person on the other end,” she says.
At the same time, you can be clear and factual in your communication. “Be direct,” advises Hartel. “Let them know what the issue is and what you hope to achieve.”
“Before calling a customer service associate, think about what you want to accomplish and what you want to say,” Hartel suggests. “That is a real person on the other end of that phone and they are there to help you. They can do their job, or go above and beyond their job and get you at the top of the pile. They can be your advocate and help the higher-ups see you. Help them see you in the light, not in the shady darkness.”
De Courtin also advises coming equipped with all of your documents. “The first step to getting actionable assistance with a problem is to read through your warranty document and check who it is with—whether it’s with the retailer or the manufacturer, as they will have different processes they must adhere to,” she says. “We would also recommend that when you contact the relevant party, you have all your purchase information to hand such as your purchase order, model/name/product code, and your [zip code]. Also, make sure you communicate as accurately as possible what the problem is—providing photo or video evidence where possible.”
“Whoever you contact, they will need to take time to fact-find and your preparation will make their job a lot easier and quicker,” adds De Courtin.
You Might Need to Repeat Yourself
As De Courtin explains, most people purchase their furniture through a retailer and sort the problem directly through that retailer. In other instances, you might need to contact the manufacturer directly.
“Many retailers have their own warranty policies and after-sales processes, so if you contact a manufacturer or brand directly, they are unlikely to have any of the previous communications about your purchase,” she says.
Finding a Suitable Solution Can Take Time
Depending on the scope of your problem, De Courtin warns that managing the retailer and the manufacturer simultaneously could mean a longer process.
“[This] sometimes means it takes longer for us to understand your concerns—what has been done previously and most importantly, why you’re not satisfied,” De Courtin explains. “We might also need to contact the retailer to understand what they have actioned before coming up with a resolution you’re happy with, and this all takes time. This means we often have to get back to customers once we’ve completed our fact-finding as there is often more to this process than customers realize.”
This again all points back to the importance of coming into the call prepared. “While urgency and empathy are important and should be expected from a good customer service associate, it [helps] to come prepared with information and details about your specific order, to help the team resolve the problem faster,” says Showalter.
You Can Ask for More Help
If you find that the person you’re speaking with is unable to assist you, it’s ok to ask to speak with someone else. “You may have to ask to speak with a supervisor or an advanced level associate who deals with escalated issues,” says Hartel. “This individual is highly skilled and will stay with your issue for as long as it takes to come to a happy resolution.”
Manage Your Own Expectations
Often, the solution is simple. Other times, it can be more complicated, and you might feel you’re owed compensation. Hartel says that this is fine, as long as your expectations are reasonable.
“Compensation ... ranges from store credit [to] discounts and product replacement. All of these are on the table,” she says. “Keep in mind, though, each establishment has a set amount that they can give you without giving away the house or burning it down.”
De Courtin agrees and suggests another possible solution you may not have considered, especially if your piece is severely delayed. “If you do require [a piece] more urgently, furniture retailers sometimes hold stock models or sell off display models, so it’s always worth asking to see what’s available. Some manufacturers stock popular models specifically available on a faster lead time ... so this might be a good option.
Confirm Stock Before Purchasing
If you absolutely do not want to wait on an item, then it’s best to confirm stock before your purchase.
“We understand and feel the impact delays have on our customers. Buying items that are currently in stock is the best way to avoid any risk of delays,” says Showalter. “Our goal is to deliver your purchase in the quickest and most economical way possible, which is why we review each order individually to determine the best shipping method.”
At the end of the day, one thing is certain: Customer service exists to find a suitable solution. “Our main priority is to ensure you are satisfied, happy, and trust our brand and products, therefore we’ll do all we can,” says De Courtin.