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One of the best parts of my job is having the opportunity to see many different places and meet many interesting people. One of the realities of my job is that I must endure the rigors of travel in order to do so. Along this path, I witness a variety of attitudes that are allowed to pass for customer service. Allow me to share one with you that we can all learn from.

Loyal readers of this space know that I am constantly preaching that the best customer service lessons are learned when we ourselves are the customer rather than the seller. There has been news on the automotive front recently that I feel offers all flooring dealers a valuable lesson in how to deal with customer claims and warranty issues.

When presenting unique design ideas to your customer, always remember the saying “the whole is worth more than the sum of its parts”. Too often I hear a shortsighted salesperson say something to the effect of, “I don’t make enough commission on a few feet of ceramic listellos to merit the time spent”. Or, “I just spent an hour selling a stair runner. The commission received for selling this small portion of a sale doesn’t justify the time and effort spent doing so”.

Providing outstanding customer service is the lifeblood of any successful business. Ultimately it doesn’t matter how many promotions that you offer or prices that you discount. Unless you are successful getting the majority of first time buyers to return to your store, your business won’t be profitable for long.

Since it costs significantly more to attract new customers than to maintain relationships with existing ones, let’s examine a few keys to staying connected with your core customers.

The flooring industry is blessed with a promotional advantage that I believe is being underutilized. According to a study by Perception Research Services International, which was published by the AARP, seventy-two percent of consumers 50-64 years old say “made in the USA” labeling significantly influences their purchases. And eighty-one percent of people 50 thru 64 years old buy American because they believe that it helps the economy.

Like many industries, the flooring manufacturers appear to currently be in a cycle of both catching up and keeping up with today’s costs. While none of us like to see increased pricing from manufacturers, rational dealers understand that they really do need to have financially solvent suppliers who can afford to both honor outstanding claims and continue to produce innovative products for the future. Simply put, a dead vendor does no one any good.

One of the mixed blessings of living through your 50’s and into your 60’s is having “senior citizen” status as one of your titles, even if you neither need nor desire it. Approaching such an age, I have learned that senior status is a marketplace phenomenon. Personally, I have been eligible for an AARP Card for nearly a decade, even though I have no more desire to retire today than I did then. It seems as if every trip to the mailbox finds another offer eager to give me the discounts to which I am entitled.

I was asked recently to name the most important trait that successful retail businesses exhibit. The answer to me is obvious – they manage first impressions at every point of contact with their customers. While there are several key points of contact during a typical interaction with a potential flooring customer, there is none more important than answering your business’ telephone.

It never ceases to amaze me how intent some sales staff seems to be to minimize the size of a potential commission. Or worse yet, how they will unknowingly jeopardize an entire sale, just by committing the salesman’s mortal sin of TALKING TOO MUCH!

For example, when selling quality installation services, be careful not to “de-mystify” the process too much. When the installers’ efforts are made to sound too easy, you will find it more difficult to build value into your pricing.

This past week I had the opportunity to participate in the presentation of honors to the winners in Floor Covering News 2012 Award of Excellence competition. These awards, which are jointly sponsored by the WFCA, are presented to flooring manufacturers in a variety of categories ranging from design to sustainability. What is unique about these awards is that they are voted on by the manufacturer’s customers. The voting is done over an extended period of time, and by several mediums, so every dealer has the opportunity to be heard.