You’ve heard the expression a thousand times: “The customer is always right.” This, in a nutshell, expresses what good customer service looks like. Spelled out in more explicit terms, a business should: 1) listen to what a customer likes and does not like about your business, 2) keep all promises that they make, 3) when they fail to live up to a promise, make it up to the customer in some way, and 4) be helpful, even when there’s no apparent financial benefit to do so.
But what about furniture retailers? While good customer service seems to have made its way into business websites such as those operated by hotel chains and high-end clothiers, with furniture dealers, it’s a mixed bag. There are a few that do rather poorly, a few that seem to excel at customer service–with the rest somewhere in between. To evaluate the state of customer service among online furniture dealers, we examined six that give a good cross section. Hopefully after you see what each of these does right and wrong, you’ll be better equipped to know what you should look for before you shop for furniture online. Our six sample dealers are: Ashley Furniture (www.ashleyfurniture.com), Simplicity Sofas (www.simplicitysofas.com), J.C. Penney (www.jcpenney.com), Furnitureland South (www.furniturelandsouth.com), Overstock (www.overstock.com), and Ikea (www.ikea.com)..
1) SHOPPING ASSISTANCE.
While we tend to think of customer service as dealing with refunds and warranties, it actually starts before the purchase itself. That is, an exceptional store will help a person figure out what will work best for their home. Unfortunately, the big department store chains tend to be more reactive in customer service. For instance, in our sample group, J.C. Penney offers little assistance in planning your room, spending most of their customer-service efforts on explaining returns and warranties. At the other end of the spectrum is Simplicity Sofas, which uses a lot of its website, not just to sell, but to inform. They do so on their educational blog, newsletter, and by their offer to send free fabric samples–as far as we can tell, something that only they do..
Furniture Land South also makes a valiant effort at being helpful through their Design Folder. This allows you to select your favorite furniture from the site and send these to a consultant, who will contact you with further assistance. Ashley Furniture tries to add some education in the mix by offering cleaning and assembly instructions–though no real assistance to help you decide what to purchase. Overstock is mostly reactive like J.C. Penney. But by far, the least informative is Ikea, which offers only a “virtual agent” named Anna who answer all your questions. In actual practice, “Anna” is not much help at all. We’ll talk about her more later.
After you’ve bought your furniture, the most important aspect of customer service is the warranty. That is, if the purchase doesn’t work out, you want to know what the company will do to correct the situation. Each of our sample group either offers their own warranty, or works with furniture manufacturers that do. However, some are much better than the others. For instance, J.C. Penney promises only that some furniture “may be subject to a manufacturer or store warranty,” and notes that if so, it’s “only valid for a limited time” and that “misuse by the customer voids all warranties.” They never explain what constitutes “misuse,” however. Contrast this with Simplicity Sofas, which has the most extensive furniture warranty that we’ve found on the Internet. They promise that if the customer is dissatisfied for any reason, they will refund the entire price, including shipping costs.. Granted, it’s easier for them to do this than the others, since they both manufacture and sell their product line, but still, it’s a significant difference from the others.
Ashley Furniture notes several times on their website that each store is independently owned. So what kind of warranty will you get? They can’t tell–because it depends on what your local store chooses to offer. Furniture Land South is happy to give you a refund or repair any item, provided you can prove that any defect happened because of them and that it was delivered in that condition. This means, they’ll do little for you if you not properly inspect the furniture as soon as it arrives and before the delivery man leaves.
If nothing else, Ikea is very blunt about their warranty responsibilities: “Ikea will examine the product and decide, at its sole discretion, if it’s covered under the limited warranty.”
Five of our six furniture dealers allow customers to contact them via email. Unbelievably, Ikea does not, preferring you to use “Anna” their virtual customer-service agent. We tried asking “Anna” how to get a refund, and no answer came back. Therein lies the problem with this approach. You usually have to phrase your question just right for virtual agents to even understand the question.
Each of our group has a toll-free number, and all of them offer Facebook accounts for their customers to use. However, Ashley Furniture appears to use theirs only to promote their products, and do not accept “wall” posts by customers.
It is not just with Ashley but many other furniture brands that care only about promotions so that their product will be in the spotlight as a result of which it will be more visible to public eye and once the sales start picking up, the furniture will be no less than a chairthrone.
As for the old-fashioned telephone call to the companies, both J.C. Penney and Overstock appear to have mere sales agents answering your calls. For that reason, they don’t seem to know that much about the furniture itself. Contrast this with the furniture-specific companies, Simplicity Sofas, Ashley Furniture and Furniture Land South. These seem more likely to have someone who knows the product answering their phones. What’s more, we found it especially easy to speak directly with the higher-ups at Simplicity Furniture, and frankly, those we spoke with seemed passionate about their product. At the bottom of the totem pole again was Ikea–offering only “Anna” the virtual agent to assist you.
Our conclusion is that slowly, furniture dealers are joining the rest of the online world in offering better customer service. However, many of them–if not most–have a ways to go before they are truly treating their customers as though they are “always right.” If you’ll be shopping for chairs, small sofas or other furniture soon, and if customer service is your concern, we recommend that you select a company that manufactures the product they sell. These are the ones who seem to have a passion for treating their customers right.