By David McMahon on 5/9/2021

See how retailers can use CXM to automate sales and service processes. It uses automation triggers to save time and produce meaningful results quicker.

In the March/April 2021 issue of Furniture World, the concept of Customer eXperience Management (CXM) was introduced. CXM can help retail furniture stores better manage leads, and improve systems and processes to increase employee productivity, as well as boost metrics such as close rates and average sales. In that article, an example was given of how a typical non-physical lead journey can work to produce increased sales and happier customers and salespeople. This installment will continue with examples of how CXM works by focusing on lead management workflows that benefit your retail operation.

CXM Workflow: Appointments

Lead Managers working in formal business development centers, or BDCs, are tasked with supplying salespeople with a steady stream of warmed-up and qualified customers. One goal for lead managers is to schedule customer appointments with sales and design associates. The purpose is to get both customers and salespeople to commit to providing a valuable resource—their time. Commitment to appointments sets hot leads apart from semi-serious leads. Here is a possible workflow process:

  • Step #1. Booking: Book the appointment on a digital calendar. You cannot count on customers or salespeople to write down and remember all their appointments.
  • Step #2. Automated message: . Send an automated thank you message (text and email) with the time and date agreed upon. In the message, let each customer know how to prepare for the best in-store experience. For example, pictures of their room, existing furniture and accessories, measurements, and samples of styles they like. Perhaps even include a short survey. This pre-work can really move the process along.

You might be thinking that this is a lot of time-consuming preparation. Also, you may not be confident that your employees will do this in an efficient manner and say the right things. My answer is that you are right! That is why you need to rely on good CXM systems and processes. Start by preparing message templates for salespeople to use. These professional communications can be automatically triggered. CXM moves customers along their journey and relies less on salespeople and sales support performing every small task along the way. It helps them to consistently do their work exceptionally well. So, once steps #1 and #2 above are completed, here’s what’s next.

 To be efficient, communications need to be simple and frequent—an automatic process that does not hold the organization back in terms of workload.
  • Step #3. Reminder Call: After a salesperson is assigned the lead, a reminder call can be triggered so everyone can be better prepared for a successful conclusion of a face-to-face or virtual appointment.
  • Step #4. Pre-work for the salesperson/designer: Salespeople should review all information received from the lead manager and customer,, so that they can better understand the situation and focus in on appropriate options. For example, a welcome gift might be appropriate. Knowing in advance if a shopper would like to be served coffee, beer or wine can provide an unexpected and welcome surprise.
  • Step #5. In-store visit: If you’ve prepared properly, your salespeople will be miles ahead already. You will find that as they progress through your regular selling system, the process will progress smoother with these warmed up and committed customers.
  • Step #6. The outcome: most of the time, leads handled this way will turn into sales. But sometimes they will require additional follow-up, like house calls that achieve high close rates. Either way, good CXM processes branch off from here.
  • Step #7. New order: When a sale is made, a new order follow-up workflow should be initiated.
  • Step #8. Other follow up: If a house call appointment is made or some other follow-up is agreed upon, a similar process of scheduling on the calendar continues.

CXM Workflow: Sale Made

Two types of workflows occur after a sale is made. Either the merchandise needs a PO sent to the vendor or the inventory required is in stock. Either way, if you want to deliver the best customer experience you need to keep in touch with customers through the entire fulfillment process. This is especially true with special order items. Customers deserve to be contacted frequently even if there is nothing new to report. Think of good reasons to keep in touch via text, email or with a call.

The first contact should be a thank you and perhaps a review. This can be followed up with either a delivery or pick-up reminder, or in the case of special order, a message that the vendor received the order, for example. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes: if you spent several thousand dollars and received only a promise, would you rather be contacted more often or not at all? Retailers receive a significant number of order status requests from customers who are, especially now, waiting a long time for delivery.

This volume of status requests tends to interrupt employees, who may feel overburdened and less able to perform other important job duties. To avoid this situation, retailers need to follow-up routinely and often. Look to automation. CXM involves setting triggers that automate follow up and reminders to follow-up.

Other examples of special order follow-up messages that can be sent to customers are:

  • Merchandise is scheduled for production
  • Merchandise is in production
  • Near completion
  • Factory to schedule shipping
  • Factory shipped
  • Merchandise received at our warehouse and delivery or pick-up date suggested

Once delivery is complete, post- delivery calls or messaging is important. And CXM does not stop there—it continues on, hopefully guiding the customer into future purchases.

No Sale, Follow-Up Required

This third workflow example occurs when neither an appointment or sale is made. If a salesperson or lead manager collects a customer’s information, a foolproof system to ensure follow-up needs to be put in place. When retailers do this properly, virtual or physical leads will build up.

A retailer who wants to maximize sales volume and its reputation in the community can’t drop the ball on qualified leads. Automate a thank you message immediately after the interaction allowing for these messages to be customized to include any necessary details such as a request for additional information to move the prospect along in their purchase journey. You do not want them to shop at another store that has better follow-up, right? Of course not. Your goal should be to keep the conversation going until an appointment or an in-store visit is made, leading to the scenario of a likely sale.

Customer Service Issue

There are countless ways CXM can improve an organization. I will present one more in this article. Customer eXperience Management can be used to streamline customer service issue resolution.

A request for customer service often starts with a call from a customer who has a problem. Unfortunately, the employee on the receiving end of the call is rarely prepared to resolve the issue and needs to get back to the customer later. This is inefficient and a time waster.

These service complaints can pile up. Do not expect your employees to develop their own perfectly organized systems, software, and processes. It is management’s responsibility to continually improve business processes so employees have clear paths to follow.

A great way to do this and provide a better experience for your customers is to create a service form on your website. This form can be filled out by either customers or employees. Why a form? Because in nice little boxes it records the necessary information needed to diagnose a problem and find the best solution as quickly as possible. With good CXM, the form will automatically create a ticket and email it to the people who are tasked with managing and resolving the issue.

This ticket acts in a way that’s similar to how customer leads are sent to salespeople. With service though, the desired outcome is a satisfied customer and productive employees. At the same time a virtual ticket is created, the service manager is notified and the customer gets a message letting them know about the next steps. Based on the information received, the service manager can respond fast. This response could be an immediate resolution, sending a tech or ordering a part, referring to the accident protection company, or getting additional information. In any case, the customer is in the loop and in most cases their issue is managed better.

Other CXM Workflows

There are many other ways to organize a CXM to improve customer experiences. Here is a short list:

  • Accident protection purchase reminder
  • Next purchase ideas
  • Related item follow-up
  • Anniversary of last purchase
  • Birthday gift
  • Social media lead generation for lead forms
  • Chat lead generation
  • In-store digital ‘register to win’ forms
  • Quote follow-up
  • Past purchase follow-up
  • Vendor communication tracking
  • Internal education and learning management

Unlimited CXM Possibilities

To sum things up, Customer eXperience Management helps organizations by improving processes, which always equals better outcomes for both businesses and customers. CXM helps customers move more effectively and efficiently through their shopping journey.

This includes selling processes for both non-physical and physical operations such as managing sales before merchandise delivery, purchase follow-up and delivery scheduling. CXM can also be used to enhance the journey with respect to service issue resolution or marketing to attract new customers. Not only does it create better word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing through your customers’ networks, it allows you to create automated, relevant and customized touchpoints for another purchase down the road.

The automation is released by triggers to save employee time and produce meaningful results quicker. Finally, the added benefit of well designed CXM systems and processes is that you can integrate and add more horsepower to your other systems such as your POS system, Podium, Dispatch Track, in-store traffic counters and website partners. Tying this all together provides a powerful customer facing solution for your business.

Next Steps

If you are intrigued by the possibilities of CXM I recommend that you:

  • Review your current processes with regards to just one area of your business to start, for example, lead management.
  • Next, follow the chain of events and then ask, “Are we delivering the best customer experience in our market or are we trying to make people happy?” Furthermore, ask, “Are we efficient with our time?”
  • Then finally, seek out the best processes, systems, and people to continually develop Customer eXperience Management.

About David McMahon: David McMahon is founder of PerformNOW Inc.  PerformNOW has three main products that help home furnishings businesses improve and innovate: Performance Groups (Owners, Sales managers, Operations), PerformNOW CXM (Customer eXperience Management systems and processes), Furniture business consulting.  Your can reach David at

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 151 NO.2 March/April

By David McMahon on 3/20/2021

Here is a tool that will help you to grow your furniture business and outperform competitors large and small.

One of the biggest opportunities for home furnishing businesses is developing Customer eXperience Management (CXM). To help you understand what piqued my interest in CXM, let’s start with a story. It begins with the COVID shutdown in the U.S. when almost every state shuttered so-called non-essential retail, a category that included most furniture stores.

Operations approached this closure in different ways. Some businesses decided to completely close. Others decided to shut the front doors of their physical stores. Many completely ceased operations— laid off employees and even posted website messages that they were not open at this time.

Lead Managers working in formal business development centers or BDCs provide salespeople with a steady stream of warmed up and qualified customers.

More consumers were brought into the market for home furnishings because of COVID. It has been the best promotion ever for our industry. Operations now find themselves short of resources—namely people and inventory. But unbelievably, overall, retailers are more reactionary then ever—drifting back to their old ways of doing things—focusing mostly on physical store traffic. There is enough customer traffic, so why change anything, right? My response: Businesses need to improve now because this uplift in business will come to an end.

Some Say They are Crazy

That said, there are retailers who are refining their systems and processes and are getting even better results. Some stores have decided not to re-open their physical front doors for public walk ins in the old way, even though they are allowed to do so. Many would say, this is crazy! Well maybe – maybe not. I know of cases where similar or better results are being produced from appointment only operations. How can this be? It’s because appointment customers’ close rates are much higher than the approximate 25 percent the furniture industry was stuck at for many years. Now, there are stores getting double that number. At the same time average sale for appointment business is also much higher. The silver lining is that fewer salespeople are needed because they are more effective with their traffic.

An appointment-only strategy is not for everyone. However, by developing Customer eXperience Management (CXM) and professionally handling leads, retailers can get better sales due to higher close rates and higher average sale. The main goal here is to handle leads in a proper fashion to produce appointments. With this system, Lead Managers working in formal business development centers or BDC’s provide salespeople with a steady stream of warmed up and qualified customers.

Why CXM is Important

So, what is CXM and why is it important? It’s a customer-focused process that delivers effective and efficient business communications to customers. To be effective, communications must “say” the right things and get the right results at the right times. To be efficient, communications need to be simple and often automatic, not holding the organization back in terms of workload.

CXM should span the customer’s entire journey and beyond: from the time of initial contact with a prospect, to making a written sale, then through the often several months it takes to get the sale delivered, and finally, inspiring a next purchase. Keeping in touch with customers at the right times with the right messages is at the core of good CXM. It keeps your customer close by providing exceptional value throughout their experience with you. Done right, it makes you better than your competition and sets you apart in your marketplace.

CXM done well makes retail owners, managers and salespeople more productive. It does the same for your customers. In fact, the main purpose of CXM is to build more customers, for life!

To be efficient, communications need to be simple and often an automatic process that does not hold the organization back in terms of workload.

CXM Challenges

If CXM was easy to implement, everybody would be doing it equally well. Let’s explore the challenges and the ways home furnishings retailers can get past them. As was mentioned, furniture retailers do a good job of handling physical, in-store traffic. Non-physical leads, however, are generally non systematized. For example, if a telephone call from a prospect comes in, whomever answers it will likely handle it quickly and fail to ask them for information /qualify them. The result is that the retailer can’t track if that caller subsequently visits the store, let alone buys. This is a missed opportunity that results in wasted lead traffic and underperforming sales.

A big challenge for many retailers is that shoppers communicate in a whole bunch of different ways. They use chat, telephone, text, email, Facebook… you name it! And, retailers don’t have a good system that ties all this incoming information together. Another problem for many furniture retailers is that they fail to take a proactive approach that leads every customer towards the best solution, which is buying the right furniture, mattresses, accessories and protection plans!

Managing Better

Improving processes, systems and how they work together equals better outcomes. Retailers have achieved 100 percent increases in close rate, and 100 percent increases in average sale, by capturing incremental business with CXM. Another big benefit is that the improved service experience leads to happier customers. This in turn generates better word-of-mouth messaging—the best advertising in the world. When you become more remarkable through better CXM (at least better than your competition) you will get more free advertising in your community.

The Big Picture

The solution to lots of the problems furniture retailers have is complete customer experience management. Complete means that it is all-encompassing. CXM is an integrated set of all customer related communication systems and processes, including ERPs, and tools like Podium and DispatchTrack. Also, text, email, chat, service ticketing and telephone calls. All this should be integrated in one common area which allows for transparency across an organization and elevates the customer experience. It’s similar to CRM (Customer Relationship Management). I call it CXM because the eXperience and the customer journey encompasses more than traditional CRM.

Problem Solving

CXM helps solve common issues such as open sales follow up. With lead times extending well beyond the pre-pandemic norm, retailers’ open sales files have ballooned. Follow-up has been a challenge to say the least. Who are the people that have to do the most follow up? The best salespeople, of course! And, they are the ones with the least amount of time. CXM should be geared toward helping salespeople focus on the most important tasks— to keep their customers happy and help them buy more often. This can be done through process and workflows that are predefined and automated to some degree. Here is one example of better CXM processes (in the second part of this article more examples of better CXM will be presented).

Non-Physical Lead Journey

When leads come in via a telephone call, webchat, survey, SMS, email, or other non-physical way, retailers need to channel the conversation in a desired direction. First, a connection needs to be made with the customer by gaining an understanding of their reason for calling. As with in-store traffic, a series of questions should be asked, such as: “What room are you working on? What do you like about your room? What don’t you like about your room? Who is using the room?” Let’s say a customer makes contact through phone, mail or chat, to inquire if you have recliners in stock. It’s easy to see that the worst result will come from responding with some version of, “Yes, please come on in and make sure to ask for me, my name is Joe.” Then hang up. Unfortunately, that is often the standard reply, especially for busy employees. Instead, CXM systems can be geared towards making a real connection. Once that happens there are three possible outcomes:

  • A sale.
  • An appointment is made.
  • Some agreed upon follow up results.

Systems define outcomes! Each of these three outcomes, when handled with CXM systems, can trigger automatic workflows making it much more likely that the person who called, emailed, or used a website chat feature will have a positive experience and make a purchase.

Next Issue

Part two of this article, will examine the lead management process in more detail. It will also provide more examples of better CXM and present ideas for effective implementation strategies. To sum things up for now, CXM helps the customer move more effectively and efficiently through their retail journey. It helps organizations improve processes, which always leads to better outcomes for retailers and their customers.

By David McMahon on 1/22/2021

Manage your retail furniture store pipeline in these chaotic times to avoid cash crunches that are likely to plague home furnishings retailers.

We’ve all seen that the pandemic has altered customers’ normal buying patterns, causing major disruptions in the supply chain for home furnishings. Written sales have outpaced delivered sales. The result is a growing backlog of customer open orders, growing lead times and record levels of customer deposits.

Frustrated customers who have waited longer for their deliveries are canceling at higher than normal rates for some retailers. This rise, combined with accelerated inventory arrivals—as the supply chain returns to normal—has the potential to strain cash flow for those retailers who are unprepared. Even customer tagged orders for which deposits have mostly been paid upfront are cause for concern as payments for newly arrived product will outpace customer payments. Should a slowdown in written business occur at the same time as an influx of inventory and cancellations, cash could quickly become very tight.

You can avoid this scenario by adopting the following twelve practices.

  1. Understand your sales and inventory pipeline.Your pipeline is your work in process made up of sales that are not completed and inventory that has yet to be delivered.To fully understand your cash situation, I suggest you start by taking a close look at three important metrics:Retailers are finding that their top salespeople may not have time to adequately serve new customers while continuing to follow up with their pipeline of open orders.
    • Open sales by salesperson. It makes sense that your top performers will have the largest backlogs. When a salesperson who normally manages a certain number of undelivered customer projects has to manage a continually increasing amount of work in process, resources may be strained and something eventually may have to give.• Percent deposits and how much will be owed on customer orders.Tracking this information will give you an idea of how much cash will be collectible and available to pay for incoming inventory invoices.• Purchase order aging with expected cash requirements. Estimate when customer and stock orders will arrive as well as the landed cost of that freight. This will help with cash flow planning. Predict the dollar amount of these orders expected to arrive in 30-day future aging increments.
  2. Communicate anticipated delivery times clearly and truthfully, upfront.Find out if your customers are willing to wait for custom ordered items to be produced. If customization is important to them, be honest about anticipated lead times. No retailer wants to tell customers there is a six-month waiting period for delivery, but it’s best to tell the truth and let them decide. If they don’t want to wait, they may have to settle for items in stock or already on order that you can let go.
  3. Get store staffing right for sales and sales support.As mentioned previously, hefty lead times combined with increased written business has resulted in large open order files, especially for the most productive salespeople. In pre-pandemic times, many retailers expected salespeople to follow up with their customers regarding open orders. Now, this has become a double-edged sword. Retailers are finding that top salespeople may not have time to adequately serve new customers while continuing to follow up with their pipeline of open orders. It is, therefore, important to make sure that adequate staffing is available to serve new prospects as well as customers waiting for delivery.
  4. Follow up even if there is nothing new to report.Even if your sales and design associates do a good job of managing customer expectations up front regarding expected delivery times, they still need to provide customers with routine status updates. Furniture is one of the largest purchases consumers make. They need to be handheld through the process, even if there is nothing new to report. How often should you follow up? Right now, I’m seeing that most retailers follow up with customers as often as every two weeks and as little as never. It’s best to follow up at least monthly.Your vendors’ supply chains have become more expensive and the costs must be passed on for these essential partners to stay in business.
    • Your first follow up can be as simple as a “thank you.“• You next follow-up can be, “our manufacturer has “scheduled your furniture for production.“• Then it may be, “your furniture is in production“ or “being custom crafted for you.“Take customers through the production process so they feel a part of it. Use visuals if appropriate. Help them to eagerly anticipate the arrival and value their home furnishings so they don’t even think about canceling.
  5. Put automated systems and processes in place.It can be time consuming for retailers to accomplish a high level of routine customer follow-up. Defining systems and processes to make reaching out to large numbers of customers in a short amount of time through technical automation will help you to do better with the resources you have. Customers can be updated on their order status faster through the use of email, text and web forms. Make it easy for them to return messages. This will avoid frustration if they have a question or request. The personal touch of a telephone call can be valuable, but the reality is that phone calls can interrupt busy sales associates and result in time-wasting telephone tag. Instead, consider sending what you have to say, in short, systematic, pre-built electronic messages.
  6. Follow up with customers by exception, as well.Because of changing lead times and supply shortage issues, there will be times when something outside the expected occurs. For example, a situation such as a fabric becoming unavailable or a shipping delay should trigger exception follow-up. Communication between your purchasing staff, vendors, salespeople and/or sales support needs to be effective so that customers are informed of these situations ASAP. Exceptions must take priority. Put a standard practice in place regarding how options and solutions are discussed with customers. Your entire team must approach these situations in a consistent and professional manner.
  7. Define your strategy for handling cancellations.In the months that go by while customers wait for delivery, events may occur that change their initial decision to purchase. A customer may simply be tired of waiting, or a life-changing event such as job loss or a health issue may have occurred. Whatever the reason, retailers have to decide what their policy will be when a cancellation is likely. I am not going to tell you what is right or wrong, however, here are some options:In the months that go by while customers wait for delivery, events may occur that change their initial decision to purchase. A customer may simply be tired of waiting, or a life-changing event such as job loss or a health issue may have occurred.
    • Buy the customer a gift certificate to spend at their favorite local restaurant as an expression of gratitude to keep their order.• Charge a restocking fee for the cancellation.• Switch the on-order merchandise for something else they can get immediately from stock, or from sooner to be delivered items.• Give them the option to finance their entire ticket so they can make “affordable low monthly payments“ instead of putting down a large amount of cash upfront.• Allow the customer to cancel and apply their money as a credit on account.• Cancel their order, refund their money, and make the stock available for another customer. This treats the cancellation as an opportunity. You might be able to make two customers happy: one who gets their money back, and another who gets merchandise faster than expected.
  8. Weigh stocking vs special order models.If you feel that an increasing portion of your customers are looking for speed of delivery over customization it is worth looking at your merchandise line-up. Decide what you can back-up with stock and which custom options you might drop. After doing this, if you feel there are merchandise line-up holes, you might need to grow a particular vendor and/or find new sources of supply. The important thing is to get in the habit of constantly evaluating your product mix with respect to what your customers are telling you with their words and their wallets.
  9. Price your products appropriately.Availability sells at a premium and those customers who want custom options will pay for them. If you wait to price properly you will end up losing margin and profitability. Your vendors’ supply chains have become more expensive and the costs must be passed on for these essential partners to stay in business.
  10. Order quickly and pay vendors promptly.You should not hang on to orders for more than one day. Order every day, even if that means ordering smaller quantities. This may get you in-line for delivery with some vendors sooner. Ensure that your purchasing staff understands how each of your vendors’ production fulfillment works. And, pay immediately upon invoicing! Do not even wait one day. This will help keep your credit with them healthy and allow for a measure of safety if ever needed in the future.
  11. Communicate with vendors just like you follow up with customers.No matter what the size of your business, follow up with vendors routinely, systematically and exceptionally. This requires that you allocate the proper resources. And, don’t expect salespeople to do this! They need to focus on their customers. Keep on top of all acknowledgments. Enter realistic production and shipping days. Use realistic transport road days. Monitor these days and vendors to verify the timeline. Modify the timeline in your system where necessary. Communicate date exceptions to your sales team. If you believe in UPOD (Under Promise, Over Deliver) you can pad your days a bit. To make these processes more efficient, consider EDI systems to transmit and update your data quicker.
  12. Flow inventory fast through your facility.You must get information from your vendors and freight companies about what is being shipped to you and for whom, at least a few days in advance. This allows you to get ahead of the workload so that received merchandise can flow faster through your facility. Cross dock, inspect and schedule sold items for delivery quickly. Likewise, display inventory should be identified and your merchandisers should be ready to place it on the showroom floor.Cross dock, inspect and schedule sold items for delivery quickly. Likewise, display inventory should be identified and your merchandisers should be ready to place it on the showroom floor.
    Just like having the right number of people doing the right things on the front end, the back end needs to be able to fulfill quickly. Look for ways to communicate effectively with customers for time consuming tasks such as delivery scheduling, payment collection, and customer service work processing. Online system-integrated forms, email and text are all ways to get the job done faster and make a more favorable impression on your customers.


It is likely that supply chain issues will continue for sometime into 2021. In my opinion, these challenges will exist until demand goes back to pre-pandemic levels and the virus dissipates. This is an opportunity in disguise for retailers that embrace continuous improvement, become better at managing customer experiences to reduce cancellations and gain a leg up on their competition.