Prefer to listen? Here you go! And be sure to subscribe and leave a review on Apple here.
Today, I’m joined by Jonathan Schulman, president of CeXperentia—a customer experience devotee and former chairman of the International Home Furnishings Rep Association. He has a provocative and unique perspective on what it takes to succeed in retail, which you’ll see firsthand during this episode.
We’ve got so much to cover that Jonathan and I are extending this conversation into part two. He emphasizes the importance of connecting the dots in the customer experience journey to put you on track toward delivering a best-in-class customer experience.
This episode is packed with real-world examples of companies going the extra mile to be memorable. We’re getting down to the essentials of strong customer service, where Jonathan offers practical advice that won’t break the bank—it all comes down to three simple strategies.
Join us in taking a deeper look at your store, processes, and team dynamics. Jonathan offers insights that may just be the key to fine-tuning your approach and building deeper connections with your audience.
[4:11] How growing up in the furniture business launched Jonathan’s retail career
[8:57] How Jonathan believes independent retailers have an advantage over the big corporate chains
[12:50] Two examples of businesses that Jonathan has seen give really great customer experiences
[17:45] How can independent retailers cost-effectively improve the customer experience in their physical storefronts?
[28:09] How physical storefronts can bridge the gap between online and offline customer experiences
[33:33] What is Jonathan’s perspective on the future of customer experience in physical retail spaces?
[36:22] Jonathan’s resilience round
Mentioned in the Episode
- Connect with Jonathan on LinkedIn
- Theory of Constraints by Eliyahu Goldratt on Amazon
- Join the Rooted in Retail Facebook Group
- EVOLVE 2024 in Denver, CO - Crystal Media
- Social Media Hooks & Hacks - Crystal Media
- Crystal Media Insiders
- Follow Crystal Media on Instagram
- Follow Crystal Vilkaitis on Instagram
- Crystal Media on YouTube
Leave a Reply
Comment Via Facebook
Crystal Vilkaitis: Prepare yourself for a great conversation about customer experience. I am very excited for you to tune into this episode. And there was so much that me and my guest Jonathan did not get to, that we’re going to do a part two on this as well and talk about some of the technology and data that you can use around customer experience.
But this conversation is loaded with examples of what companies are doing today to go above and beyond, to be memorable, to be a company that you’re talking about on a show like mine. To give an example of great customer service, we boil down some of the basics, like what it really comes down to, to have strong customer service, to really stand out, to keep your customers.
And in a way, it is very simple, three specific things that we talk about in one of these questions that I asked Jonathan on things that you could be doing today that don’t cost you any money. Nothing. And I think that this episode can really help you take a deep look at your store, at your processes, at your team, and really see how you’re showing up for the customer.
And there might be opportunities for you to fine tune, to zoom in, to zoom out, to connect deeper. And I think you’re going to get a lot out of this episode. I know I did. And something I love, I asked Jonathan in this episode, towards the end about omnichannel, the customer experience online and offline.
And I feel like his answer was really refreshing, because so many people are so focused on selling online and have your ecommerce store. And there’s just so much that goes into that. And I’m not necessarily saying that you should or shouldn’t have one, I just really like how Jonathan answered that question about online experiences and his take on it.
So I know you’re going to love this episode. Before we dive in, here’s a little bit more about my guest. Jonathan Schulman is the president of CeXperentia. He’s a customer experience devotee and former chairman of the International Home Furnishings Rep Association with a provocative and unique perspective on what it takes to succeed in retail. You’re really going to see that during this episode.
Jonathan says that the retail customer journey is similar across a variety of sectors and connecting the CX dots from your perspective as a consumer to the one you have as an operator will put you on the track to providing a best-in-class customer experience.
You can learn more about Jonathan on LinkedIn. He’s Jonathan Schulman. And we’ll link to all this in the show notes and you could check out his site. It’s CeXperentia.com. Let’s dive in for this great conversation about customer experience.
Welcome to Rooted in Retail, the show that’s dedicated to helping independent retailers thrive in today’s ever evolving retail landscape. I’m your host, Crystal Vilkaitis, and I’m thrilled to have you join me weekly as we explore topics that are vital to the success of your store.
From marketing to mindset, money to merchandising, sales to leadership, we’ll cover it all. Each episode features interviews with industry experts and accomplished retailers who share their real life insights and actionable advice. Get ready for a great conversation on how to build your dream business with Rooted in Retail.
Jonathan, welcome to Rooted in Retail. I’m thrilled you’re here.
Jonathan Schulman: I’m thrilled to be here.
Crystal Vilkaitis: All right. We’re going to have what I think is a very important conversation about customer experience. And I have to say, we have our resilience round at the end of the show. And a lot of my past guests, when I asked the question, “What’s the future of independent retail?” They say experience.
A lot of people say experience. So this is a much needed conversation. I’m thrilled you’re here. Now, before we get into it, you’re pretty Rooted in Retail yourself. Will you give us a couple of minutes of behind the scenes, how you got into retail and a little bit more about your journey?
How growing up in the furniture business launched Jonathan’s retail career
Jonathan Schulman: I’m in the furniture business. I’m kind of a furniture brat. I grew up in the business. My dad was a manufacturer and I went working in his factories and in Los Angeles when they actually used to still manufacture stuff there. And wound up just getting into it. I went to college at San Diego State and being from Los Angeles, my dad had some customers that sold his furniture in San Diego. Got me a job. And one thing led to another and you can’t tend bar forever. Although I think you can, I wanted to do a little bit more.
And so I started working in sales and my manager probably gave me a little bit of a curse and said, “You know what, you can sell.” And that sort of started it. When somebody believes in you, you move forward. And then you just start figuring it out. You find a better way. You realize where the pitfalls are.
Retail done very poorly and you start thinking, “Okay, I can do this better.” And you figure it out. So I worked at a company called Shelves and Cabinets, which is now defunct, in San Diego. Like a lot of independent guys, they owned San Diego for a long time. And they went away.
My first job was selling pens on the phone, which taught me a lot. My girlfriend was in college at the time, she would leave at 6:30 in the morning to go sell pens until 2 o’clock. And she was making all this money. So if you’re a real estate agent back in the nineties, or an insurance agent, and somebody calls and says, “Hey, I got pens with your name on them and I want to sell them to you.” That was me.
But it taught you a lot about people and what motivates them and how they do want to help you. And the things that you say and the way that you are make all the difference in the world.
If you can convey a little bit of fun, a little bit of showtime, a little bit of enthusiasm and passion, it goes a long way. And so when you bring things like that into the retail aspect of it, it really does make all the difference in the world. It’s not that hard, right?
Jonathan Schulman: And you learn that as you go. So I worked at Shelves and Cabinets. I honestly left because they were starting to do some things that I wasn’t agreeing with on an integrity basis, as far as high, low pricing and things like that. They would mark things up to mark them down and you have customers that are coming in because we did a really good job.
To come back and see what it is that we had when they started advertising, ” Hey, it’s 50 percent off accessories,” and now all of a sudden this lamp that they’re looking at now, they want to come in and buy for half off and it’s actually 15 percent more. That was brutal. And so I decided to open up my own store.
Jonathan Schulman: And back in those days, people were buying computers. I’m dating myself now, but back in the 90s.
Crystal Vilkaitis: I love it.
Jonathan Schulman: Yeah, computers used to be big boxes and I’m talking to you on a 13.5″ Macbook. And it was mostly guys that were buying these things and would go to stores like CompUSA or Computer Plus or all these other guys, even some of the like Staples and Office Depot. And all these other kind of little independent computer guys were starting to build their own IBM compatible computers and they were massive boxes and the computers were really big, like old televisions.
And they would come home and they would wind up on their wife’s dining room table. And that wasn’t happening for her. After a week or so, she would say, “Nuh uh, you can’t do this.” And so a niche evolved in the small office and home office space. And so I started selling computer desks, like Ikea, where you could buy them, put them together, bring it home.
She wasn’t really nuts about having a computer cart sitting in the corner of some room. But marriage is about negotiation and compromise. And so if this beast of a product was going to be in my room and promises of making life better, and more convenient, and all the cool things I can do with it, and the cool games I can play on it.
I’m sorry, but I’m going, this is a hill I’m going to die on. And so they figured that out. So we were selling a ton of computer desks and computer chairs. And one thing led to another and I was like, “Hey, there are companies, they make bedroom furniture that you can put together and entertainment centers and TV stands and all this other stuff that you can put together.”
And so that sort of evolved into that. Did a really good job with it. Started leading teams, opened up a second store. Really understanding that this is a people business and it’s a fashion business. You need to have a perspective on the kind of the gestalt of what motivates furniture, anything to get purchased for the home, right?
Be it a gift, be it a puppy. The plant, this is for the home and the psychosis of that is real and that most people want to be looked at as having some sort of perspective on good taste. Right? Let’s say, if you get a new pair of earrings and you don’t get the response from whomever, right?
“Oh, my God, I love it.” It’s different than, “Oh, those are nice.” And so understanding that you need the decibels to go high that if the furniture delivery is going to leave the home and there’s going to be a knock at the door with the neighbors, the girlfriends, the sisters, the mom, whatever, with a glass of wine, they’re there to judge.
They want to make sure that home is perfectly done after the truck leaves, because if there’s still work to be done, then you failed. Right? So I got my guys to really start understanding that this is not just a transaction. This is a life changing event for a lot of people.
How Jonathan believes indepedent retailers have an advantage over the big corporate chains
Jonathan Schulman: And so let’s treat it like that. We did really well. There was a little furniture company called Ashley Furniture. They started making a big noise around there. They’re all over the world now. And so my partners and I opened up the first Orange County stores. And that changed everything, right?
So I went from a very independent mom and poppy type of store where, honestly, I think I maybe took 6 days off between, when I was 24 and 26. I would take Thanksgiving, Christmas, and maybe a birthday here or there or something like that. It was just, it was a lifestyle. It’s a constant.
And furniture never stops. Retail never stops. It’s like the mail. It just keeps on coming. It keeps on coming and if you don’t deal with it as it comes, you lose your footing and you lose your priority. And so you gotta keep that momentum going, working smart and working with a mission and an understanding that there’s a goal is key because it’s easy to forget about.
That turned into Ashley. So going from 10 salespeople, to 45 and 160 employees and seven trucks on the road, receiving five trucks every day and it just changes all of your perspectives on everything. And what it really taught me is that the people who have independent retail stores that are in it every single day, dealing with everything: customers, suppliers, accountants, lawyers, the city. All that stuff has a much more unique grasp on what they know they need to do to have a successful business.
Over where I wound up finding myself, which is we’ve got a bottom line to protect. And so the policies that we put in place in advance of that. Not so much, let’s do the right thing for the customers because it’s really easy to look at a spreadsheet and go, “These darn customers are taking advantage of us.”
And so as a guy who was doing the front of the house stuff, I did all the merchandising, all the marketing, all the sales, like a three-legged stool of, “Okay, for the front of the house, this is the most important part for me.” But my other partner who did the logistics and the deliveries and dealing with delivery drivers and truck drivers coming in and all that other stuff.
He had a perspective. And then our other partner who is more accounting minded, he had a perspective. And so how do you argue your point when you’ve got partners in the business that are going in different directions and their days are so different? We’re all working really hard. But how do you get your point where, you know, because you’re customer-facing all the time with the good, the bad and the ugly, what needs to happen?
And what are the things and non-tangibles that you really need to pay attention to, to grow your business that you can’t explain away with accountancy, right? And that’s why I think the independent thing has got such an advantage over the big guys,
Crystal Vilkaitis: I agree. And I can see where you’ve gotten right into the customer experience world through everything, through the evolution really of your career within furniture.
Jonathan Schulman: You’re forced into it. Well, not really. There’s plenty of stores that just open up the door and this is what they do for a living. And maybe they wound up inheriting it from somebody, or all due respect to the dude that runs the UPS store down the hill for me, I don’t know how passionate he is about shipping and boxes.
And it’s a job and that’s his business and that’s great. But if you’ve got a scuba store, or if you’ve got a nursery, or if you’ve got a pet shop, and if you’re not passionate. Everybody that owns a dive shop is a diver, right?
And so sometimes those dive guys look at their businesses. “Oh, this is what I do. I’m a diver.” Or are you a business owner that has dive stuff in it? And trying to merge those two things together is always an interesting one.
Crystal Vilkaitis: It’s good. And I know that we’ll talk about some of that in this episode. I love that you brought up dive shops because I’m actually speaking to dive shops in two weeks.
Jonathan Schulman: Oh, really? Nice.
Two examples of businesses that Jonathan has seen give really great customer experiences
Crystal Vilkaitis: It’s a new industry for us, so that’ll be fun, but will you give me a couple of examples? I love hearing about businesses that are doing cool things and love hearing about those examples.
So do you have a couple that you’ve seen have really great customer experiences that you’ve seen over the past year?
Jonathan Schulman: Yeah, big and small. Went out for my birthday a bunch of years ago to a decent restaurant. A decent steak place somewhere along the lines of a Ruth’s Chris or Morton’s or something like that. But they’re local here. Actually, no, they’ve grown a bit, but whatever.
I won’t say the name of the restaurant, but 3 days later, I got a call from the waiter. And he goes, “Hey, just want to let you know I, it was great having you in my area and great working with you guys.” And it’s not like we over tipped the guy. It was a standard 20 percent and it was a pretty decent bill, but it definitely didn’t set ourselves apart.
But he said, “Hey, if you ever have an opportunity, where you are going to celebrate a special occasion. If you’re going to have a business dinner that you need this level of dining, please keep my number. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to make sure you get the time slot you need or what have you. Give me a call. I’m your guy.”
Cool, this is my guy. And so we don’t go to Morton’s, we don’t go to Ruth’s Chris, we don’t go to Fleming’s. We go to this place and we call him. And he gets us our table, and he knows what we like to drink, and he’ll drop a free appetizer and a free dessert. And when we go with friends, they’re blown away.
It’s like my own little supper club. Obviously, we all go out to dinner all the time, right? Has any waiter ever called you like that? This dude makes a fortune because everybody in this area, he’s done the same thing with. And this guy’s tips are double or triple because of the service, because of the experience they get right?
Things like that just happen all the time. I went and took my kids to Disneyland, right? That’s an obvious one. We live in Southern California. And so we had the pass and we used to go all the time. And they just opened up the Cars ride out there, and that was a big thing for us. So the line was just ridiculous, right?
It was all the way around the block, and they’ve got these Fast Passes there. They stop the regular line and let the Fast Pass people come through. And at the time, I think my daughters were like 8 and 10. And one of them had to go to the bathroom. I was like, “Can you hold it?” “Sure. I can hold it.”
But then 20 minutes later she’s like, “Dad, I got to go to the bathroom.” This is brutal. And they’re still just letting all these FastPass people go. And the rest of us that have been waiting like morons are stuck. So I could, if it were me, fine. But I go into dad mode. And I go over to the girls that are working the station that are letting these people go.
I’m like, my kid needs to pee. We’ve been sitting here. I know you’re doing your job, but how much longer do you think this is going to be? And they look at my daughter and go, “Oh, I’ll tell you what, there’s a bathroom over there. Why doesn’t your mom take you and then come back? And then when you guys come back, we’ll let you guys on.”
So not only did that happen, but they also gave us Fast Passes for the rest of the day. So we could go on every other ride that we wanted to, and we didn’t have to wait in any line and now you can check in and pre-reserve your spot, but these were the golden tickets, right?
And so you never really forget that. We had passes all the time, but having that experience at these places is life changing. And it does happen a lot. I got these vitamins for my daughter and my daughter didn’t like them. It was like a subscription thing.
And I said, “Hey, they’re not so great.” They were awesome. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry. Tell you what, if you don’t like the teen ones, let me just send you one for the men’s formula with our compliments and we’ll cancel your subscription and maybe just give those to a friend. And that just happened this week. Happens all the time.
At the end of the day, it’s about caring, right?
Crystal Vilkaitis: Totally.
Jonathan Schulman: That’s my perspective on that.
Crystal Vilkaitis: That’s so true. And I just want to echo your restaurant example. Because just this summer, we were in Nashville and we were at this restaurant where anytime I got up to go to the bathroom, a male working in the area, whether it was our server or not, would escort me. Put his arm out and walk me to the bathroom, which I was blown away.
I’ve never had that happen before. It wasn’t just me. They were doing that for all the ladies. It wasn’t just me. But then when we were done. Our server, he was like, “Are you guys visiting? What are you doing next?” He’s like, “Hey, give me two minutes.”
He wraps up a couple of things at tables. He walks us out around the block and takes us down this alley called Printer’s Alley and is showing us a few different bars and where there’s karaoke and just not rushing, spending his time with us, telling us what to do.
“Also, check this out.” And we were so blown away by that level of service. We go and tell everybody about it so it’s all about the experience. And this is where I agree with my past guests that we have to have experiences to stay relevant, stay in business and get people talking about us.
How can independent retailers cost-effectively improve the customer experience in their physical storefronts?
Crystal Vilkaitis: So Jonathan, what are some low cost, high impact customer experience improvements that independent retailers with physical storefronts can implement?
Jonathan Schulman: I think I alluded to it in the beginning. This isn’t rocket science, it’s caring. It doesn’t cost you anything. You see all these memes. It doesn’t cost you anything to show up on time. It doesn’t cost you anything to try hard. Marketing and being a guy that spent ungodly amounts of money on marketing to get customers in, only to stay up all night, wondering how many I’m churning.
I live in the neighborhood that my stores are in. And my greatest fear was being in line at the supermarket with my stuff and somebody saying bad things about the experience they had at my store. We were selling a lot of furniture.
So chances are, after a couple of years, I was probably in the same building as some people that bought stuff from us.
Crystal Vilkaitis: For sure.
Jonathan Schulman: You know, And God, you work so hard, right? It’s such a big part of your life. You make so many sacrifices for your business. You pour everything into it and to see something not turn out the way you had hoped, through no fault of your own. Obviously, everything that happens in your building, sadly, is your fault.
If the anchor falls off the Navy ship, it’s the admiral that gets fired also. And he had nothing to do with it, but still it’s your responsibility. If you care, then you take it to heart and you do things and you do look for these openings of where you can really wow people.
There was a sales guy named Joe Girardi who was a famous car salesman. And after he was done. And he set the record, I think his record was like 18 cars in a day, no fleet. Just regular, I know just grabbing up and turning customers. And at the end, he would famously say, “I hope something goes wrong with this car because up until now, this was just a transaction, but if something goes wrong and you need me. You will be blown away at how well you’re treated.”
And is it a little arrogant to say that? Maybe, but if you can go into these things with the sort of subtle approach that we’re not going to sabotage you, but we are going to make sure that if you do have a problem, we are going to do everything in our power to close the loop with you. So that not only are you satisfied, but you’ve then become just a freak about what it is that we do. And how well you were treated.
And I went to a restaurant once. Me and a buddy in Vegas at Vegas Furniture Market where we met and we’re looking through the wine. He’s kind of a wine guy. I’m kind of a wine guy. We’ve been friends for a long time and the waiter says, “Hey, you guys seem like you’re into this.”
” Yeah, the whole reason we’re here is this wine list.” He goes, “You want to see the wine cellar?” Are you kidding? Absolutely, so the waiter grabs us from the table. Sommelier ushers us down to this little cave that they’ve got. And there’s all these wines and we’re looking at this thing.
And my friend and I are almost in tears, right? Looking at these wine bottles that you’ve only read about or heard about. You’ve never really seen but the $250 bottle of wine, I think turned into $600.
Crystal Vilkaitis: Exactly.
Jonathan Schulman: And I tell that story all the time too. Yeah, that experience of getting picked up from the table, being ushered to the restroom or being shown something that you might not have seen. Having a bartender show you, ” Oh, wow, we’ve got this really interesting bottle, And I noticed that you’re drinking this. Have you ever tried that?
Having an interaction, sprinkling a little bit of pixie dust on the interaction so that it’s not a transaction. So that it’s not just driving through Starbucks or McDonald’s. You’re going to get a quarter pounder with cheese and what it’s going to taste like, even though I haven’t had one in decades, I’m pretty sure that if I do go and get another one, it’s going to taste pretty much the same.
Good on them for low variation, but
Crystal Vilkaitis: I know.
Jonathan Schulman: I want a little list if I’m going to put my shoes on and turn the key on my car and spend $6.50 gas, which is what it is right now here. I want something for that, and I want to feel good about that. I’ll give you another one.
When my second daughter was born, we already had a car seat. Needed another car seat, went to the baby store. They had this wall of car seats, right? And this is where retail is so much better than being online that a guy comes up and goes in a very low performance way, “Can I help you?”
I’m like, yeah. ” What’s the difference between the $29 car seat and the $399 car seat?” And it was probably one of the greatest closes I’ve ever heard. He goes, “Well, it really depends on how much you want your kid to survive a car crash.”
Crystal Vilkaitis: Ooo.
Jonathan Schulman: Right, Amazon wouldn’t have said that.
Crystal Vilkaitis: Never.
Jonathan Schulman: Never. So had I just been in it for the transaction, I would have looked. I don’t want to get the cheapest car seat, but I don’t know if I really need the most expensive one. Because I don’t know the difference. I needed somebody to tell me this one is way safer. And even going to get milk at a grocery store.
Why would you not get the more expensive milk? “Well, I can just get this milk. It’s $3.99 a gallon. This one’s $14.99 a gallon or whatever it is. I don’t want that. I want this.” Maybe you do want that. And if there was somebody there to tell you how it’s got no GMOs and how there’s no antibiotics and how farm fresh it is.
And, ” This cow is named Bessie and this one’s Lucy.” And, ” This is what they eat. And this is why there’s so many more vitamins and the fatness,” or whatever it is. It goes along with everything. You never hear of somebody, back in restaurants, arguing about the chicken. They always talk up the surf and turf, the truffle encrusted, whatever. Because those are the buzzwords.
Crystal Vilkaitis: “Wagyu flown in from Japan.”
Jonathan Schulman: Totally. “Has been massaged with sake,” right? A hundred-year-old sake that the samurai distilled back in the old days, right? Everything’s got a story to it. And that adds value.
Crystal Vilkaitis: These are really great tips that are free to implement these things. To recap because you said so much here. One is caring, and ultimately, your customer is going to feel. That they can tell when you really do care.
There’s also this element, when you were talking about the car salesman and his confidence with, “I hope that it does break down so you can see the level of service when you come back.” It’s confident in your process. It’s confident in how you take care of your customers. It’s confidence in your team and just the way that you do business.
And so, it’s so important for our retailers to have a very clear process and system and how we handle things that do break, or returns, or complaints. And the whole team is on board with that kind of system and confidence. And also, the storytelling and the benefits, right? I will tell this story; I don’t think I’ve ever told it on Rooted in Retail.
But I’ve said it a lot over my retail years. I have a friend; her name is Julie. And she works in retail stores in the San Diego area. And she’ll sell like several thousand dollars on one table. But when you walk in, Julie’s like, “Oh my gosh, isn’t this table stunning?”
“Do you have a couple of minutes so I can tell you about the artist? This was handmade in Bali,” and she will just go into this hole where you are one with this table. You are like, “I cannot leave without owning this table. I need to tell this story in my home.” When people come in and sit at this table, it’s all about the story and benefits.
Jonathan Schulman: I’m a rep now. I’m a manufacturer’s rep. I go to stores and train on product. And my parents gave me a whole box of pictures not long ago, just my old baby pictures and growing up pictures. They’re trying to offload some things and it was fun.
We were going through there and I saw a picture of me. My grandparents used to live in New York. Thanksgiving, I must have been 7 or 8, right? Sitting at their table. Thanksgiving, I remember the table. You could see like the old bar cart behind him with the big bucket glasses they had and the decanter of booze and the Thanksgiving dinner.
And I’m 53 and I could start to smell what Thanksgiving smelled like in my grandmother’s house and the plates that she had and the napkins that she had. And it was all so real. Somebody sold my grandmother this table, somebody sold her the placemats and, back then, flatware and China and all that. It was a big deal, right?
It was a big decision. It said a lot about who you were, and your taste, and how you regarded hospitality. Which is a generation thing from many years ago and back from the old country. But somebody had that effect, right? And so, when you fast forward to now, are we selling heirloom furniture as much?
No, but still these memories are going to happen around watching the super bowl on the sofa that you get, or graduation dinners and Christmas dinners or what have you on the dining room table that you’re getting. Or all this stuff, it sort of intertwines in this kind of feeling of, it’s a little hokey, sentimental, but it is also real.
And it’s true of anything. I dive also and some of our best memories, vacations with the family are diving. And so, had we not gotten certified, had we not gone through this? I remember my dive instructor, right? She was a little bit nuts, but she was a blast, and she really delivered a great experience getting certified for diving to open up the door for these great family memories that we have.
And so if you’re just thinking, okay, we’re going to put you through the PADI course, and we’re going to get you certified, you’re missing out. Not only are you missing out on the ROI of having them buy all their dive stuff from you and being their dive person, and maybe book their dive trips through you, but also just as a human being, right?
Adding value as a person, right? Allowing yourself to be grateful for the opportunity that somebody came to your door, And for a reason. Which opens up a whole ‘nother ball of wax of why? Why do they do that? And why are you over the next guy? But yeah, it transcends every industry.
Crystal Vilkaitis: It does, and it makes me think about how it’s so critical that we know our customers, we know what they want. We know their desired outcomes. We know their pain point.
This really is marketing 101, but in order to know those things. We can speak to those things. And if family is a really big deal to them and they love football Sundays, to your point of gathering around on the sofa and enjoying and entertaining, then we got to be talking about those desired outcomes in-store, and in our social media, and really connecting.
How physical storefronts can bridge the gap between online and offline customer experiences
Crystal Vilkaitis: And so we just have to know our customers. I want to switch gears a little bit. So many people, so many retailers are selling online now, but they also have their physical storefront, and there’s a lot of talk of the omnichannel. Just really selling wherever your customers are showing up. So how can physical storefronts bridge the gap between online and offline customer experiences?
Jonathan Schulman: Well, some will say that it’s all one in the same, right? You need to offer that same experience online as you do in person, but how? How can you do that unless you take these chat functions and actually make it a FaceTime function where you can n interact. And I don’t see anybody really doing that. I’m affiliated with the company and they’ll do things where they’ll let customers leave video reviews on their site instead of just a survey review.
And it’s interesting, the feeling that you get from listening to somebody talk versus reading the words that they say. And the intonations and the inflections and things like that. I’m a firm believer that sometimes I don’t want to go to a store because I just don’t want to deal with it.
And if that’s the nature of the business that you have, shame on you. You should inspire people to want to come and experience your store for a variety of reasons. My industry, furniture, they just had a webinar from the owner of that same Ashley Furniture. And he said, look, if you can’t charge your customers admission to come and experience your store, then you need to go back and rethink what it is that you’re doing.
Costco kind of does it, right? It’s a membership. And there are plenty of reasons why people continue to shop at Costco. And that’s a little tongue in cheek too. And maybe even a little flippant, obviously it’s a furniture store. You’re not going to charge admission to it.
But take the overall feeling of that and go, why would people want to come and visit you and experience you? And why would the kids be excited? To come to your store versus, “Ugh, we got to go furniture shopping,” right? I got dragged to the mall by my mom when I was a kid. It was the last thing I wanted to do.
And especially now kids have so many other things going on and things firing at them to get them to want to spend time and to go with you someplace. And there’s something in it for them, that’s huge. And I just don’t see that. Like Wayfair. And guys like that, they sell things because I think it’s a failure of retail.
I think it’s a failure of retail that they haven’t done enough to make themselves more desirable. And a lot of it is because none of this stuff shows up on any P& L. You can’t measure customer satisfaction on a profit and loss statement and figure out the ROI to that.
You can’t measure customer experience, right? You can feel it, right? If you’re engaged at all, and you have a heartbeat and eyes that work, you can sense it. Just so much as giving kids candy or popsicles or something during the summer or something like that. Or they’ve got games for the kids to play something that says, “Oh yeah, this is cool. We want to come and do this.”
But the CFO is going to say, “Why are we spending so much money on popsicles? Right? Why do we need popsicles in the store? Or why do we need these games in the store? Why are we spending so much money on this or that?” Because these are the things that differentiate you.
These are the things that make the kids want to come and stick around. When the kid wants to stay and the mom’s saying, or the dad’s saying, “Hey, it’s time to go.” Well you got something there.
Crystal Vilkaitis: I think this is such a cool perspective and I couldn’t agree with you more. I think it’s refreshing, actually. Because I feel like you hear a lot of people say, “You need to sell online. You need to be online. You need to sell online.” And before COVID, my whole thing was well, are you doing enough in your store today?
Because when you go and sell online, that’s like you’re opening another location. There’s a lot of work into that. There’s an investment in that. You still have to market it to drive traffic. Just because you have an ecomm site now doesn’t mean that you have all these sales.
You still have to market it and so it goes back to that. And even with COVID, I think, a lot of people’s stores were closed. We had to get creative, but we’re going back into stores. Shopping is back. Everything feels back to normal. Are you doing enough in your physical store to retain and have people talk about it? And talk about the experience and stay longer and want to go in with the kids?
It totally makes me think of there’s a retail store here, more of a big box, but Scheels. I went to one of those for the first time recently, and there’s a Ferris wheel inside, and there’s an arcade, and we’re going through all these pockets of fun throughout the store. And I’m like, “Oh my gosh, how long have we been here?”
It’s been over an hour. I think that’s a really refreshing approach and thought process for anybody who has a physical storefront. I would really encourage listeners to think about what you could do locally, with your store, with your customer service, because you miss out on so much online.
Jonathan Schulman: Here’s really what it comes down to is culture. Which is a tough word, right? It’s tough to drive in a culture. It’s tough to change a culture. You got to lead by example and you’ve got to lead from the front, right? You’ve got to model it. Like being a parent, right?
But you need to be able to understand that at the end of the day, there is an ROI for this stuff, right? That we are looking at the fact that if I run out of money, there’s no rent to be paid. You’ve got to be smart about it also, but understanding that it’s got to be part of the culture and what it is that we do here is critical.
What is Jonathan’s perspective on the future of customer experience in physical retail spaces?
Crystal Vilkaitis: I completely agree. Jonathan, how do you see the future of customer experience evolving for physical retail spaces?
Jonathan Schulman: If you wanting is a close cousin to whining, right? Everybody wants to be the best, right? In most industries, you’re like, “Oh, we’ve got the best service, the best selection.” They kid themselves into thinking this is a mantra that they’ve got as they live under a banner that says “sale today only,” and it’s been up for four years and you just can’t see the forest through the trees anymore.
Having that discipline to understand, seeing things through your customers. Point of view and from their perspective is key. I think if you care about it, you will do a good job. And I think going back to my independent retail days and fighting the big guys, right? Kind of the David and Goliath story. You have such an advantage because you are the chief bottle washer of this business. The chief bottle washer at the big box store at the T. J. Maxx and more, right? That’s selling pillows and figurines and tchotchkes and baubles and whatnots. It’s filled with a bunch of people that are there punching a clock to do their job to unload trucks to, to sell what somebody else told them that they needed to sell what those people bought.
And so their engagement, their buy in is not nearly what yours is, right? If you’ve got a small independent store, and it’s you and a couple of people that are your team. And you spend all this time together and you’re doing things collectively, right? You’re working towards your goal in an area that you’ve got passion for. That you believe in with all your heart and soul. Then you’re going to look at customers differently, right? Every customer has to count to you because this is your business and it’s what you’ve decided to do with your life. You might not be curing cancer, right?
You might not be solving the world’s problems, but you are within the four walls that you’ve got working that business to the best of your ability with love and passion. And if you can love your customers and you can love the people that work for you and they can feel it, you can’t not win, right?
Even if you are more expensive and you ought to be more expensive. Because, the guy who’s working at the big box store, he just can’t wait till Friday. There is no love lost over there, but there is for you. And so I think that is a massive advantage when you’ve got a reason, when you’ve got a why.
Crystal Vilkaitis: I love it. Well said, it makes it so meaningful. And this is what I love about small business. The ripples and within the community and it’s beautiful. Okay. Jonathan, are you ready for the resilience round?
Jonathan’s resilience round
Jonathan Schulman: You said it.
Best business book
Crystal Vilkaitis: All right. Best business book.
Jonathan Schulman: Theory of Constraints. You ever read it?
Crystal Vilkaitis: No.
Jonathan Schulman: Oh, Eliyahu Goldratt. Read it. Write that down.
Crystal Vilkaitis: Okay.
Jonathan Schulman: So the good thing, yeah, it’s just about subordinating to the biggest problems, right? And how to figure out what those are. And that’s true of every business.
Crystal Vilkaitis: Awesome. Okay. I cannot wait to read that.
Best retail technology
Crystal Vilkaitis: Best retail technology, like software or app.
Jonathan Schulman: So the thing I came in touch with was Medallia and their customer experience cloud and understanding that promoter scores and understanding how to close a loop. So it’s definitely Medallia. Okay.
Crystal Vilkaitis: Awesome, we will link to that as well, which is your company. And I’ll have you do a little plug for that here soon, too.
How do you keep up with the ever changing retail landscape?
Crystal Vilkaitis: How do you keep up with the ever changing retail landscape?
Jonathan Schulman: It’s funny. I don’t think it really changes all that much at its core. We’re people selling people. And so keeping your eye on the ball is the best way to do it. You get caught up on the latest fads. A man who chases many chickens catches none. And so stay focused.
What’s a foundational best practice?
Crystal Vilkaitis: So good. To help retailers be stronger, more rooted in success. What’s a customer experience, foundational best practice.
Jonathan Schulman: Understand what it is that they’re coming to you for. Give them the experience that they know that they want. Give them one that they can brag about. You’ll be great.
What’s one thing Jonathan would do differently if he had to start his business over again?
Crystal Vilkaitis: If you had to start your business all over again, what’s the one thing you would do differently?
Jonathan Schulman: I would make sure that customer experience and not the widgets are the most important thing. There are many sofas. There are many dining tables that will work for you, but there aren’t that many salespeople that will. And so, people are looking for somebody that they trust. Not so much the thing that you have.
Crystal Vilkaitis: Mm hmm. What does the future of independent retail look like?
Jonathan Schulman: Like I said, I think it’s great. The advantage is massive, but don’t forget that. Because the grass is always greener. Sometimes you have the advantage. So, use that.
Crystal Vilkaitis: Love it. Jonathan, where can people learn more about you and what you do?
Jonathan Schulman: LinkedIn Jonathan Schulman. I’m there a lot. My company is ceXperentia. We’re the retail partner for a Medallia for the under enterprise. Yeah, we do fitness, we do furniture, we’re doing a whole bunch of stuff. But a lot of it is about the training. I’m a passionate guy about customer experience.
As you can tell, I think it’s a big difference maker. And if you can’t measure it and it’s in your mission statement, then it’s just a bunch of hot air. So take the things that are important to you and understand how well you’re doing with those things. We can help you.
Crystal Vilkaitis: Beautiful. And we’ll link to all of this as well. Jonathan, thank you so much for sharing your insight, knowledge, your time. Yeah, this was so good.
Jonathan Schulman: Cool, I had fun.
Crystal Vilkaitis: Awesome. All right. Everybody remember that I am rooting for your success. Have a great week ahead. Bye.
Thank you so much for being here. It means the world to me. Don’t forget to join the Rise and Shine newsletter, which is social media news you need to know, sent via email every Monday morning, go to crystalmediaco.com/rise to join. And don’t miss the newest episode of Rooted in Retail, which drops every Sunday morning.