When it comes to kitchen cabinets, it’s not merely about aesthetics these days. Nor is it simply about functionality, price – or even product quality.
Sure, aesthetic considerations such as a cabinet’s style, color and finish matter immensely to both consumers and the trade.
Just as clearly, cabinet features, quality and operational performance are critical factors when it comes to customer satisfaction.
But consumers are obviously looking for a lot more in the kitchen cabinets they purchase. So are home builders, remodelers and kitchen/bath design professionals.
And, interestingly, what they're truly looking for in cabinetry isn’t always what they're getting.
Precisely what consumers and industry pros are seeking in cabinetry is revealed in a pair of compelling, newly released studies conducted by J.D. Power and Associates, the well-known research firm most closely associated with consumer satisfaction studies in the automotive and airline industries (see related story, Industry Update).
Take, for instance, the inaugural J.D. Power and Associates “2007 Cabinet Satisfaction Study,” conducted this spring among nearly 850 consumers who purchased cabinetry in the past 12 months.
The survey discovered that while aesthetics and functionality are likely to attract consumers in the initial phase of shopping, the key drivers of consumer satisfaction are ultimately ease of ordering and timely, accurate deliveries. Other considerations, including price, rank far lower in importance.
Striking parallels can be found in the J.D. Power and Associates/McGraw-Hill Construction “2007 Builder and Remodeler Cabinet Satisfaction Study,” based on more than 1,400 responses from home builders and remodelers who ordered and purchased cabinets within the past 12 months.
That study revealed that builder/remodeler satisfaction is based primarily on cabinet manufacturer performance in warranty and replacement service, as well as in timeliness of delivery, order accuracy and billing. By comparison, attributes such as cabinet features and price were not as critical.
The J.D. Power and Associates’ studies contain important cues for cabinet manufacturers – and, by extension, for kitchen/bath dealers and designers sifting through the competitive, cluttered cabinet landscape in search of the right product lines.
As J.D. Power and Associates’ official Jim Howland observes, the competitive nature of the cabinet industry means that providing increasing differentiation is critical for manufacturers to maintain and increase market share.
However, when it comes to creating customer satisfaction – and building loyalty – the focus of manufacturers needs to rely on more than simply adding the proverbial “bells and whistles” to cabinet lines.
In particular, the focus needs to be on providing accurate, on-time deliveries that reduce costly and frustrating delays on the job site – in other words, by assuring key customer-service attributes are even higher on the list of customer priorities than merely product features and innovations.
The J.D. Power and Associates’ studies, while ground breaking in one sense, underline a mentality that the most successful cabinet manufacturers have operated with for years. And that is that customer satisfaction rides primarily on the wings of superior service and support.
Cabinet manufacturers and kitchen designers should go to school on the two J.D. Power studies.
Customer service is the singular quality that will ultimately set cabinet companies apart, and drive success in this industry.
Manufacturers should more aggressively promote their ability to deliver service-related attributes to both consumers and the trade. Design professionals, similarly, should seek out those suppliers that deliver in the area of customer service if they want to score points with the homeowners they serve, and the allied professionals they work most closely with.