gotta-have

gadgets

by Shelley Urban




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

feature story
 

 

High-tech gear promises to make flower-buying easier, more convenient and even fun for your customers

Are you the kind of person who craves great gadgets and high-tech toys? Or do you prefer the comfort level of using products and methods you already know? Most of us can appreciate the desire to stay with what’s comfortable, but with the wealth of new technology products on the market today that can seriously change, for the better, the way we do business, we hope you also can see the need to stretch a bit and try something new.

 

“There are too many other companies willing to take your business, and you need technology to stay ahead and build new customers,” assures Jim Dion, president of Dionco, Inc., a consulting firm in Chicago that is committed to helping retailers improve their services. Dionco works primarily with specialty retailers of all sizes, counting companies such as Cabela’s, Harley-Davidson and Williams-Sonoma among its lengthy list of clientele.

 

Using some of these modern-day tools, you can better serve current customers as well as attract the next generation of consumers, who are important to keeping your business vital. “Florists must find a way to attract the 22-year-old who has never sent flowers because this customer will become a tremendous asset,” reminds Mr. Dion.

 

These high-tech innovations also can make your job easier and help you get your work done faster, and some even can offer insights into your business to help you develop new and better marketing and customer-service strategies.

 

 

 

futuristic phone systems

For the vast majority of flower buyers, contact by phone provides the first impression that most will receive of your shop. Obviously, you want these experiences to be positive, and many tools on the market help ensure that your customers’ and potential customers’ needs are quickly and easily met.

 

One of the most common telephone technologies is the wireless telephone system. Although wireless phones have been around for years, the newest versions allow much greater room to roam, which means you and your staff are no longer tethered to a counter, design bench or desk.

“Our wireless phones allow us to move all around our showroom and even outside,” reports Seleese Thompson, owner of Precious Memories in Temple, Texas. (Ms. Thompson was our 2007 “Retail Florist of the Year”; see June 2007 for more information.) “Each phone can be as far as 300 feet from its base,” she notes.

 

In addition, headsets allow customer-service staff to converse on the phone while pulling merchandise as requested to assemble a product, such as one of Precious Memories’ signature gift baskets. “We can even walk into the cooler to check for particular types and colors of flowers,” says Ms. Thompson.

 

Precious Memories’ system was purchased in 2006 as a package, including NEC telephone hardware and PC-based software. Called Ultra CallAnalyst, it is a call-accounting system that tracks both incoming and outgoing calls and provides detailed analyses of the data. Ms. Thompson says that she appreciates the many details she can sort and extract. “I can analyze the number of calls per hour, day or week, and that gives me great insight into when customers begin calling for each holiday and helps me staff accordingly each year,” she explains.

 

Another feature Ms. Thompson loves is caller ID, the data from which is saved for future reference. “If we ever have a problem with a phone number, we can always get into the system and find the right number.”

 

Although the caller ID features are not currently integrated with Precious Memories’ newly acquired FTD® Mercury™ point-of-sale (POS) system, Ms. Thompson says an upgrade to the POS in 2008 will allow customer records to be linked to their phone numbers. So when calls come in, detailed customer histories will automatically pop up. (Read more about this feature in the section on POS systems, Page 72.)

Call-accounting software offers a multitude of other features, but from a sales standpoint, one that seems especially useful is tracking the length of each call. This information can be used to determine productivity by employee, day, holiday, etc. And from a marketing standpoint, calls can be sorted by area codes, which provides insight into geographic appeal.

 

A similar telephone system provided by Alternate Access, based in Raleigh, N.C., is also sold as a package and includes an application specifically for florists called FloralProfitCenter (FPC). This system gathers data from all store locations and can track numbers of calls, lengths of calls, etc., so a wide variety of call analyses can be performed. FloralProfitCenter also can record calls. Using this function, designers can hear customers’ exact instructions, if needed, and recordings can be used for training purposes as well.

 

Adrienne Lumpkin, the company’s co-founder, explains that FPC requires the TeleVantage phone system, which runs on a Windows-based server. Currently, FPC integrates with several POS systems, and its caller ID feature automatically pulls up customer records, so a complete history is readily available.

 

“Analyzing calls can tell retailers a lot,” agrees Mr. Dion. “Knowing call volume is important, and retailers can also learn about customer service, such as how long callers are left on hold,” he points out. “What gets measured gets changed, so retailers can set standards [and measure if they’re achieved].”

 

 

the text generation

 

Most Americans carry some type of mobile phone device, and huge numbers of owners are using their phones for many purposes other than phone calls. One of the most common uses is text messaging, which, among young consumers, is the preferred form of wireless communication. (E-mail is considered old technology by this group!) For floral retailers, a multitude of uses for this widely available technology exist.

 

“Many flower purchases are last minute,” notes Mr. Dion. “Allowing cell phone users to quickly text in orders would make ordering easier for last-minute and impulse buyers.” 

 

In addition, florists can use text messaging to contact customers, including texting delivery confirmations and, if customers are interested, sending reminders for purchase occasions. And since many of today’s mobile phones are equipped with cameras, it’s possible to photograph deliveries and send the images as multi-media text messages. Most wireless providers offer low-cost text-message plans. Contact your wireless phone company for information.

 

 

e-mailing some fun

 

While younger consumers may value texted communications, electronic customer contacts are most likely easier and more efficient via e-mail. As you’ll read later, some POS systems can generate many types of e-mails automatically, but if your POS isn’t among these, creating your own e-mails can still be a timesaver. And these messages also can instill confidence among consumers and create fun!

 

“Consumers love information, so messages, whether text or e-mail, can be valuable,” says Mr. Dion. He recommends delivery confirmation sent via e-mail. These can be basic form letters with a little customization for each buyer. Some time will be required to create the basic letter and to customize and send each one, but in the long run, these efforts will pay off.

 

First, delivery confirmation e-mails will eliminate customers’ phone calls to check delivery status. They’ll also help customers rest assured that now, and in the future, your shop can be counted on.

In addition, using a few basic tools, your e-mails can go multimedia, which, undoubtedly, will impress your customers. Since most mobile phones are equipped with cameras, Mr. Dion suggests that delivery drivers snap quick pictures of recipients with their floral deliveries. Drivers can upload these images to the shop, where e-mails can be created and sent to buyers. “That contributes to the fun of flower buying,” points out Mr. Dion. “Wouldn’t it be great to get an e-mail where you could see the smiling face of someone to whom you had just sent flowers?”

 

And with a relatively inexpensive digital camera, sales staff could snap pictures and e-mail them to customers wishing to place orders over the phone so customers know exactly what they’re paying for. This would be most useful with cash-and-carry arrangements or menu items rather than custom designs because the latter could lead to constant revisions. At least one POS option, FloristWare, offers instant e-mailing of images during the ordering process.

 

“People want to see what they’re ordering,” says Mr. Dion, so an e-mail image can help sell a product and ensure that buyers are pleased with their purchases. “Seeing the item beforehand would definitely cut down on complaints,” he adds.

 

 

powerful pos systems

 

From basic ticket processing to detailed routing and mapping with Global Positioning System (GPS) interfacing, the latest point-of-sale systems make the sales, delivery and “back office” aspects of the floral business easy to navigate. Check out some of the great features now available from various suppliers, including those mentioned before as well as others (this list is not comprehensive). Check with your favorite suppliers to ask about availability of these features and pricing.

 

Customized Fields    “Florists should look for systems that allow them to save and retrieve all kinds of customer data and that enable them to add custom fields, like kids’ birthdays, as needed,” relates Mr. Dion. Such customization is not available with every system, so if you prefer flexibility, ask suppliers specifically about this option.

 

Caller ID   “Interfacing with caller ID is equally important. The ability to access customer history while on the phone with the customer is a powerful tool that every retailer should have. It gives the impression of personal service; I call it ‘back to the future,’ because it enables retailers to know and serve their customers as they would have 80 years ago,” Mr. Dion explains of this technology.

“Our staff love the immediate access to customer information,” says Rick Interian, president and owner of Avant-Gardens in Miami, Fla., whose POS system from MAS™ (McShan Abner Systems), available from BloomNet, Inc., links incoming calls with customer data and even cross-references phone numbers of recipients, so if a recipient is already in Avant-Gardens’ database, his or her information will pop up as well. “We also appreciate that customer ranking is part of the information that’s retrieved,” Mr. Interian explains. “When they call in, we automatically know our best customers.”

 

Caller ID functions are not currently available in all POS applications, but some suppliers are working to develop interfaces with phone systems. However, as Mary Ann Stewart of FloristWare points out, there could be potential problems with linking phone numbers to particular accounts.

“We made a deliberate decision to avoid instant access to customer data through caller ID because privacy is a concern,” she says. “For example, if a wife calls the florist from the home, and the husband had used that phone to order flowers, the florist could accidentally share sensitive information with the wife from the husband’s file linked to that phone number,” she explains. If customers offer their phone numbers during the ordering process, their files easily can be retrieved.

 

Easy E-mailing   Other useful customer data that most POS applications capture are e-mail addresses, and many systems will automatically generate e-mail messages—for electronic receipts, delivery confirmation, e-mail marketing and much more. John Higginson, vice president of software development for FTD Group, Inc., reports that the Mercury system is capable of automatic e-mailing. BloomNet’s MAS partner and other systems also have such capabilities. Some POS systems also have features built in to generate quality e-mail marketing campaigns.

“Through our partnership with Constant Contact, Inc., florists can run sophisticated marketing campaigns using their e-mail lists,” Mr. Higginson shares. “Constant Contact provides professionally created templates, or florists can create their own.” Constant Contact also manages opt-out lists and filters so customers who decline to receive such mailings are not included.

 

Delivery Helpers   Many POS systems include delivery sorting, routing and mapping, and some interface with GPS units to provide turn-by-turn directions for drivers. Mr. Interian adds that his system also provides address verification, to ensure that every address is a good one.

 

Gift Cards and Incentives   Another much-appreciated feature is gift cards, which Mr. Interian says can be purchased using his MAS system in any denomination and can be swiped just like they’re processed at any major retailer. “Gift cards are huge,” he relates enthusiastically, “and offering them makes us look like a big retailer.”

Incentive (or loyalty) programs are easily managed with some POS options as well. FloristWare’s system, for example, which offers a free trial version and is available as a touch-screen option, “allows customers to earn points on purchases that can later be redeemed for discounts or free products,” notes Ms. Stewart.

 

(For more information about gift-card and loyalty-card programs as well as service providers, see “Gift Cards: A growing option for florists” beginning on Page 113 in our July 2007 issue, or read it online at www.floristsreview.com/main/july/featurestory.html.)

 

High Speed   Starting this year, Teleflora’s Dove POS™ will join the high-speed revolution, enabling florists to “send and receive orders faster and process credit cards in as little as two to four seconds,” according to the company. With high-speed versions, a dedicated phone line for the Dove system will no longer be necessary, potentially saving florists a little cash.

 

Portable POS System   One of the coolest new technologies is the portable POS (PPOS) machine that has recently emerged, especially at high-tech retail locations, such as Apple Retail Stores. According to Mr. Dion, sales staff can use these to take customers’ orders as they stand in line. “Portable POS is really useful during times of peak business,” he recommends. Orders can be taken with PPOS systems from anywhere in a store or even on the road, and receipts can be printed from belt printers or from other printers in the store, or they can be e-mailed to customers.

Mr. Dion reports that portable POS is available from many POS suppliers. At press time, we could not confirm any floral suppliers; however, with the obvious benefits, it’s sure to be on the horizon, and FTD’s Mr. Higginson did confide that “future releases will make use of portable devices for sales, service and delivery.”

 

 

cutting-edge web sites

 

Even if these products are not currently in your technological or financial comfort zone, keep them in mind for future expenditures. At the very least, every florist should have a Web site, and many providers now offer a host of customization and other capabilities. Mark Nance, aaf, president of BloomNet, Inc., says his company’s sites soon will offer mobile accessibility. “This spring, we will offer florists the ability to accept purchases and push information over Web-enabled mobile devices,” he explains.

 

Brent Sifford, of Digital Thoughts Interactive, says his customers haven’t expressed much interest in mobile accessibility, but it’s an option that easily could be added. What he does offer that is perhaps unique is the seamless incorporation of products from multiple wire services and The John Henry Company onto one customizable flower shop Web site. “This provides flower buyers a convenient browsing experience that brings all the products together in one location,” Mr. Sifford relates.

 

But a Web site is just the beginning. If you want to reach new clients, especially those in the 18-34 age range, the time will come when you’ll have to reach out with a digital touch. The rewards will be worth it!

 

contact information for companies cited in this article


 

Alternate Access and FloralProfitCenter

(866) 831-9277

www.floralprofitcenter.com

  

BloomNet, Inc.

(866) 256-6663

www.bloomnet.net

See ads on Pages 76 and 107.

 

Digital Thoughts Interactive

(512) 215-4608

www.digitalthoughts.com

 

FloristWare

(888) 531-3012

www.floristware.com

See ad on Page 68.

 

FTD Group, Inc.

(800) 767-4000

www.ftdi.com

See ads on Pages 13 and 78.

 

MAS (McShan Abner Systems)

(214) 324-2481

www.mcshanabnersystems.com

 

Teleflora

(800) 321-2654

www.myteleflora.com

See ads on Pages 2 and 25.

 

Contact Contributing Editor Shelley Urban at surban@embarqmail.com.

  

For more information about Jim Dion or his company, Dionco, Inc., visit www.dionco.com.

 


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