A quote, often attributed to Einstein, defines ‘insanity’ as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, which is a situation the window and door industry currently finds itself in, according to Nathan Court, Sales Director of trade fabricator Sternfenster.
“Window and doors sales grew on the back of considerable face-to-face-contact,” Nathan says. “Showrooms, salesman visiting the home, even leaflet drops on a neighbourhood – business was generated by people getting out and about.
“But the pandemic and associated lockdowns changed all that. People moved online due to necessity, and they haven’t really looked back. But you’ve still got some window companies wedded to the old ways of working.”
Nathan argues that many within the window and door industry – including Sternfenster – had been moving more services online long before the pandemic, but familiarity kept on-the-road salesmen in a job, safe from the online threat.
But as the country stirred following a period of Covid-induced lockdown, demand for windows, doors and conservatories quickly stripped the industry’s ability to keep up.
“Fundamentally, many companies were cart horses in an automobile world,” Nathan said. “Their infrastructure was not designed to cope with the new demands placed upon them. We, on the other hand, quickly assessed the challenges and designed our response accordingly.”
The key focus in May 2000 was communication. Despite the lack of raw materials, constant prices rises, and the ‘pingdemic’, customer communication was vital if there was any order to be found in the chaos.
“A key tool very early on was our unique online customer portal – Sternfenster Plus (SF Plus) – which gives our installer customers access to a huge amount of information, and is designed to help them run their business more efficiently,” Nathan says. “In addition to a regularly updated news feed, they can check the status of all their quotes, contracts and deliveries, access training and marketing materials and even tap into a live production feed that provides real-time data on the capacity of our PVC and aluminium factories.”
Nathan argues that once customers show an aptitude for shifting some of their operations online, it makes sense to optimise other channels.
“There was no real reason to constantly pursue old methods of working if you were creating more efficient ones,” Nathan says. “The technology behind what we were doing wasn’t new, but the environment and the energy to make it work was!”
SF Plus became one part of a complete package of digital resources that Sternfenster developed to help its customers operate more effectively and efficiently. This included EasyAdmin, its CRM system, and Proposal Builder, a complete cradle-to-grave quote to delivery solution.
This starts with a homeowner creating an initial quote by inputting the dimensions of the windows and doors they need – including colour and glazing options – via a customer’s website. This information, including specific pricing or discounts, is then replicated in the customer’s EasyAdmin system. Proposal Builder then allows an installer to create a digital, branded quotation pack, one that’s tailored precisely to the requirements of the prospect.
The main advantage of Proposal Builder, is that it allows end users to book a survey, pay a deposit, or place an order with just the click of a button.
“The final piece of this jigsaw was an online showroom, which we launched at the beginning of May this year,” Nathan says. “It includes a number of elements that help ‘sell’ windows and doors to homeowners, including CGI videos, and online salesman, drop-down feature-rich menus, and close-up details.”
The CGI (computer-generated imagery) videos give the viewer one-minute tours of products. Set to an upbeat soundtrack, each professionally crafted video provides a close-up flythrough of products’ key features.
“These are unbranded, so our customers can buy a plug-in for their own sites,” Nathan says. “Alternatively, they can be redirected homeowners to our site where they form part of a complete showroom.”
Sternfenster’s virtual showroom is the result of 18 months of research and development, and it gives potential buyers a choice of products, where they can click-through to product landing pages to learn about the features and benefits. Here, various sub-sections are clearly labelled and sign-posted.
An overview provides a clear summary of each product, while the ‘Explore Features’ section provides much greater detail: technical specs, colour options, hardware options, and locks are presented in a series of drop-down menus. These sit alongside a picture of the product with ‘hotspots’ highlighted, which give contextual detail for those benefits. From this page, the homeowner can also watch a short sales presentation, which shows each product as part of a completed project.
The CGI representation of the product is also accessible from this page, as is a 360º tour, where the viewer can hover over the product to get a close-up view.
“People moved online during the pandemic to research and buy home improvement products,” Nathan says. “And this hasn’t declined as we’ve moved back to a sense of normality. It is vital we keep up with changing habits, and even pioneer new ways of doing business, which is why we developed the Sternfenster Virtual Showroom to complement our other online developments.
“As a result, our customers are in a much better position to take advantage of shifting consumer behaviour, without the additional investment in infrastructure.”
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