While I was away on a recent vacation, our family refrigerator died. You can put this in the bucket of "First World" problems, but in reality it's difficult to live in a modern society without a fridge. So, we did what a lot of other people do: We went to a big-box retailer and ordered a new one.
That's when the real trouble began. Over the course of the next several weeks, we were left with a new fridge in our dining room as well as an old one in our kitchen that was starting to smell, were told we had to call a plumber (which turned out to be unnecessary) and given the runaround on when we would have the new one installed.
Thanks to a friend on Facebook who made the introduction, along came Steve Sheinkopf, the CEO of Massachusetts-based Yale Appliance, who took it upon himself to help us, treating us like customers even though we hadn't bought the appliance from him.
In speaking with him, I realized that his kindness wasn’t just a one-off favor for a friend, but the way he and his company do business. People assume that public relations is the job of the PR person and customer service that of the CSR rep. They're wrong. As Sheinkoff and Yale Appliance proved, public relations is everyone's job.
In a competitive market that includes big names like Home Depot, Lowes and Sears, Yale Appliance has grown a strong regional brand and done some recent expansion with new showrooms.
I wanted to know more. So I sat down with Sheinkoff to better understand how he has built his corporate culture.
1. Start with customer service.
Sheinkoff started his career in customer service, so it's close to his heart. "If you grow a business without some kind of customer-service aspect you're asking for damage to your brand," he told me. "My job is eliminating the pain points between the organization and the people; and I found that we can only be good at what we could control."
That control meant bringing functions in-house, like customer service and product service, both of which draw specifically to the corporate image. This action, Sheinkoff said, enables him to control the quality and direction of the services.
2. Make everyone a writer.
Yale is a big believer in inbound marketing but doesn't outsource this function or hire pure marketers to produce content. Instead, it's the sales team that writes up the online posts and buyers' guides. In fact, Sheinkoff writes much of this himself. "Everyone in the appliance industry is selling stuff; no one is telling people how to buy it.," he said.
"If you tell people how to buy it, you get a shot at that customer." He said that he wants his teams educated on what they’re selling and believes that the path to that education lies in researching and writing about the product. The benefit, he said, has come in quality web traffic. Since starting an inbound program less than five years ago, he said he's seen site traffic increase tenfold.
3. Gently guide; don't push.
Once a customer comes to the site, he or she needs a path to purchase. Some content aspects, like product comparisons, are out in the open while others, like buying guides, require an email to download. Once someone identifies himself or herself, the gentle push begins.
“If you download an induction buying guide, I'm going to send articles on induction. But it's not going to say ‘buy now,’” Sheinkoff told me. Of the people who download a buying guide, he said, more than a third become a paying customers.
4. Hire the right people and treat them well.
Everyone at Yale, from the bottom to the top, gets paid well, shares in profits and receives a 401k matching benefit. Quality of life is a big reason Yale is cited as a "Best Place to Work." On the other side of things, however, more is also expected of those employees.
When Yale came to install the refrigerator, its employees didn't just put it in and leave. They were polite, respectful and even slid a piece of paper under the appliance with instructions to inspect it a few hours later to find out about any leaks. It was a little thing but meant a lot in making us feel that the job was complete.
As Sheinkoff said, "Every link has to be perfect, or I lose you as a customer. From the moment you enter the store, to the moment of delivery, is the moment of truth, where you either make it or lose a customer."
In other words, the task at hand isn't the job of just one person or one team. It's the cultural direction of an entire organization.