Retail Excellence Awards: A Disney-Inspired Customer Service Philosophy at Don's Appliances
In the modern world of retail, it is easy to stay stagnant. It often feels that the only innovation to be found is brought in by trucks and sold on the shelves. This is a problem Tim Hillebrand was not going to let Don’s Appliances succumb to: the challenges of being “creatures of habit.”
“Our mindset is that our company is either evolving or dissolving,” Hillebrand, Don’s Appliances’ principal, said. “The primary challenge in keeping up with evolving technology is the balancing act involved with catering to emerging customer needs while avoiding the alienation of a market niche that isn’t enticed by screens.”
Don’s Appliances has a handful of brick-and-mortar stores – including an experience center – peppered across the Greater Pittsburgh, Pa., area. The chain’s growth is reflected in its prowess in moving forward and in its vow to retain every customer, no matter what their needs.
The (Second) Happiest Place on Earth
Don’s Appliances has a lot of the mainstay features being adopted around the nation, but the company also has a few twists that sets it apart.
The Experience Center is fully functioning, so customers can wiggle the knobs and open the doors. All the locations have “live” appliances that can be used for cooking by customers and professional chefs alike. Video is being leveraged to show custom-made vignettes that feature local radio personalities and sports players.
Hillebrand said he looks to the “radically different playgrounds” like Samsung 837 in New York City and Amazon Go in Seattle, when considering how customers interact within a store.
“We are expecting rapid changes in retail over the next 18 to 24 months with the increasing influence of technology in consumer experience,” Hillebrand said. “The future of retail stores is less product inventory and human interaction, more kiosks, and walls of interactive touch screens that feature 360-degree views of products.”
However, the retailer’s show floors are only as important as the employees who occupy them. So when Don’s Appliances wanted to assemble a room full of people that seemed as happy and eager as the staff at Disney Land, it did just that.
“We have established and grown a department whose exclusive focus is customer service,” Hillebrand said. “A few of our employees attended a Disney University seminar outlining the methodologies of their customer service model, garnering inspiration and ideas. We are in the process of shaping four key standards of success into our CS model that will be conveyed through a company-wide workshop and handbook.
“We strive to continually educate and empower our team so they can use their own discretion to handle difficult customer situations, making discrepancy resolution faster and more efficient,” he added.
Driving Millennial Foot Traffic
The unique approach to how the staff interacts with customers has also translated into a few unconventional advancements in the how to handle customer support. One initiative was enabling customers to receive appointment confirmations, messages, and pictures via text messaging with customer support.
“Our focus is always on the consumer experience, from the first step into a showroom to purchase and well after our product has been installed,” Hillebrand said. “Don’s Appliances was founded on excellent customer service, and we continuously allocate resources to enhance the customer experience as our business grows, and retail landscapes change. “
Alongside measures to make the website a frictionless experience, Don’s Appliances has increased service staffing for faster, on-site responses at homes and quicker turnaround times, with internal shop repairs allowing same-day repairs for customers experiencing more urgent problems.
Hillebrand also credits a social presence that has built brand awareness and relationships with news stations and local celebrities, who constantly share, re-tweet and engage with the retailer’s social channels, adding to the success of its outreach.
All these actions also complement Don’s’ dedication to its most important asset: the Pittsburgh community.
“We are active in the Pittsburgh community, supporting local charities, representing the brand at sporting events, and involvement with trade associations,” Hillebrand said. “Social media marketing has been a really useful tool in showcasing community involvement.”
Looking forward, it is clear that Don’s Appliances’ 46-year run is only growing with each endeavor. By correctly identifying trends – especially in the amount of technology used in appliances – and staying true to both returning and new customers, Hillebrand is confident that Don’s will be able to serve the Pittsburgh community for decades to come.
"As the retail landscape becomes more competitive, we’re seeing stores who fail to incorporate new technologies and provide customers with personalized, interactive experiences close their doors. Evolution in the ways we interact with our customer and technologies, combined with opportunities Pittsburgh’s dynamic marketplace provides, has allowed Don’s to thrive as a major appliance retailer in our community. We’re passionate about being the best for our stakeholders, and are certain that passion will drive our growth for decades to come.”