Picture this: the year is 2000 and during a young industry trade show once known as HVAC Comfortech (in Atlanta, GA), a new exhibitor makes its debut into the world of mechanical systems contracting. This company had two very unique attributes: its name and the fact that they were passing out little bags of cookies to any attendee who happened by.
The company was To Your Success ‘ a service organization with the unique mission of helping business owners retain and amaze their customers. Company owner and founder Jim Childers says that ‘To Your Success is more than the name of a company. It is our commitment to business owners.’
And their little booth on the show floor of HVAC Comfortech 2000 led them to becoming one of the largest providers of customer retention services in the HVAC industry.
But wait ‘ let’s take a step back. So where did this outfit come from? Geographically, Childers and his wife started the business in 1998 in Atlanta. How that came about was interesting ‘ because the Childers were never in the HVAC business ‘ they were in the recreational vehicle (RV) industry. Jim and his brother owned a successful Atlanta-area RV dealership.
Jim Childers, a 66-year-old entrepreneur who spent 20 years in the family-owned RV dealership, says that in those days, one of the vehicle manufacturers had a sophisticated way of measuring customer satisfaction. And Childers’ dealership usually ranked very high ‘ between a 93 and 94% CSI (customer satisfaction index). Good stuff, right?
Yet Childers says, ‘A fellow dealer in a neighboring state was getting closer to 100%. So I asked him how he was doing that. He told me he took an extra step by sending cookies to customers to thank them for their patronage. He encouraged me to try it, which I did, and sure enough it worked.
‘What I learned from this was that the unexpected nature of a thank-you gift to show appreciation made a tremendous impact on our customers’ satisfaction and loyalty. It actually did increase our CSI rating.’
So that was the basis for starting To Your Success.
Childers explains the RV Dealership didn’t challenge him any longer and he felt he had a calling to do something else. He wanted to apply the retention lessons he learned in the dealership to something new.
In the Beginning
To Your Success opened for business on April 1, 1998. Initially most of their customers were RV dealers. However, that was about to change. ‘I had a very good friend who was a territory manager for Mingledorff’s ‘ an HVAC Carrier distributor here in Georgia who suggested I check out the heating and air conditioning industry,’ Childers says. ‘He encouraged us to exhibit at the HVAC Comfortech show in 2000 to test the waters.’
In brief, the results were incredible. Childers says they received a tremendous response ‘ around 75 HVAC companies signed up with To Your Success at that first show.
In addition, he adds, ‘We realized HVAC contractors had the desire to follow up with customers, but no one had the time or the expertise to do it. We were in the right place at the right time. Finally, that’s what caused us to focus on the HVAC Industry. From Comfortech we spread out to other HVAC organizations and trade shows and really began to grow from there.’
It is generally accepted across the HVAC industry that it is seven times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. Jim Childers says the thing that helped his business more than anything else was learning from their customers over the years.
‘We have had the opportunity to really cater to their needs,’ he says. ‘Our desire is to help others be more successful in their business. I really didn’t want to be a bakery. I wanted to be a company that makes a difference in how other small businesses succeed. They needed help. I wanted to provide that.
‘We help business owners provide more than great service – everyone expects that. We help them develop a long-term relationship with their customers based upon their overall customer experience. Showing appreciation and listening through focused surveys shows consumers they are valued as individuals, not just transactions. In the home service industry there are many people with great technical skills but who often struggle with the ‘personal relationship’ side of the business. The old adage, ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,’ is most effectively demonstrated when a company culture is designed to provide both aspects. This is what we do best.’
Jim Childers has been married for 45 years and has four children. Most of his family is involved in the business in some fashion. His son Zach has been involved with the company from day one. Zach Childers was 15 years old when To Your Success became real and he worked with both of his parents out of the family home.
‘My job was to get everything for our customers set up. This meant creating greeting cards, configuring surveys, doing our marketing, printing business cards and brochures. Our entire platform was really homegrown right from the beginning.’
So how does a 15-year-old do all this. Zach Childers says he always seemed to have a knack for things related to technology, computers, and graphic design. In fact, he says that he ran his own design business while he was a high school student. Afterwards, he attended Thomas Edison State University where he studied business management and worked remotely on To Your Success.
He says, ‘I loved the business from its start and decided I wanted to make it the focus of my working life. It’s been a passion since the beginning. Being able to work with my parents and being part of a family business has been exciting.
‘So how many high school and college kids can say their parents let them be an integral part of a startup business? My dad trusted me to do what needed to be done. From the beginning we just worked great together. His leadership just drew me into it and I am so thankful for that. I have really loved every step of it. It’s a crazy thing to really look forward to Mondays and not wanting to wait to get into the office. It’s been that way for 20 years.’
Today Zach Childers runs the daily operations of the company and handles what he calls, ‘the technology side of things.’
From Cookies to Beyond
To Your Success today employs over 20 people, including seasonal and part time employees. According to Zach, on any given week there are 10 to 12 people in the office. That includes in-laws Caleb Baitz and Derek LoVerde, his sister Rebekah Baitz, brother John Childers, and his mother, Olive Childers are also active.
So, the question begging to be asked: who bakes the cookies? Jim Childers says that everyone has at one point or another over the years. But today they have a group of bakers who handle that for them.
The cookies were always the first step in the To Your Success approach to customer retention. In effect, cookies are a small gift to thank customers for their business. Sending them out was a service that made it easy for contractors to follow up with customers.
Says Zach, ‘Our job is to make the follow-up process effortless for contractors. It makes that thank-you feel more personal and relational. But To Your Success does more than that. We offer contractors a comprehensive customer follow-up strategy that combines those cookies with a business intelligence platform to help them strengthen their customer relationships and reduce churn.’
For instance, according to the To Your Success website, their retention strategy has four key points:
- Delight customers – gifting services that include freshly-made cookies, candies, nuts, coffee and cocoa, and other gifts
- Listen to their feedback ‘ surveys done online and through email that can include embedded video messages (called eTouch), mobile optimization, responsive design, real-time customer feedback, daily reports, analytics, and more
- Understand their experience using analytics and insight. This is the business intelligence component of To Your Success‘ service offering
- Showcase positive reviews using To Your Success ?RaveMaker‘ automated reputation management tool that integrates easily with social media and optimizes positive reviews for search engines.
‘You can’t improve something that you aren’t mastering, Zach Childers says. ‘It’s like the ComfortMaxx approach. With that tool and with training, contractors know where to measure the different metrics related to HVAC system performance.
‘That’s what we are trying to provide with our system. Instead of pressures and temperatures, we measure actual feedback from customers, so a contractor owner or manager can get a real-time alert through email when someone is not happy. They can then pick up the phone and immediately call. They have all the information they need at their fingertips to reach out to the customer and make it better.’
Jim Childers concurs. ‘Our system is designed to help all contractors of all sizes. It doesn’t put the burden on them. Some contractors are trying to get their superstar technician to talk good reviews out of a customer. We are trying to improve the contractors’ business and encourage their employees to do well.’
The NCI Bake-Off
Though Childers first contact with the HVAC Industry was at that early Comfortech event, he and his team didn’t encounter National Comfort Institute, Inc. (NCI) until much later. According to Jim Childers, as they began reaching out to other groups and organizations in the HVAC Industry, they began partnering with several of them, including one known as International Service Leadership (ISL).
This group was formerly called Contractors Success Group. To Your Success became an ISL vendor partner until 2008 when NCI purchased ISL. According to Childers, his company then became a vendor partner with NCI.
Zach Childers says that as a policy, To Your Success always seeks partner groups that attract forward-thinking contractors. They found that in ISL, and he says they were really impressed by the membership of NCI.
‘It was a natural fit for us,’ Jim Childers adds. ‘NCI members are seeking to better their performance in multiple ways. And that is exactly the type of folks who work well with us. What we do works for companies that want to treat people right, to grow their business. NCI members want to do an excellent job technically. Most of them have a better grasp on technical performance than they do on experiential performance with the consumer. It is a natural fit for us. That is our wheel house.’
Zach Childers adds ‘the recipe for success between our company and NCI is obvious. This is a great partnership for both of us.’
HVAC contractors should remember that keeping customers is easier and less expensive than getting new ones. For those who need help improving customer retention, companies like To Your Success are just what the doctor ordered.
‘Never forget who writes your check,’ says Jim Childers. ‘No matter what industry you work in you can’t become complacent or cynical. You must appreciate the people around you. Without the customer nothing happens.
‘We try to treat our customers as royalty. That is our job. If we can’t do it, then who can? The average HVAC contractor already has a very hard job. They are great at putting technicians into the field, into people’s homes, and getting great results. Our job is to help them do that better.’
Zach Childers agrees and adds that ‘Customers are the most valuable assets of any company. No one will ever regret investing in their customers. So, delighting the customer and setting yourself apart from the competition will always pay off in the long run. It isn’t something that should be taken for granted.’
To Your Success: the name certainly says it all. Congratulations to this month’s Vendor Spotlight.