Texas retailer’s unique website is handy customer service tool

February 8, 2013 By    

Even before Steve McKay sips his first cup of coffee each morning, he grabs his phone and checks emails that arrived from Sharp Propane customers overnight.

On average, McKay says about six customer emails come in overnight with propane-related questions and concerns. All questions that arrive are typically addressed by 10 a.m. that day, he says. But rather than keep worried customers around Texas tossing and turning in their sleep, Sharp Propane developed a website that provides around-the-clock answers to common questions propane users have.

Not every question is addressed at www.thinkaboutpropaneonce.com. But customers who can’t find a direct answer there can pose new questions, which Sharp Propane representatives can address and publish for others to benefit from soon thereafter.

“We’re the experts, so let’s anticipate for our customers and be a resource for them,” says McKay, Sharp Propane’s CEO, whose business is headquartered in Bastrop, Texas. “We hear quite often now that when people go to our website, it told them everything they need to know.”

The fact that most of Sharp Propane’s new customer acquisitions are people moving into a new or an existing home – almost all of whom have no experience with propane homes, McKay says – gave the company further reason to educate customers about a variety of topics online.

“In addition to doing gas checks for new customers, we spend a great deal of time educating them,” McKay says. “We’ll have customers who look at us and say that their furnace is all electric, and we’ll tell them, ‘No, it’s not.’

“We had an older lady a few years ago who didn’t know where her furnace was. It was in a trapdoor in the stairway that she didn’t even know existed.”

So considering some customers don’t know the type of appliance they’re running or the layout of their own homes, Sharp Propane – like many retailers – has learned there’s no such thing as a stupid question. At the same time, the company has learned the importance of keeping its responses to customers online simple.

As an example, one question answered on the company’s unique website addresses whether different-sized tanks are available. Sharp Propane’s simple answer is this: “Tanks, like people, come in multiple sizes and what determines the size of tank you need is the demand created by the appliances running on propane.”

Besides serving as yet another customer service tool, the website represents a propane retailer meeting customers on a platform customers are increasingly using.

“We see the emails that come in and how many of them will be sent from an iPhone or an Android,” McKay says. “That’s the world we live in. Our industry is an older industry. But if we don’t meet customers where they want to be met – not just in the propane industry, but in every industry – then they will go somewhere else.”

LOCATION: Austin, Fort Worth, Bryan/College Station and La Grange, Texas

FOUNDED: 1949

EMPLOYEES: 35

CUSTOMERS:  6,700

PROPANE SALES: 3.68 million

ONLINE:
www.sharppropane.com
www.thinkaboutpropaneonce.com

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is the senior editor of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at kyanik@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3724.

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