“We felt OK about the flat year because it could have gone backwards,” explains Patty. “This year will be a hard one to measure because of the drought.”
The homeowner’s helper
With the commercial market under their belt, Mark and Patty started to focus on how to improve their relationships with the homeowner customer base. They saw customers skipping maintenance and lessening the life of their equipment in order to save on costs. While they could potentially benefit from a mower sale in the future, thanks to the lack of regular maintenance, they didn’t want the life of a product they sold to end before its time. They now offer regular classes to customers, educating them on simple equipment maintenance and troubleshooting.
“We didn’t want customers not doing the maintenance on their equipment because they couldn’t afford it,” says Patty. “We put some educational programs together so we could give our customers the tools to do it themselves. We have them and their equipment in mind. We don’t want them to lessen the life of their equipment because they can’t afford it.”
Each year they evaluate which classes they are offering customers to ensure they are truly providing quality, timely information. Classes are taught by Mark who operates the service department. The information he passes onto customers is often a reflection of what he has learned in manufacturer technician update courses. They also listen to customer feedback on the courses to learn how to improve what they offer and how.
“This year, customers needed to know more information on common operating problems and preventative maintenance,” explains Patty. “We also shared a lot on ethanol and carbonation issues.”
For those customers who still choose to have their equipment serviced at Mark Williams Outdoor Power Equipment, they offer the added convenience of an online service request form. It was implemented nearly two years ago to make it easier for customers to cross the task off their to-do list, and get that commitment for service from the customers as soon as it crosses their mind.
“Each year we see an increase in the use of this form,” says Patty. “We wanted to offer a way for our customers to request service 24 hours a day and be able to go to bed with that marked off their to-do list.”
Mainly homeowner customers use the form and Patty says it is just another way for the customer to contact them. They promote the online form in conversations with customers, in-store signage, and link to it in all email communications.
“We didn’t anticipate a lot of people going there, but as our website develops we expect to see more people use it,” says Patty. “We often refer customers to the website. In our email marketing we try to get people to think about their preseason service and they can click through the email to the online form immediately.”
Staff programs and support
All the different programs offered by Mark Williams Outdoor Power Equipment are on their website, markwilliamsoutdoor.com. Patty says she likes having them all in one place not only for the customer, but also employees. They can quickly and easily assist customers, with access to the programs and forms only a click away.
“Having the programs posted on the website helps with training,” she explains. “If we bring a new employee in, he can go to the website and get all the information he needs. There is no need to look for a file, it’s all right there. The website is not about buying things; it’s more about serving information to the customer.”
They have certainly given their staff the tools to better serve customers. An “allowance” program gives employees the opportunity to further their education and purchase tools and other things that will help them to improve on-the-job performance. With ever hour they work, each employee is earning toward their individual allowance.
“This allowance program can be used for tools in the shop, education, anything they feel will help them to better do their job,” explains Patty. “It can be something as simple as a pair of reading glasses, work boots, gloves or tools.”