One of the propane marketer’s top priorities is creating the emotional bond of loyalty with the residential customer.
For most companies, the residential customer is one of their most valuable assets and, therefore, developing a long-term relationship is an appropriate ambition. The loyal customer is more likely to promote your company to others, as well as purchase other products and services, and less likely to be will call. Finally, the cost of going the extra mile to keep a customer is much less than the cost of obtaining a new customer.
Assessing the industry
As an industry, we often undermine residential customer loyalty. Our marketing focus on cannibalizing current propane customers in order to grow results in one propane marketer taking aim at another marketer’s fair propane pricing. These low-ball, first-fill price offers create the misleading impression with the customer that the price they’ve been paying their current propane supplier is too high and unfair.
In the case where one propane company is providing good service at a fair price, the loyalty and trust built over years of serving a customer is eroded. Marketers attacked from such misleading claims must defend themselves by forewarning their customers and preparing each employee with a response that answers the customer’s questions about product pricing.
Assessing your company
Propane managers must keep a pulse on the loyalty of their customer base. Factors that can erode customer loyalty, such as the volatile propane market and employee attitudes, must be continually assessed.
Customer loyalty is difficult to measure because of its emotional nature. For this reason, management must stay in touch with information that reflects loyalty, such as the reasons for customer loss, customer referrals and customer complaints. Propane marketers must be vigilant to ensure that loyalty-eroding practices, such as rude employees and unanswered customer phone calls, have not crept into the business.
Successful marketers understand that loyalty must be earned. They build and keep loyalty because they understand the practices that must be consistently delivered by each employee to create positive customer perceptions and feelings about their company.
The customer experience is much more than the tangible activities of a gas delivery or installation of a set of gas logs. The experience integrates the tangible, emotional and perceived value from each contact. All pieces of the propane company’s operations – employees, facilities, vehicles, messaging and pricing – work together to communicate the company’s brand.
The marketer effective at building loyalty does the following well:
■ Converts fears into confidences – The customer’s greatest fear is running out of gas, especially in the winter. The effective propane marketer assures the customer that they will be taken care of and will not be forgotten. If in that rare instance the customer experiences an out-of-gas incident, the propane marketer responds with a sense of urgency with same-day service. These marketers give customers a worry-free feeling of confidence that they will not run out of gas.
■ Provides individualized service – The residential customer expects to be served by an employee who is competent, respectful and caring. They want personalized service because the well-being of their household has been entrusted to the propane marketer. Marketing research indicates that 78 percent of consumers say their most satisfying experience occurred because of a competent customer service representative.
■ Creates a feeling of value – The residential consumer expects the products and services to be priced in a way that meets the product’s value. They expect any issues to be resolved in a fair manner, which builds trust.
■ Creates brand identity – The link between the residential customer’s perceptions and emotions of your company with your desired brand image is a powerful bond. Creating this bond begins with defining your company’s brand, such as comfort, dependability and community service. This link can create long-term customer relations and customer prospects from referrals.
The propane marketer who makes customer retention and growth a priority will enjoy the benefits of growth and a positive reputation with customers and the community.