I am a propane customer living in rural America and technology advancements are affecting my life wherever I turn.
If your propane company is stuck in yesteryear, you are feeling the effects of technology changes – and not in a positive way. Here are some examples of technology changes that may seem small, but cumulatively they are rocking your business world.
When I went to the mailbox this week, a phone book had been delivered. I always open to the Yellow Pages section of a new phone book to see if any propane companies are still running display ads. This time it was just some bold listings. I also noticed that the phone book was about 20 percent thinner than the last year’s edition of the same book. That means propane companies aren’t the only types of businesses that are abandoning Yellow Pages.
Technology, in the form of website search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc.) on smartphones, has almost entirely displaced paging through the old phone book. Do you have a website? Is it mobile friendly? And is it optimized for this type and volume of search traffic? This same search engine technology made encyclopedias and dictionaries obsolete, and it will have the same effect on phone books.
On a recent business trip to a major metropolitan area, I arranged for the flight on the airline mobile app on my smartphone, got an email confirmation and invoice, checked in for the flight with the bar scan from that same mobile app on my phone, and, as I settled into my assigned seat, I got an email telling me my checked luggage was loaded onto the airplane.
While business travel is not my favorite thing to do, this type of automation technology sure makes it simpler and more worry free. As a result, it makes me less price sensitive and less inclined to fly on another airline. Even an old guy like me is embracing this type of technology.
Think about your propane customers and their experiences in your delivery scheduling, receiving deliveries, and being billed for and paying for propane. Do you have the proper level of automation technology to provide your propane customers a simpler and more worry-free energy experience than your competitors? If you do, those customers will be less price sensitive and less inclined to switch energy providers.
On the same business trip, I needed a rental car so, not having a mobile app for a preferred rental car company, I used my phone to order my rental car through an automated voice rental system. I never had to talk to a live person. I received confirmation on the rental by email a few seconds after I finished the call and had an invoice charging my credit card sent to me by email a few minutes after I returned the rental car. This process was simple and trouble free.
I know the propane industry prides itself on the great customer service you all claim to provide through our friendly customer service representatives, but have you looked at ways to automate more mundane service needs like delivery orders and payments, to free up customer service representatives to handle more complicated service issues? Do you have a customer portal on your website, and does it provide everything your customers would expect to find, based on their experiences with other service providers?
In the past, I always took the navigation option when I rented a car. Now I just use my smartphone and Google to source my destination. I get a navigation map and turn-by-turn voice instructions from my smartphone that are highly accurate and easy to follow.
Are you using the latest generation automation technology in routing your deliveries? Your drivers and, ultimately, your customers will appreciate it, and the added efficiency will also bring profit dollars to your bottom line.
In conclusion, look around you. Advancements in technology are touching almost everything your customers are doing in everyday commerce. They are looking for that same type of experience from you. Are you ready to deliver on that expectation? Don’t get left behind.
Tom Jaenicke is vice president of propane marketing services at Warm Thoughts Communications, providing solutions for the energy services industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 810-252-7855.