Tank monitors eliminate run-outs, boost propane retailers’ reputation

July 2, 2015 By and    
Hank Smith

Hank Smith

In previous articles, we have discussed using remote tank monitoring to improve your fuel business by lowering costs and increasing revenues. Those two topics are fairly easy to describe because results are fact based.

Improving customer service is “in the eye of the beholder.” Rather than try to boil this topic down to numbers, real customer experiences can do a better job of explaining this topic.

One of my customers has several metered propane systems, with meters on each home, where large bulk storage tanks supply gas via a pipeline to developments with anywhere from 100 homes to more than 700 homes.

My first encounter with this propane company was more than 10 years ago when it expressed an interest in tank monitoring for these supply tanks. It had two storage locations run out of propane. Not a big deal, right? Well, considering it was in the dead of a freezing winter, furnaces quit working and every home had to be gas checked, it was a big deal. Yes, there were significant costs to bring the systems back up and revenue losses. The worst of all was the loss of trust by customers. This propane customer installed remote tank monitors on all of these types of systems, and in more than 10 years has not had a similar run-out. Improved customer service? I think so.

Another customer had a large base of fill stations for barbecue cylinders. On and around every major holiday, especially Memorial Day, July Fourth and Labor Day, it was difficult to keep these tanks supplied. In fact, the company was forced to drive to each fill station and check the supply level remaining in the tank.

Despite the effort, run-outs occurred because tanks were being drained in an unpredictable way. Overtime and callouts were required. Remote tank monitors were put on these tanks. At each major holiday, deliveries are still needed, but now, instead of working every day of the holiday, driving around and still having run-outs, the delivery truck generally works just one day and visits the tanks that need a delivery. (Note that in recent years monitoring companies are now offering remote monitors for the cylinder cages.)

A propane supplier that had a high-end, well-known resort property with 12 buried tanks that served restaurants, laundries, huge pool heaters, villas and emergency generators was about to lose this large propane customer because of run-outs and the perception of poor service. This was a keep-full account with scheduled deliveries every other day during the workweek.

Three events within a short period of time led to the point where the propane supplier was about to be fired: a run-out to the restaurant with 250 people waiting to eat; a pool heater run-out that took four days to reheat the pool water to a temperature acceptable to a few hundred guests; and a run-out to the laundry facilities resulting in delayed guest room services.

I was brought along to a meeting to discuss the run-outs and to show the remote tank monitors to the resort operations manager (and I still believe as protection for the propane manager). The resort manager liked the concept. We did the installation on all 12 tanks, and 11 years later that resort is still a customer of the propane company that had severely let it down – before tank monitors. There have been no run-outs, and the delivery trucks only go to the large resort when needed and only to the tanks that need fuel.

One last story. A commercial manufacturing plant had two 1,000-gallon propane tanks to fill forklift cylinders onsite. It was a keep-full account, but there was never any rhyme or reason to when the forklift cylinders were filled. Run-outs and going the 60 miles one way when no propane was needed drove the costs of delivery high. More significantly, these run-outs shut this factory down because their manufactured products could not be moved. Tank monitors were deployed, and literally hundreds of unnecessary deliveries have been eliminated, without any run-outs. In fact, the remote tank monitor alerts the bobtail driver about two hours before the tanks will be empty. He diverts to this location with at least 1,600 gallons onboard, shows up just before the tanks go empty, puts in a maximum fill and amazes this customer.

These examples emphasize the point of customer service. Whether a large commercial account, a small restaurant or a residential account, shutting down a business or freezing a house is not good for your business or reputation. Remote tank monitors can truly improve service to your customers.

Hank Smith is the vice president of sales for WESROC. He can be reached at hank.smith@itcmail.net or 352-633-3626.

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