Mitigate disruption and improve safety with technology

May 21, 2020 By    
Mateusz Atroszko/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Photo: Mateusz Atroszko/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Americans sheltering at home, and perhaps some propane marketers who supply those home shelters with propane, long for a return to “business as usual.” Not me.

If experience during our current pandemic is a guide, “business as usual” means insufficient supplies of life’s necessities. A quick perusal of both humorous and humorless social media appears to define “necessities” as toilet paper, booze, food, face masks, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes, in that order. For too many propane retailers, “business as usual” is trying to figure out how to forward calls, access company software or process paperwork safely and at a social distance, and perhaps even in multiple employee homes.

Promise yourself (and your customers and community that rely on you), that you will not return to business as usual unless business as usual is:

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone service. Business VoIP services are less expensive than conventional phones and can operate anywhere without sacrificing important features like auto-attendants, call recording and performance statistics. Our team has VoIP access on their cellphones and their laptops anywhere.

Laptops for office personnel. This one should be obvious. If it isn’t, try taking your desktop home for the night. All kidding aside, if you have desktops, make a point of replacing them with laptops.

Cloud or VPN access to software and customer records. It’s one thing to take an order or payment from a customer over the phone on a laptop at a remote location, but what if you need to look at a customer file or other company records? Our entire business is digital. Our monitors are our file rooms.

Digital payments and ordering. It’s great to see customers come in the door, say hello, place an order or pay a bill. Unless, of course, you’re in the middle of a pandemic. Investing in portal or smartphone app access never has been more affordable. It takes the edge off closing your office to walk-in traffic.

Digital service and fulfillment. Studies have shown that the COVID-19 virus can survive from 24 to 72 hours on surfaces like paper and plastic. Propane marketers with manual entry processes that include paper invoices in the back office prudently and appropriately have established quarantine periods for invoices after drivers drop them off at the office (at an appropriate social distance). The virus fortunately does not survive or transmit over digital signals, so investing in tablets that transmit delivery information to your software saves time and makes the office environment safer.

Digital customer communication. Whether it’s a bill, a statement or a warning to stay in their home while your driver delivers their propane, the ability to communicate with your customer is quicker and easier if you have accurate email addresses and cellphone numbers on hand in your software. Do you know what percent of your email addresses are working email addresses?

Web and social media presence. We posted a video and a blog about COVID-19 and its impact on customers on YouTube, our website and Facebook. It’s a grainy, standard definition video and is unlikely to win any major awards for acting, directing, best screenplay or cinematography, but we were able to post the message within hours of our governor’s shelter-at-home order.

Take advantage of the summer weather and time away from your office to focus on using technology to improve safety and mitigate the impact of disruption. Since the turn of the century, our nation has endured a major terrorist attack, two pandemics and the Great Recession. That’s a major disruption every five years.

Be ready for the next one, whatever it is. And stay safe.

Christopher Caywood is a co-owner of Caywood Propane Gas Inc. 

*Featured image: Rawpixel/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

About the Author:

Sarah Peecher was a digital media content producer at LP Gas.

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