Guest column: Not knowing how to respond to customer calls can send mixed messages

March 8, 2013 By    

While visiting with some propane marketers recently, the topic of inbound telephone call content arose. There was even a situation that occurred as we discussed this issue – see topic No. 4 below.

Perhaps your business has experienced some of the same situations and you (and your employees) are frustrated about what to do to prevent or address them.

A few of the summarized examples were calls from customers who said:

1. We missed the cutoff to start a budget program.

A. Is it time to allow and promote budget programs that start on a monthly basis to address the wants and needs of your customer base?

B. Perhaps it is more profitable to make it easy for your customers rather than easy for your staff.

2. Can you hook up our new appliance?

A. Your customer is calling you to hook up a propane appliance that you did not sell. With reduced gas loads throughout the industry, perhaps it is time to consider selling appliances to replace and add gallons.

3. We ran out of fuel because we added a new appliance (usually a water heater).

A. Perhaps a method to acquire appliance usage and data should be considered.

4. We forgot about ordering fuel for our cabin.

A. Will-call accounts calling for propane because they forgot to order or failed to realize the additional degree-days this heating season used more propane than in the past. And these types of deliveries can challenge an operation.

B. Perhaps it is time to communicate with your customers that you have the ability (responsibility) to monitor even the most difficult (sporadic usage) accounts without involving the customer.

5. Please pick up your tank as we have switched companies.

A. Perhaps this is the worst situation – a caller who says “pick up your tank” because your price is too high.

B. Perhaps this situation calls for an internal analysis of whether the account was strictly interested in price, or did your company fail to communicate the value you offer in your products and services?

Do all of your employees know how to handle these types of situations? Do all of your employees handle each of these situations in a consistent, timely manner? Do management and ownership follow the same procedures?

My experience has been that companies that successfully reduce these scenarios or successfully handle them are involved in two ongoing practices. To achieve a consistent, clear and concise message, they provide professional propane customer service representative training programs and they communicate with their customers and prospects two or three times per year with a professional custom newsletter detailing their products, services and offerings.

Many companies have found that by combining these two approaches their staff is better prepared to eliminate and/or reduce these negative scenarios. When staff has little direction, many times the tendency is to freelance, and this sends a mixed message of inconsistency and incompetence. Prospects and customers deserve and require a confident feeling when buying from you, and professional scripting is a critical component that addresses this need.

Do you see that these companies “missed a call” and then “missed an opportunity” and therefore “missed revenue”?

David Lowe is a sales consultant for Pro Image Communications. The former independent propane marketer can be reached at or 616-430-1879.

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