Paving a path to business excellence

October 15, 2019 By    

What is the state of our industry? Why isn’t the propane industry growing? Do our operating practices create consumer confidence and trust?

Poorly maintained tanks can frustrate customers and damage the reputation of the entire industry. Photo: Federico

Poorly maintained tanks can frustrate customers and damage the reputation of the entire industry. Photo: Federico

As I considered these questions, I recalled past travels where I passed propane facilities and observed the condition of tanks – at storage and customer locations. I also have had conversations with propane customers and industry employees about their experiences using propane. One fact I have concluded is the propane industry needs to restore the customer service and facility appearance practices that built our industry. Specifically, these questions formed the basis for my conclusion.

1. What is the condition of installed tanks? Sadly, many installed tanks on visible roads are dirty, rusted and have faded decals. As one industry veteran told me, “We’ve gotten away from the priority of taking care of our tanks.” We’ve forgotten that a customer’s top objection to using propane is having a tank in the yard. A dirty, rusted tank exacerbates the customer’s dislike of having a propane tank in the yard. Yes, caring for thousands of installed tanks is a big job. But the alternative is having tanks that look bad and damage the entire propane industry’s reputation. A propane marketer meticulous with tank maintenance can create a marketing advantage by simply promoting the message that they take care of their tanks.

2. What is the condition of the bulk plant? The bulk storage facility is a billboard for the propane marketer and the industry. Yet, when a bulk plant visible from heavily trafficked roads is dirty, rusted and unkempt, ask yourself – would I want to do business with a company like that?

3. Can the consumer easily buy propane at the marketer’s facility? A customer who can buy propane for a grill cylinder without having to leave the cylinder and return later is a happy customer. Alas, many marketers do not offer the ability to fill portable cylinders or RVs while the customer waits. Making cylinder refills easy and convenient says the customer’s needs are a priority. Additionally, as a propane vehicle owner, finding marketers who can refill my truck’s propane tank while I’m on the road is like finding a needle in a haystack.

4. What advice does the propane marketer give the homeowner whose water heater just went out? If the response is “call your plumber,” then you’re risking that gas load being switched to electricity. If the propane marketer does not sell water heaters, they should refer a reliable plumbing partner who will keep the gas load while serving the customer well. About 8 percent of the propane industry’s 7 million residential customers, or 560,000, will replace their water heaters annually due to age. For a business with 2,000 customers, that’s 160 water heater changes per year.

5. Can the customer easily reach the propane marketer? Propane is a people business. The propane consumer often wants to connect with a person, especially when their need creates stress. When the customer is unable to reach their propane supplier, especially in the winter, frustration takes over and consumer confidence is lost. A common propane consumer complaint is difficulty in reaching their local propane supplier. Marketers who tackle this challenge with effective solutions by answering customer calls or enabling personal contacts in a timely manner create competitive advantages.

Customers judge excellence on the total experience of doing business with a propane company – and by transference, our industry. While delivering gas is paramount, we must ensure that the entire experience of doing business with our industry is the best it can possibly be for each customer.

Propane marketers who focus on these five questions will grow gallons and retain customers while building the reputations of their businesses and the industry.

Randy Doyle is a 30-year propane industry veteran who serves on the PERC council and on the NPGA board of directors.

1 Comment on "Paving a path to business excellence"

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  1. Excellent article for safety practices , equipment ( tanks )maintenance