Fuel Oil News

Fuel Oil News June 2014

The home heating oil industry has a long and proud history, and Fuel Oil News has been there supporting it since 1935. It is an industry that has faced many challenges during that time. In its 77th year, Fuel Oil News is doing more than just holding

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28 June 2014 FueL OIL neWS | www.fueloilnews.com L ately I read of interesting, and in some cases unsettling, observations concerning general customer behavior in 2014. Here are some relevant highlights: SenSItIvIty Sure, we have long prided ourselves with being in touch with our customers; however, today's customers are "problem sensitive," according to a recent white paper by IntelliResponse Systems. Some 50% of consumers reported experiencing a problem with products or services in the past year. For us, that's a no heat call or a run-out. A MIT Management Study pegs the degree to which today's consumers have become problem- sensitive, and puts forth that in 1976 some 2% of consumers reported experiencing a problem with products or services they had purchased during the previous year. In 2013, that figure was 50%. That's quite a shift, so what are you doing about it? I GOt thIS Customers want to solve problems themselves nowa- days, with 72% of customers preferring self-service vs. calling or sending an email to resolve their support issues. Amen, I say. I prefer to search a company "needs to be split knowledge base" for a solution, vs. having to actually call and speak to a human being during regular business hours. (Oh, the humanity!) This is not some sort of ingrained or learned anti- social behavior (though for some, that may be part of it), but rather de facto evidence that we like self service. We love 24-hour ATMs, self-serve gasoline, automated 4-1-1 and the latest Pizza-to-Go app on Android. We are busy, we have mobile devices that do very cool things, we are 'always on' and, last but not least, we like doing things on our own terms. The referenced report says that: "Talking to a customer service agent is now perceived as a hassle rather than a convenience." COnSuLt the OraCLe A neighbor, who happens to be an IT pro, makes fun of me every time I whip out my smartphone when I want to know something. He refers to my phone as "the Oracle," in a blatant (and derisive) reference to the Matrix movie trilogy and the all-knowing, all-wise, character of the same name that Neo (Keanu Reeves) consults when he is in a jam. The point is customers go online when they have questions, with some 67% of customer support calls originating online. The report states that: "Fast, efficient self-service trumps extravagant and expensive human- assisted support." CrOSS haIrS "Flaming" (yes, it sounds like, and is, a bad thing) a company on social media is commonplace today, with 46% of consumers having used social media to vent their frustrations about a poor service experi- ence. Ouch. Consumers today place a high value on the opinions of others when making a purchase, so don't' omit social media from your customer service toolbox. Make it really easy to connect with your company solutions first and they will not feel as compelled to grind you up on-line. You cannot hide. One ShOt You have one shot at getting it right and consum- ers want problems solved on their FIRST attempt, with 88% of customers saying they want their prob- lem resolved with 1 (ONE) interaction with their provider. An emphasis on "self-serve" —if well executed—is good as it shifts the service effort into the "willing hands of your customers." Of course there is a catch: Customers will embrace this if you make it easy for them to find what they're looking for online. MObILe anSWerS Are you set up to provide answers to customer ques- tions and have those answers accessible from customer mobile devices? Some 75% of consumers think com- panies should make answers to all common customer questions available via smartphones. This is more than having a mobile-friendly web site, which most of us do not. Abstain from forcing your customers to struggle with old solutions, if they can be called solutions at all. tarGet OF OppOrtunIty So, you trained your customer service people to, without exception, ask questions to identify and secure additional transactions? I've seen this work really well provided the right people are in place. So-called "virtual agents" can deliver accurate answers as well as marketing offers that boost online conversion and revenue. For example, a virtual agent can match the intent of the question "Can I connect my heating system to my home security system?" with an offer or promotion on an internet-connected low-fuel sensor. Gartner predicts that by 2020, the customer will man- age 85% of his/her relationship with an enterprise without interacting with a human, so get in front of this now if you are not already. l FON Bio: Shane Sweet is an energy and management consultant with clients in the heating oil, propane and motor fuel sectors. He served the industry as President & CEO of the New England Fuel Institute "NEFI" from 2007 to 2011, and as Executive VP/Director and Lobbyist for the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association "VFDA" from 1993 to 2007. CoNTACT: shanemsweet@gmail 802-558-6101 cell/text. Suggestions by readers for future column content, as well as general comments, are welcome. Shane Sweet OPERATIONAL INSIGHT DELTA BEHAVIORUS

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