Customer service at fuel stations

Business News of Sunday, 21 August 2016

Source: Joshua Mensah-Keli

2016-08-21

Pump Fuel Into CarFile photo

Any business outfit that provides excellent customer service is likely to benefit from free word-of-mouth marketing also known as advocacy from satisfied customers and this will go a long way to increase its sales and profits.

If the above statement is true, how come most Oil Marketing Companies (OMC’s) operating in Ghana throw customer service to the dogs despite its immense contribution to profitability and growth?

The key services in a fuel station are, pumping fuel in customers’ vehicles and other value-added services such as; vulcanising, cleaning of windscreens and windows, carwash, sale of lubricants and quick auto services. Auxiliary services such as shopping marts, restaurants, eateries and restrooms are also provided.

The key customer service interaction points at the fuel stations are, welcoming the customer to the fuel station, getting the customer’s order for fuel or other services he may require, answering customer questions, delivering the service requested by the customer, getting payment for service and giving correct change to the customer where necessary and finally, properly ushering the customer out of the fuel station with a warm farewell and request for a repeat visit soon.

Fuel attendants

It is interesting to note that after OMCs put in a lot of effort getting the customer to choose their brand over competition, fuel attendants deliver an abysmal service to the customer. The fuel pump attendants are the interface between the customer and the oil companies.

The government deregulated the petroleum sector in June, 2016 (GNA), and since then there has been fierce competition among the OMCs to woo customers who have become sensitive to price quotes.

Most of these oil companies who seldom did any form of advertisement being it traditional or digital prior to the deregulation now can be heard on radio promoting their brands in a bid to get customers to patronise their products.

Before the customer decides to buy, he would have gone through a five-stage decision-making process before he makes a purchase decision.

Need is the most important factor which leads to buying of products and services. Need is in fact the catalyst which triggers the buying decision of individuals. A customer, who buys fuel, identifies his need as mobility.

Making the decision

When a customer recognises his need for a particular product/service, he tries to gather as much information as he can. He might discuss his need with his friends, family members, co-workers and other acquaintances who might have used the product before. I personally use an App (Fuel Connect) which is highly effective because it gives me up to the minute information on fuel price adjustment at the local pumps.

The next stage is that customers evaluate the various alternatives available in the market. An individual after gathering relevant information, tries to choose the best option available as per his need, taste and pocket.

After going through all the above stages, the customer finally purchases the product. This stage is most crucial for the OMCs because for them to get repeat purchase and customers advocating or being their evangelist, they need to be customer-centric.

Welcoming the customer

I have encountered this situation one too many and I am sure most readers also relate to it. Anytime you drive into a fuel station, the attendant walks to you and the first question he asks is, ‘how much’? In a worst case scenario he will ask ‘yeees’?. Instead of approaching with a smile and greeting before they go ahead to serve you, they rather resort to this unruly behaviour.

For most motorists such as myself, this approach by fuel attendants is a complete turn-off and I have vowed never to purchase fuel from such OMCs even if they are selling at the lowest price.

OMCs seem to forget that the final stage of the consumer decision-making process is post-purchase evaluation. This refers to a customer’s analysis of how beneficial the product, including the service delivered. has fulfilled his need.

If he took a bad experience with him away, you can surely bet he will never buy from any of their outlets and not only that but he will tell others about his bad experience.

It behoves the managers of these OMCs to organise regular customer service training for their frontline staffs.

For a start, these seven simple steps can be adopted by fuel attendants in dealing with unhappy consumers.

Adjust Your Mindset

Once you are aware that the customer you are serving is unhappy, your first priority is to put yourself into a customer service mind. This means that you set aside any feelings you might have that the situation is not your fault, or that the customer has made a mistake, or that he is giving you unfair criticism.

All that matters is that you realise that your customer is upset, and that it’s up to you to solve the problem. Adjust your mindset so that you are giving 100 per cent of your focus to the customer, and to the current situation.

Listen actively

The most important step in the whole of this process is listening actively to what the customer is saying – he wants to be heard, and to air his grievances. Do not allow anything to interrupt this conversation. Give your customer all of your attention.

Repeat their concerns

Once he has had time to explain why he is upset, repeat his concerns so you are sure that you are addressing the right issue. Repeating the problem tells the customer you were listening, which can help lower his anger and stress levels. More than this, it helps you agree on the problem that needs to be solved.

Be empathic and apologise

Once you are sure that you understand your customer’s concerns, be empathic. Show him you understand why he is upset. And make sure that your body language also communicates this understanding and empathy.

Present a solution

Now you need to present him with a solution. If you feel that you know what will make your customer happy, tell him how you will like to correct the situation.

Take action and follow up

Once you have both agreed on a solution, you need to take action immediately. Explain every step that you are going to take to fix the problem to your customer.

Use the Feedback

Your last step is to reduce the risk of the situation happening again. If you have not already done so, identify how the problem started in the first place. Find the root of the problem and make sure it’s fixed immediately. Also, ensure that you are managing complaints and feedbacks effectively, so that you can improve on the way you do things.

Social media has empowered the consumer even the more and, therefore, one Tweet, Facebook or Whatsapp post, from a disgruntled customer is sure to go viral and negatively affect your brand image and profitability.

The writer is an Ecommerce Expert & Digital Marketing Strategist.

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