I know that this may still be mid-summer, but I wonder, for those businesses that survived the last winter that really never came, are you prepared for what might lie ahead? For example, are we prepared for possibly more lost gallonage, cutting staffing, or higher than normal operating cost?
Let’s revisit some of the high points mentioned. Regarding lost gallonage, where did it go? Was it due to poor service, high oil prices, weather, or gas conversions? Personally, I would say that poor service is the easiest of all to correct due to having staff control, but was the cause possibly reduced staffing? Perhaps, even though the customer base and gallonage has shrunk, the workload placed on the remaining employees has caused attitude and frustration issues, which in turn has led to customers losing faith in your company. Did you ever try listening to a customer/employee conversation?
I recently had an experience with my cable company, who in my mind failed when it came to customer service. I called them and clearly stated that I was having a picture clarity and cable connection issue. I also explained that I only wanted a company technician and not a sub-contractor, due to a past bad experience. The representative said no problem and gave me a date, repeated my issues and said that I would get a pre-call. I thought, this is great!
However, before my appointment, there was no pre-call, and when the technician arrived, he had on a nice blue shirt that clearly stated the sub-contractor and he had a new cable box under his arm. When I asked about the cable box, he said it was what he was told to replace. When I told him that this was not what I requested, he wasn’t surprised and said this happens all the time because they are short staffed.
So, you be the judge; was I a happy customer and is this simply what is referred to as OVER committing and UNDER achieving when it should have been the reverse? I’m thinking now of switching to a dish network—much like going from oil to gas due to poor service! Is your own company offering this type of service, and could it also be one of the contributing causes of the loss in business?
In the area of high oil prices, this is a very delicate issue because you may find that your long and faithful customers are now spending more time calling for cheaper oil prices. It also seems that we often overlook the fact that the Internet can clearly be our biggest competitor. If you don’t think so, take a look at www.newenglandoil.com, and you will see where I’m coming from. I can’t believe there are companies trying to survive on 20-30 cent margins, and simply just working for a week’s pay?
In my area of upper New England, many of the oil companies are losing gallonage due to the gas companies that are offering rebates as high as $1,500 for an oil to gas conversion. Can we stop that? Probably not, but if your sales and customer service people are given the proper tools to answer your customers’ questions, as to why they should stay with oil, you can at least slow down those conversions that equal to lost gallons.
As for the weather, I have always said that there are two areas that we have no control over—the weather and the sea. But if the winter never comes, I would hope that you all have a diversification plan in place. If you don’t, you’re certainly not prepared for what could be on the horizon for the winter of 2012.