The Fuel Customer You Don’t Know

November 7, 2019 | By: Energy Engine
Categories: Blog Posts

Imagine the world we were living in just a decade ago.  

Facebook was still competing with MySpace (who?), Amazon was selling books, and the first iPhone had just been released.  As consumers, the way we shopped for products and services was dramatically different from the way we do it today. We still visited the mall, had never heard the word e-commerce, and 24/7 self-service was only available at the local gas station.

It’s safe to say things have changed.  

The Digital Revolution has been won and we are in an age of Digital Transformation.  This is particularly fascinating because it is the first time a technology revolution landed right at the feet of ordinary people like you and me.  This is fueling a new era of consumerism that is completely reshaping the business landscape and quite literally changing the world.   

The smartphone and social media have moved the digital world from a computer to literally anywhere we can be.  On the move, always connected all the time. Our lives are now defined by the prolific use of technology, providing instant access to anything and everything.  We are in control, knowledgeable, and we are never looking back.

What does this mean for the fuel industry?

The Digital Transformation has created an entirely new breed of customer for your fuel business, one that looks, acts, and engages in ways never seen before.  This new customer is coming with experiences and expectations drawn from other parts of the lives. And above all, they want to do everything online and on their smartphone.  Forget the telephone, forget snail mail…even email is so ten minutes ago.  

How can it be that, suddenly, it feels like dealers are chasing the demands of a customer they used to know so well?  It’s ok, we are not the only ones. This is now the universal challenge of every industry from banking to energy to cars.  Look no further than our health care system to see the power of “patients as consumers”.      

How do you quickly understand and adapt to a customer you don’t know?

It helps to get familiar with this new consumer. We need to know the facts about their behaviors because there are too many myths.


  • 70% of business web searches on a smartphone still end with a phone call
    • No, the phone is NOT cool again, this happens when a customer cannot do what they want online
    • It is very common for dealers with an outdated or non-existent online engagement system 
  • A recent report by the USPS showed that 91 percent of Postal Service customers are fine receiving bills by mail, but want to pay them online. Only 37 percent of consumer bills are paid by mail, less than half of what it was a decade ago.
  • Nine out of ten consumers insist they want companies to offer intelligent solutions that help them navigate and solve issues on their own.  Translation: Self-service and e-commerce rule the day 
  • 90% of consumers expect brands to offer a self-service ecommerce solution. 60% of consumers will view those customer sites more positively when they are mobile responsive.
  • The 90-90-90 Rule: 90% of text messages are read.  90% get responded to within 90 minutes.
  • 85% of mobile users in America have experienced ‘digital amnesia’ and 63% of them say that they actively ‘outsource’ their memory to their computers or mobile devices
    • Consumers expect the businesses they interact with to do the remembering for them, leading to a radical shift in service expectations of consumers.
  • 89% of millennials say that they are more willing to do business with companies that proactively engage them with reminders, notifications, and other relevant information. 
    • Surprisingly, this number is 90% for GenX and 91% for Baby Boomers
    • There goes the theory that older generations don’t care about online engagement
  • 88% of consumers have used some automated self-service solutions and 60% agreed that it improved their Customer Experience.


A new perspective on consumer thinking.  Why lessons of the past no longer work:

Then Now
Get to a human
“I need someone to solve my problem”
Take Control
“I prefer to solve problems myself”
Single Session
“Let’s get this over with”
Micro Moments
“Let’s take a step forward while I have a moment”
Avoid Interruptions
“I don’t want to start over and repeat myself”
Expect Interruptions
“Let’s pick up right where we left off”
Preference Management
“Let me tell you what I want”
Digital Context
“Know who I am. Anticipate what I need”
Money > Time
“Don’t waste my money”
Time > Money
“Don’t waste my time”


Now that we know them, how do we adapt and stay relevant?

As is the case with any problem, it helps to face reality.  The fuel industry may fail to recognize just how profoundly digital technologies are influencing customer expectations.  This is not a phase or something that will revert to the way it used to be. You either adapt to digital business or risk your future.  

Customers do not simply expect better experiences. They feel that they’re entitled to them. It has changed their approach to every aspect of their relationship with you.  Including the manner in which they choose their service level. Automatic and Will Call are beginning to merge.  The standard two buckets will no longer be acceptable. Hybrid customers may become the norm.

Start to embrace an omnichannel business model.  Stand strong on your heritage brand but let the customer decide how to do business with you.  Maybe they want to be Full Service, maybe Will Call. Stop value judging and move in the direction of “all customers are good customers”.  And remember that COD is a growing segment thanks to this self-determined consumer movement. Doing that online is a way to ensure margins stay intact.   

At the heart of Customer Experience is e-commerce and online engagement.  

But probably not in the manner you are might think.  Shopping cart design fuel ordering systems frustrate customers and cause headaches for everyone.  It seems as if you don’t know them, asking for registration at every log-in or losing orders altogether.  Ecommerce allows you to track delivery profiles and behaviors while providing unattended communication for site visits, price quotes, orders, and deliveries.  This builds a digital relationship. It sounds odd, but that is where connection happens. Online and automated.    

And portals that just take payments are a thing of the past.  That covers about 10% of what customers expect. Like e-commerce, a portal has to do everything a CSR can do.  Unfortunately, most dealers cannot facilitate these functions. If you are in this camp, it’s time to shop for a new portal for your Full-Service customers.

To succeed in this new normal, dealers must innovate beyond the early technology approaches.

Smart dealers are not simply trying to offer basic customer functions online.  Today’s requirement is to provide customers with the same sophisticated solutions they use in every other facet of their lives.  They will not respond well if they shop on Amazon one minute then visit a clunky dealer site the next.  

Ecommerce is a ubiquitous part of our lives.  Dealers can no longer ignore the trend or they risk looking behind the times.  Not deploying some form of e-commerce will also disappoint customers, existing and potential.  They will question your ability to stay current and, thus, unfortunately, question you period.  

Build an online engagement and e-commerce strategy and you will certainly get ahead of your peers. 

And you will wow fuel customers of all kinds, from Full Service to COD and everything in between.  You get to decide where and how to position your company. Or be aggressive and position for every type of customer.  In a world where competitive advantage can be hard to come by, learning how to deploy transformative digital tools could give you a lucrative boost in your market.  Happy customers equal more gallons, more profits, at reduced costs.


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