Rethinking Will Call and COD for Heating Oil and PropaneApril 24, 2019 | By: Energy Engine
The role of Will Call and Call On Demand (COD) customers has been a hot-button topic in the fuel sales industry for years. In the webinar below, our most attended session to date, we discuss the changing dynamic of these customers, and how fuel businesses can take full advantage of this growing segment of the consumer market.
Archived Will Call and COD Webinar
Click here to check out our YouTube channel, and watch our webinar — “Growing Your Ecommerce Fuel Business Webinar: Rethink Will Call and COD” — below!
Automatic Customers vs. Will Call and COD
Fuel dealers have long relied on the consistent business of automatic customers. However, in recent years, customer growth has become more and more stagnant across the industry. As homeowners across age brackets become accustomed to online buying, no industry is escaping the change in buying behavior.
As the transition has continued, fuel dealers have been slow to embrace the opportunity that the new will call and COD customer base provides. As the online-buying market continues to expand, will call and COD customers provide a solution to stagnant customer growth. By accessing this largely ignored customer base, fuel dealers can stop swapping customers with their competition and truly see a consistent difference emerge.
Will call and COD have not done a complete 180 however; for many businesses, they are still disruptive to a degree. The nature of the market is still being defined, but one thing is for sure: the opportunity for reliable value and growth is there.
Value of Ecommerce For Heating Oil and Propane Dealers
In addition to helping capture the growing will call customer base, ecommerce helps improve one of the most important aspects of modern businesses: customer experience.
Customer experience drives more of the buying decision than nearly any other factor. Different from customer service, customer experience includes the totality of interactions that a potential customer has with a business. Everything from first hearing or seeing your business’ branding to how you treat the existing customer is part of the factor.
For most customers, the experience begins with the website. When fuel dealers have less than stellar digital presences, it damages the total potential customers they can earn. But more importantly, the experience continues past the sale as well. It’s not just about having a good “billboard” on your website. If your current customers are not continually catered to based on their custom behavior, they may not feel as though they are being valued as much as they should be. More specifically, they may feel that the experience they are getting elsewhere should be the standard; and when fuel dealers do not meet that standard, the customers move on.
How Fuel Dealers Have Adapted
As ecommerce grows in popularity and customer behavior rapidly shifts, things have changed for heating oil and propane dealers. The most notable effect has been on margins. These new customers are so used to finding what they need 24/7 that they end up causing disruptions for dealers in the form of phone calls. They want to know about pricing and have nowhere to easily search. This has ended up taking time and resources away from the dealers and hurting their margins.
So how have dealers adapted?
Quite well actually.
Portals — dedicated websites that act as knowledge bases and online checkouts — have offered tremendous support for online fuel selling.
The portals meet the customers’ demand for 24/7 service and can also provide easier checkout. What’s more, portals are almost completely automated, so they are great for customers who know what they want.
Another big tool that fuel dealers have implemented has been the use of tank monitors which have taken the guess work out of monitoring gallons. Companies have also gotten better with delivery processes and minimum delivery times that account for the delivery side of their business.
Automation definitely helps fuel dealers from an internal-process standpoint. There’s no question about that.
It is definitely a balancing act, though. Dealers need to balance the automation with a personalized touch within their e-commerce system.
These new technologies can limit”manners marketing”. Helpful suggestions, simple “thank yous”, and an overall engaging experience is increasingly can be challenging with this automation.
Online Fuel Sales: Continuing to Adapt
Heating oil and propane businesses need to remember to focus on building these “digital relationships.”
It sounds like a weird, robotic statement, but consumers expect a relationship no matter where they are making their purchase. Just because they’re online doesn’t mean they don’t have really high expectations that there’s a relationship. It might be virtual but it’s a relationship.
This reduces fulfillment costs.
Just look at all the ecommerce companies out there. What is their big thing for profits? It’s a huge reduction in fulfillment cost. When you take all of the front-end phone work out of the equation, you take all the expense of having a brick-and-mortar store out of the equation and you become a logistics company. Ecommerce does the same for fuel dealers. It really drives down your fulfillment costs and it’s a customer-experience tool, and we already touched on why customer experience is so important.
People use to be sensitive about price. Then it became a sensitivity about time and convenience. Now if you look at the landscape, it’s really neither of those — it’s about the experience.
Building Loyalty with Will Call and COD Customers
Ecommerce is like a 360° customer coverage wheel. It’s a rare example of a revenue-generating technology.
Very few people come into your office with technology that allows you to make more money and helps you grow. It’s an interesting dynamic in the heating oil and fuel industry, but as somebody once famously said, “You can’t save your way to profitability. You have to grow.” Dealers have to be pushing revenue and profits.
Ecommerce is a tool solely designed to grow and it has the added benefit of cutting costs.
It’s new customers. It’s retaining and servicing customers. It’s building loyalty. It’s engaging in active customers.
People explode out of the gate with their ecommerce business because they had a roster of 8,000 people in a database that were inactive. Some of the inactive customer lists out there are gigantic and we have seen people use ecommerce to take that list and build a business around it.
So, has businesses continue to adapt to the changing technologies, the focus must stay on the customer.
That strategy starts with portals and online shopping carts, and requires a high level of real customer engagement.