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Fuel Distributors: Turn Your Clients' Fuel Problems Into Opportunities

Posted by: Erik Bjornstad

All the changes in fuels over the last ten to fifteen years have created a situation where there is a multitude of costly problems for the clients of fuel distributors to deal with.  These fuel problems can be detrimental to any company’s bottom line at a time when all fuel users are tightening their belts and fighting for the value of every dollar they have.  

As a fuel distributor, or as someone whose clients base consists of fuel users, this is where you come in.  These problems present an opportunity for you to solve these issues for your clients and save the day. Back in the day, they used to call that ‘being a superhero for your clients’.  Sounds a little cheesy, I know, but let’s roll with it anyway.  Here are the five significant ways you can be a superhero for your customers and turn their problems into your opportunities.

#1 – Embrace the challenge

There are two essential facts to come to grips with here.

The first is that the world is changing and the economy is shifting. Your customers have access to more information than at any point in the history of the world. No matter where they are or what business they’re in, when they have questions, people will not accept anything less than quick answers. That’s just the way it is. For young people raised in the “internet age”, that goes double.

The second fact is that, according to numerous market research studies across every field of business, it costs about eight times as much to gain new customers than it does to keep and maintain the existing customers you already have. This matters because it means whatever you can do to improve the satisfaction of your current client base will pay off big time. If you run a business, you want as many new clients as possible, but it is a costly mistake to pursue them without putting equal effort (or more) into the customers you already have.

We bring up these two essential facts because they show that if you embrace the need to be the expert for your customers, their satisfaction skyrockets (because they’re used to getting whatever answers they want everywhere else). When their satisfaction skyrockets, they tell their friends and you gain more customers.

#2 - Learn to recognize the causes that are behind your client’s biggest complaints

With our ever-changing fuel supply, new problems with today’s fuels arise all the time. It has become quite a challenge for your clients to accurately diagnose the cause of fuel issues they face, especially if they’ve been in the business long enough to go through several fuel changes. And without knowing the cause, it can be difficult to come up with an effective solution.

For example, you’ve got the removal of sulfur from ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel. That significant change created a fuel environment where microbes can thrive.  For a while, people thought it was because sulfur was a “natural biocide” - they thought sulfur in fuel killed microbes. But that’s not really true - witness the fact that even crude oil, with sulfur levels thousands of times higher than ULSD, can develop microbial growth. Now, microbes do prefer to grow in lower-sulfur “climes”, but that’s not the only way ULSD is more hospitable to microbial growth. It’s also because concurrent federal regulations limited the aromatic content of the ULSD (in another effort to make it more environmentally friendly).  This created a fuel containing more of the kind of molecules (aliphatics) that microbes like, along with less of the molecules (sulfur, aromatics) that they don’t.

For some of the common equipment and fuel problems your customers face, many times this is the underlying cause. The problems caused by microbial growth include destroyed or degraded fuel quality, tank corrosion, plugged filters, and stalled equipment.

How about the problem of water in fuel, whether gasoline or diesel? Your customers who don’t think they’re getting the most out of their stored gasoline could well have water problems.  If they’re using gasoline, they’re probably using E10 ethanol-blended gasoline, if not E15. Ethanol loves to attract water (technically, it doesn’t attract the water so much as it dissolves water more easily than non-ethanol gasoline), becoming the cause for some significant problems that show up as negatives for your clients, including loss of octane value and tank or equipment corrosion damage from the poor gasoline fuel quality. 

Your clients probably don’t understand why they are having problems, they just know they aren’t getting what they’re used to. Making yourself familiar with the issues and the causes behind the problems your customers face with today’s fuels also positions you to…….

#3 - Become the “go-to hero” for solving your client’s problems

When you have a toothache, you immediately search for a dentist. You look for an expert in the area causing you pain, right? Likewise, you may have clients who, for example, operate a trucking fleet that comes with deadlines to fulfill and budgets to adhere to. What happens when their trucks break down on the road due to contaminated fuel plugging their filters? They lose time and money, both valuable commodities. 

The unfortunate tendency is that when fuel users experience problems, the first person they tend to blame is the fuel supplier, even when the roots of the problem may be unavoidable or may even be from the customer themselves. The better alternative is, rather than have them possibly look at you, their fuel distributor, as a possible cause, position yourself to become the problem-solver for them so your customers will look at you as their solution provider instead. 

Aim to be the person they call at any hint of a fuel problem. And why would they call you first? Because they know you are an expert in your field, and experts have solutions for them, taking the pain out of a potentially disastrous situation for them. Put yourself in the position to teach them why they have the problem, how to resolve it, and how to prevent it.

When you’ve put your business in a position where your clients trust you to be a problem-solver for them, they will be your clients for life.  Customers like this will buy more often and spend more when they order.  So when you ask “what’s in it for me”, a big boost to your bottom line is what’s in it for you.

#4 – Go beyond solving their problems - Partner with your clients to create a maintenance plan for the future

Benjamin Franklin said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Once you’ve helped your client resolve their fuel problems, you want to customize a fuel maintenance plan for them to decrease the chances of the problems recurring. People who see their dentists regularly for check-ups have fewer painful dental episodes than those who only see them once in a great while or after they’ve been laid low with a toothache. Encourage your clients to get on a regular treatment or maintenance program to reduce their painful episodes caused by fuel issues.

Of course, doing this means you need to know where to access the solutions that your clients will need to implement.  But for the types of problems your clients are needing resolution to, the solutions that work best 1) aren’t very expensive for them, and 2) add significant profit potential to your bottom line.

#5 - Insure your staff is adequately trained to represent you well

Your staff is the point people between your organization and the customers you serve. Regular training is essential for your staff so they are familiar with the fuel issues your clients face. This will allow them to

  1. be empathetic to your customer problems and gain rapport with the client,
  2. quickly recognize the symptoms of fuel-related issues and know what solutions to offer, and
  3. feel they are an important part of your business, meaning they are less likely to leave. We all know staff turnover is a costly proposition. A well-trained staff will serve your business well for years to come.

How do these 5 steps fatten your bottom line?

Why do these steps matter for your business? Simple - your company’s bottom line will be healthier after following the above suggestions.

Client Retention

Client retention is key to every business, as the costs of getting a new client far outweigh the cost of acquiring new ones. When your existing customers have confidence that you’ve got their interests at heart, they will continue to do business with you over those in the field they are unfamiliar with.  Continued training in the problems and solutions fuel users face today will net you a reputation as an expert in your field.

Referrals to Expand Your Customer Base

In this age of social media and the like, people love to share what they know with their friends and associates. This is especially true when it makes them look good; they like to give the impression that they have special knowledge “in the marketplace”.  That’s why the power of referral is such a strong urge.  When people find a reliable plumber or mechanic, they tell their friends.  They tell them because they want their friends and associates to share in a positive experience.  They also tell them because it makes themselves look good in the sense that they are the ones who found the positive thing they’ve passed along to someone else.

When your company is viewed as the expert in an essential area like ensuring the best possible experience for gas and diesel users, your customers will want to refer your company to those they know. So not only do you retain more customers as above, your customer base expands and grows through referrals.  Your bottom line expands because of both.

Staff Retention Is Essential

The Society for Human Resource Management estimated that it costs $3,500.00 to replace one hourly employee when all of the costs — recruiting, interviewing, hiring, training, reduced productivity, et cetera – were considered. 

Well-trained staff feel more invested in your company and are less likely to seek employment elsewhere. 

Lastly, they also play a huge role in client retention. Clients who have confidence in your staff are less likely to stray when presented with other supply options. People prefer to do business with people they like. Having well-trained staff who know your customers and who your customers trust - that means your customers will like you better, which means they will prefer to do business with you.

Four Essentials to Know About Fuel

This post was published on August 11, 2022 and was updated on August 11, 2022.

Topics: Fuel Distribution