The Revolution in Customer Experience (and why the energy supply chain could miss it)

This article is the next of a series on how the final mile of the energy supply chain is changing. In the last post, The Changing Face of Gasoline Demand, I talked about the dynamics of gasoline demand and how it is flattening or even decreasing over time. It’s possible that the COVID-19 pandemic is hastening the destruction of demand in a way that could have residual effects into the future (even after people return to their normal work-days)1.

State of the Fuel Supply Chain

I believe the supply demand imbalance (way more supply than demand) in the gasoline market is putting tremendous pressure on supply chain ecosystem players like wholesalers/distributors and carriers. This is causing margin pressure that is likely to build and it is setting up a new battlefront for market superiority:

The battle for a transformational customer experience.

Our market isn’t known for being the leaders of customer experience although there are some exceptions. We’ve engaged customers in very traditional ways and, in some cases, not engaged them at all. It makes sense since for decades, the basic competitive landscape was to make sure you could deliver fuel on time, safely and do a few other fundamental things. While those fundamentals are still critical and are table stakes to be in the market, they won’t be enough to thrive or even survive.

Over the last few years, customers have been conditioned to look for a different kind of experience by other brands like Apple, Starbucks or Uber. We see this most often in our experience using software where we expect a certain level of personalization and ease of use that is very hard to find in the industrial world.

Make it for me

According to a recent article in Forbes2, B2B brands have to consider many different dimensions of customer experience like how well they are empathizing with end users of their product or service. I am not saying that our industry doesn’t care about customers. We do. However, how well do we really understand customers at the individual level and how well do we customize that customers experience with our brand? We’ve got a long way to go.

The first steps on understanding our customers better is to take the time to thoughtfully speak to customers via one on one interactions, surveys and observations on how they use the products and service we deliver. We also have to use data to observe when things go wrong and make near real time fixes where possible. A great example of this is Amazon Video that can detect when something goes wrong with a video and then makes an immediate fix by refunding that particular purchase3.

What is one small step you can take in the next 7 days:

  • Talk to one of your customers and have them describe to you their ideal way to buy from you. Tell them there are no limits.

Liberate our people with technology

Technology is critical but it’s not to replace people in my view. Instead, it’s there to liberate humans to do what only humans can do: to empathize, create and communicate in natural ways with customers. Our industry is populated with a host of disconnected systems (See related blog post: Disconnected IT Systems and Manual Processes) which makes it difficult for the humans in our ecosystem to look up and take really good care of customers. The immediate benefits of robotic process automation (RPA) are very clear including reduced error rates and reduction in back office costs4. The bigger benefit, though, seems to be to release the best of our people to take care of customers.

Now Network Back Office Time Infographic

Recently, someone broke into my car and stole my backpack. It was frustrating to say the least. However, after calling my insurance company, they let me know to contact Safelight to arrange for a repair. I went on line using my mobile phone (my laptop was stolen) and got my repair set up. This was a smooth experience that took literally 5 minutes. Once I entered my policy number the Safelight system took care of the rest including verifying insurance coverage and scheduling the repair based on my preferences. The only time I heard from a human was a few days later when there was a 1 day delay due to the particular glass not being available. The service representative called me, asked for me by name, described my vehicle and then described the problem and solution. It was a 2 minute call and it was a great experience for me. I honestly didn’t care that much about the delay.

According to a recent MIT study5 it’s vital that B2B companies can execute a frictionless interaction and be able to engage with customers via omni channel communications like phone, text and mobile. I love how SafeLight did this for me!

What is one small step you can take in the next 7 days:

  • Talk to your best back office person (a billing clerk for example) and ask them how they would spend their time if they didn’t have to worry about billing all day.

Drive long term profitability

At the end of the day, working on superior customer experience only makes sense if it allows us to win in the market. It’s not good enough just to create a wonderful experience without creating a positive business impact for wholesalers, distributors and carriers.

PWC recently did some work around the impact of superior customer experience on things like margins and profitability for a variety of markets6. Some examples include:

  • 9% higher for cable service
  • 8% for cell phone plans
  • 14% for annual physicals

Which one of us would like at least a high single digit improvement in profitability?

Moreover, according to the same study, 20% of customers will stop doing business with a company after just one bad experience and up to 60% will stop after several bad experiences. In an environment where customers’ expectations are increasing, it is becoming harder to keep customers. None of us can afford losing customers.

What is one small step you can take in the next 7 days:

  • Calculate the improvement in profitability if 25% of your fuel business margin increased by 1%.


It’s more important than ever to conquer the challenge of increasing customers’ expectations. The winning companies in the fuel supply chain will be the ones that win the battle for transformative customer experience.


1  Decline in US gasoline, jet fuel demand from COVID-19 could linger for years

2  Predictions for Customer Experience in 2020 

An unexpected Amazon Refund Demonstrates just how Clever Jeff Bezos can be

4 Benefits of Robotics Process Automation RPA Software

5 Why Customer Experience Matters for B2B

6 Future of Customer Experience 

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