One of the more thought-provoking questions posed during Conexxus 2022 was: “What keeps you up at night?” Attendees at the annual convenience and fuel retailing conference, held in May in Tucson, Arizona, were united in their concern for the customer experience. Petroleum retailers are seeking solutions that deliver a strong customer experience for everyone, not just at the pump but in the store. The question of how best to do that keeps many of them tossing and turning at night.
Here are four of my takeaways from the Conexxus event for consideration (and perhaps to help get some more sleep at night):
Imagine (then deliver!) an Amazon-level customer experience. With Amazon, we all know what to expect. We place our order and get confirmation. We know when the items have been picked up and packaged and are out for delivery. We get alerts when they arrive. The experience is so predictable that if there’s a delay by a day or two, we worry that our box got lost. While Amazon’s operations differ from a gas stations’, the concept of creating a consistent, engaging buying experience that every customer can depend upon is universal. The question becomes, what do you want customers to be able to expect from your business time after time? Perhaps it includes multiple checkout and payment options, short wait times, fresh food, clean rest rooms, friendly staff and best prices. Build your list, then commit to delivering it predictably.
Collect data that you can act upon. It’s not enough to simply collect data, retailers must learn how data can be used to increase sales, boost loyalty and attract new patrons. When it comes to the customer experience, that may mean using data for refined targeting that benefits the buyer and the business. For example, say you notice that your sandwich sales spike between 3-5 p.m. when the local high school crowd stops by after school. You then decide to create a special offer for them, displaying the promotion on digital signage screens at the pump and in the store: All students from Main Street High who fill up their tanks, get $1 off a sandwich, chips and drink combo! There are infinite opportunities like these within the vast amount of data you collect on product sales, customer preferences and buying behaviors.
Put your people front and center. Another issue keeping execs awake at night is the labor shortage. At the same time, there’s a wave of automation to benefit retail operations. It’s natural to consider technologies or self-serve options, like payment kiosks, as the answer to staff shortages. But even in a highly connected world, the customer experience is still shaped by face-to-face interactions. To solve both challenges, use technology in the back-of-the-house, where you can gain efficiencies and conveniences that will boost operations and the customer experience – like inventory management or food prep capabilities. Then keep your employees out front where they can make the greatest difference by engaging with and keeping customers happy.
Invest in the network you need. Given the Conexxus event’s focus, there’s an assumption that retailers have high performing, resilient networks and the capabilities they need to create a robust digital customer experience. That’s not always the case. If you are grappling with legacy technologies or disparate systems that can’t support your vision, explore how solutions and service providers like Hughes can help you modernize your network. Above all, make sure you have back-up connectivity so that outages don’t impact business. Even an hour of downtime or sluggish performance can devastate the customer experience and ultimately sales.
Collectively, these insights from Conexxus 2022 can help the C-store and petroleum retailer appeal to a larger, more diverse population of customers; deliver an engaging experience – at the pumps and in the store; meet customer expectations predictably and consistently; and keep buyers coming back again and again.