Integrated software solutions help dealers respond to changes in customer expectations
By Samuel Diamond
Forget about fuel delivery for a moment. Think about the last time you checked out the newest takeout place on your lunch break. Maybe it was an up-and-coming chain that had made its way to your area, or maybe it was a little pop-up café offering a modern take on deli or diner fare; whatever the case, you might’ve been surprised to find at the countertop a sleek tablet-like device standing where you’d expected to see a classic cash register or POS (point-of-sale) system. Remember when the clerk spun that screen around 180 degrees and asked you to sign with your finger?
Now think about the way your company accepts payments from its fuel delivery and HVAC service customers. Do you still think you’re meeting their expectations regarding payment processing? Better yet, do you know what those expectations are?
Editor’s Note: For this article, Oil & Energy independently interviewed representatives from Blue Cow Software and Tiger Payment Solutions. Other popular software providers serving the energy industry include ADD Systems, Automated Wireless Environments, Cargas Systems, DRM, Inc., Micro-Analysts Software and Taurus Systems. This article should not be construed as an endorsement, from the interviewees, the writer or the publisher, of any one company over another.
“We live in a digital world,” says Rob Fawcett, president and founder of Massachusetts-based payment processing company Tiger Payment Solutions. “Although many businesses have the capabilities to process electronic payments, energy industry reports suggest two-thirds of invoices still arrive from vendors on paper.”
A fifth-generation oilman who counts many fellow liquid fuel dealers among his customers, Fawcett says businesses that implement today’s electronic payment systems can “realize enormous process efficiencies and cost-savings benefits.” On the other hand, fuel dealers that haven’t updated their online payment portals since they were created five to 10 years ago may need to take a second look at the way they do business online.
Thanks to the rise and subsequent evolution of mobile technology, consumer expectations have changed quickly and drastically over the past decade. As a result, today’s customers don’t just want the option to pay their bills online. They expect the online payment portal to be clean, convenient and comprehensive.
“Customers want the ability to not only pay online but to place new orders and view account information, delivery and service history, and any loyalty or rewards programs that are offered,” Fawcett says. “Tiger helps meet these needs by offering processing solutions that can be integrated with a number of great back-office software platforms, including (listed alphabetically) those by ADD Systems, Automated Wireless Environments, Blue Cow Software, Cargas Systems, DRM, Inc., Micro-Analysts Software and Taurus Systems, among others.”
Mark Nardone, president and founder of Blue Cow Software, has witnessed a similar paradigm shift over the past 10 years. “Consumers are used to sophisticated apps on their phones, and they expect the same level of sophistication from their fuel company,” he states.
Speed is also of the essence, according to Roxanne Hesh, marketing specialist for Blue Cow Software. “With the transition of society into the digital space and the increased demand for immediacy, it’s more and more important for companies to offer the option for immediate online payment,” she says.
To this end, automatic credit and debit card billing not only improve the customer experience, but also allow fuel dealers to “reduce their back-office workload,” says Fawcett. “The goal has always been to streamline operations by providing seamless integration with a new or existing back-office software,” he adds.
Thankfully, integrated software solutions aren’t as foreign to office workers as they once were. “In the past, we were the ones always telling our customers about other systems they can integrate with to improve their efficiency and profitability,” says Nardone. “But now we are finding companies with the more technologically adept staff are calling us, asking if we can interface with another product.”
As customer expectations and employee capabilities become more closely aligned, the fuel industry may now be on the verge of another major paradigm shift, in which the old cash-on-delivery model is replaced by mobile “debit-on-delivery” solutions. Today, some drivers can accept payments on the spot via a tablet or smartphone that’s connected with the dealer’s back-office software.
This comes as no surprise to Fawcett. After all, Tiger Payment Solutions now offers integration with the Clover™ Station, a touchscreen platform that you might have used on your last trip to that new lunch spot.
“Fewer and fewer consumers are carrying cash,” Fawcett says. With this in mind, he believes that “embracing the ‘debit on delivery’ option makes total sense” for today’s heating oil and propane dealers. “No one wants to be stuck chasing money.”