I have been around the retail energy marketing industry long enough to remember when daily rack prices were sent via fax, delivery routes were printed on paper maps, and “hedging” was landscaping around the home office. Is there anyone who longs to see those days return? Like every other industry or business segment, advances in technology have improved the efficiency of fuel oil and propane dealers.
But not all dealers have embraced the available technology with the same enthusiasm. And, whether it is an unwillingness to change, reluctance to make the necessary investments, or paralyzing confusion about the overabundance of software tools and applications, not all dealers have experienced the full benefits technology can deliver.
Younger team members may be eager to implement the latest applications, but not all have the in-depth knowledge of the business to fully understand how the changes will affect customers and operations. Veterans of the industry may feel they can run the business by instinct and feel no need to rely on a computer to tell them what to do. But customers are demanding the convenience that Internet-based apps and online services can offer, and the final arbiter should be – must be — the customer.
The good news is that one of the best ways to serve customers is to use technology to help a business run more smoothly, effectively and profitably. That comes about when you eliminate barriers that slow the flow of information between departments and internal functions. The right fuel company management software system, properly designed and implemented to match a dealer’s specific business needs, allows you to track the journey of every gallon of fuel from rack to receipt, automatically linking all waypoints along the way.
How is this helpful? Being able to instantly view workflow between departments can help identify roadblocks and inefficiencies. It allows employees to communicate with each other more effectively, reduces redundancies, gives management a wealth of well-organized data that can be used to make more informed decisions for future operations.
So dealers must keep up with changes in technology in order to fully serve their customers and to help make their own operations more streamlined and efficient. Still, it is easy to get lost in the software jungle. There are so many different applications competing for attention that it can be difficult to discern which tools you really need. The solution is to choose an enterprise management software platform that is broad enough to handle multiple operational and business functions, yet flexible enough to add specific extensions, applications and integrations as the need arises – and the budget allows.
At minimum your software should integrate the flow of information between departments, so that once an order is placed, delivery, inventory management, dispatch, routing, invoicing and accounting all take place automatically. The same integration should be in place for the service department. You will also want to incorporate a customer relationship management (CRM) function to enhance marketing and customer service, and an analytics component to compile and synchronize information for management review and action.
Once you have the basics covered it is easier to pick and choose which of the many “add on” features are best suited to the needs of the company and its customers. The most in demand include mobile communications applications for improved management of delivery drivers and service technicians, web-based ordering and service scheduling, mobile apps for customers to communicate more easily, paperless imaging to streamline record keeping, and integrated accounting software.
Getting up to speed with the latest and greatest technology is a process and a journey. But the investment you make in time and money can pay huge dividends by making your fuel oil or propane business more competitive and profitable. The sooner you make the leap to a fuel-focused software platform the better.
Want to see how a truly end-to-end suite of business management software for the energy industry works? Visit our website or call us at (888) 499-2583.