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How have fuel prices changed your customers’ behavior?

Since I work out of a home office, I don’t spend all that much time on the road. Good thing.

As a result, I don’t have to fill up the Suburban too often. It’s great for hauling around a big pile of Scouts and their camping gear, but lousy at efficient travel for me and the Dog (my Mom the English teacher cringes, thinking “it should be the ‘dog and I’ “).

Driving into the future
photo credit: kevindooley

So last Friday, I fill it up for the first time in a little over a week. Gas has risen about 15 cents per gallon since the last time I filled up (8 days ago), and a total of at least 27 cents since the time before that. Result: We’re at $3.43 here as of 10pm Friday night.

Anyhow, I’m on fumes after picking up my son after an all day (and much of the night) District band competition (he plays sax), so I stop and fill ‘er up.

$143.80 – a new record for the blue beast, who has a 40 gallon belly.

On the way home, I’m thinking to myself “Thank goodness I don’t have a long commute like I did 20 years ago.”

Then I start thinking about what changes in customer behavior this is causing – and more importantly, what actions businesses should take in order to deal with possible changes in behavior.

  • Do pizza delivery services get busier?
  • Do delivery charges rise?
  • Fedex fuel charges go up.
  • Food climbs 40% in the last 6 months.

With all this stuff going on, what are you doing to compensate for the changes in your customers’ behavior?

Remember the posts over the last week or so about automation? Twitter? Your website? All of these things will be more valuable as people decide not to drive all over town to shop, but instead, decide to pick up the phone or open up their browser.

Today, I picked up the phone and asked if 2 print jobs were done. The print shop is a 45 minute roundtrip drive on a good day. I drive in to pick up the work – and only 1 job is done. When I got there – as is usual – they have to search all over the shop to find the printed output (I’ve watched this for 2-3 years and still haven’t figured out why they insist on doing it that way).

So I will have to go into town again on Monday and get the other job – all because someone made a mistake. While it was an honest mistake, it cost me 45 minutes and about 3 gallons of gas.

Look at what happened to me and examine your business to see how you can streamline processes, delivery and so on – all in the interest of saving you and your client some time, money and energy. The more efficient you make the process of doing business with you, the more value you provide to your clients and the better off your business will be.

Ask yourself these questions, as examples:

  • How can I save my customer a trip to the store/office?
  • How can I save my customer some time?
  • What can I automate that we do manually now (taking up time)?
  • What can I automate that isn’t being done at all, but would provide more value to my clients?

For example, it would be simple to setup an automated notification system that would email, fax, SMS/text message or Twitter me when the print jobs are really done. I would expect a notification for each one.

Likewise, delivery would save me time and money. Do you offer it? I’m far more concerned about the extra 45 minutes than the $10. Clearly, I can justify at least a $10 delivery fee, since it’ll cost me that much in fuel alone. With the capabilities of route generation software, you can deliver 20-30-40 packages each day and not spend all your time on the road. You can use local courier services as well.

When will $143.80 change the behavior of your customer – and will you be prepared to provide them with business as usual, only better?

PS: Don’t confuse efficient with cheap.

Related posts elsewhere on the net:

Improving Operational Efficiency and Business Performance in …
Social Media for Efficiency and Productivity in Business
Screwing Over Customers is Not a Good Business Strategy

On Monday, the Albany Business Journal joined the bandwagon saying that a Federal fuel tax “vacation” would help. I say it’s a pile of horse biscuits. An 18.4 cent discount doesn’t mean much when fuel has gone up 30+ cents in 10 days. And it doesnt fix the problem, it just panders to the voters.