Retail Energy Blog

Building Better Connections Between Your Customers and Your Fuel Business

2/11/2019 - Jacob Roberson

"Self-serve price plan sign up is absolutely achievable. "

The Customer Portal, despite having been in the fuel industry for well over a decade, is still underutilized. In many ways, the entire concept is often misunderstood.

This is partly due to the term “portal” being overused, to the point where the word has nearly lost its meaning. To most, it simply means online payments…maybe fuel orders, though with the main objective being to drive down operational costs. And while saving money is important, it can blur the real power of portals by placing too much emphasis on internal gains and not enough on the Customer Experience.

And that, indeed, is where we are today.

Our industry deploys portals that are dealer centric, not customer centric, resulting in lackluster adoption rates and even lower satisfaction ratings. They can be fairly described as glorified payment and order taking systems that have never fulfilled their most important promise; automating complex customer service functions to take the pressure off your customers and your phones.

To learn how to properly use portals to enhance Customer Experience and deliver real process automation, it helps to step back and define the problem dealers are trying to solve with self-service technology.

Traditional Customer Service headaches for fuel dealers include:

  • High customer service costs: often eclipsing $6 per call combined with internal capacity strain
  • Scattered data and information: CSRs forced to fumble around systems or pass calls off to others
  • Complex business functions: budget and price plan enrollments can be tricky to navigate
  • Decreasing customer satisfaction: consumers more and more frustrated with our “old” way of doing business
  • Increasing competition: making it harder to differentiate and create loyalty
  • Consumer expectations that are outrunning our ability to keep up: the Digital Age is real, don’t be left behind

It is very easy to align each of these challenges with what an online portal needs to do and guarantee substantial returns. Letting customers take control of their relationship with you, allowing them to engage you on and off-hours, and offering self-service automation for even the most complicated functions all create lasting loyalty.

So, how is it that we landed on just payments and orders?

The answer is complex and intuitive at the same time. If the real horsepower of a portal is fueled by automation, then the features, screens, and workflow guidance need to be truly user friendly. And that is not the case for most portals on the market today. Dealers describe them as clunky while customers use more flowery language that invokes frustration and confusion.

Customers cannot self-serve with things like Budgets and Price Programs because the automation tool fails them. Hence, all that’s left are payments and orders (that’s the intuitive part). It is “default adoption”. For non-techy folks, that is geek speak for “all the best parts of a solution aren’t being used”. If Turbo Tax can easily guide us through federal and state tax preparation, self-serve price plan sign-up is absolutely achievable.

Budget and Price Program enrollments for years have confounded customers and CSRs alike, with myriad choices and challenging set ups. Calls for enrollment are among the longest for any CSR, typically hovering near the 20-minute mark! Not surprising that attempting to automate enrollments on a portal has failed nearly across the board. Adoption rates have been incredibly low, and, out of exacerbation, dealers regularly have CSRs handle enrollments by phone and only then enter them into the portal! Talk about inefficient.

There’s a better way.

The key is to think like a customer, be thoughtful about what it would take to enroll in a Budget or Price Program without human assistance and anticipate the questions along with potential hiccups. Intuitively guide your customers while building confidence in the platform and do it with as few clicks as possible.

The good news is that a new generation of portals are making their way into our industry; solutions that can finally handle program enrollments and so much more. These groundbreaking products are built first and foremost to deliver a world class Customer Experience and facilitate full automation that can satisfy the self-serve demands of today’s savvy fuel consumer. Happy customers, relieved CSRs, expense reductions at levels never seen before.

Your portal is an essential part of your Customer Experience strategy. They are also evolving quickly so the time is right to see what is available. Assess your portal strategy and commit to advancing it. Strive for full automation of key functions and programs. Taking your company beyond payments and orders will drive meaningful competitive advantage, foster customer loyalty, and bring you further into the Digital Age.

Read our recent article in Indoor Comfort Magazine about enhancing customer experience through customer portals.

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