Z aims to increase pleasure at the pump

Service: Z Energy has found the personal touch leads to happy customers.
Service: Z Energy has found the personal touch leads to happy customers.

Buying petrol is one of the most hated purchases a person can make.

"Historically the relationship to the category has been pretty poor," admits Z Energy's general manager for retail, Mark Forsyth. "For a lot of people, they are in a hurry for fuel that costs a lot of money - and they are not sure that is fair - and it goes in their car where they can't see it."

It is feelings like these that have seen Z Energy invest a lot of money in a system to help it identify and then eliminate the things that drive motorists to distraction.

Just before it began rebranding in 2011, Z Energy deployed a customer realationship management monitoring system from Canadian firm Empathica so it could identify ideas to take the frustration out of fuel-buying.

The system replaced random mystery shops, where people were sent into stations to report on the customer experience.

Using prize draws and giveaways to encourage customers to tell it what it was doing well and badly, Z Energy has managed to get 15 per cent of the people it asks to provide feedback - a response rate Empathica's founder Mike Amos said was unusually high.

There were two big findings about what Z Energy could do better: Speed things up and improve the sense of personal service.

If at first it seems like the two things are incompatible, Z Energy found they were not.

Investments in technology to speed up service are being rolled out around Z Energy's service station network, which frees staff time to lavish a bit of love on customers.

The technology includes "Z screens" - touchscreen terminals which provide information that people have historically asked for at the tills, including the correct pressures to fill tyres.

It also includes a faster payments system - 10 seconds quicker at accepting or declining payments. And the rollout of payment terminals at the pumps has begun.

While this might ordinarily mean job cuts at service stations, the savings achieved mean Z Energy is able to have staff available at the pumps, something customers value highly and which was lost in the petrol price wars a decade ago.

There are non-interaction time savings as well.

One of the top frustrations for motorists is pulling into a service station to find the pumps that are free are those on the opposite side to their fuel tanks.

Z Energy is installing longer pump pipes at all its petrol stations so people can fill up at any pump, no matter which direction they approach from.

The impact of such moves cannot be over-estimated, said Forsyth.

A benchmarking test using Empathica before the rebranding from Shell to Z Energy showed a 70 per cent customer satisfaction rating. The score now is 81 per cent, which Amos said put Z Energy at the very top of the 150 international companies its system is deployed with.

That's happiness in nearly 53 million of the roughly 65 million stops people make at Z Energy stations nationally each year.

About six in 10 people were extremely complimentary about Z, which was also an unusually high score, said Amos. The global norm for customers who claimed to be "wowed" was about 15 per cent.

But Amos said what was most unusual was the very rapid rise in satisfaction seen from a relatively high base satisfaction.

"A 10 per cent gain for a brand is a huge gain," he said.

The future could be even more convenient. It is far from impossible to imagine chips implanted in cars allowing people to pay for petrol simply by driving over receptor units, said Forsyth, or to have Pin-free payments.

However, Z Energy's research shows there is not yet enough trust in contactless payments. Also, the level at which contactless Pin-free payments can be made has been set by the banks and credit card companies at $80, which is too little for many people to fill their tanks on.

Sunday Star Times