Some of the things we do daily bring us up to speed with how the world does business. Some however, are unabashedly old school. The gas pumps out front are nowhere near the original ones we started with (photos soon to come on that front), but still cause plenty of confusion when people can't figure out where to put their credit card. The boss sitting down at break time to drink coffee with employees and guests and random people walking through the shop. As Ken Newton, a jack-of-all-trades for us and amateur philosopher put so eloquently the other day, "At the heart of it we aren't a fuel company, or a propane company, or a gas station. We are a customer service company. People usually don't look at it that way."
That logic made perfect sense, and I wasn't surprised to hear our business explained that way, but with that in the back of my mind I've lived this week a little differently. We are looking back at the heating season so far, and talking about how we do business. I've always been proud of what we don't charge for. No Delivery Charges on local deliveries of appliances. Like when you come in and buy a Grill from Jon Woods, it shows up that afternoon, In the back of one of our trucks, put together. He's more than happy to show you how to use it. Or talk about your heating service. Or talk about the news or the weather or whatever you'd like. This guy can talk. And fix stuff. If what you bought from us doesn't work, you will see that same truck picking it back up to make sure everything is made right.
Our bills are just as simple. There's a fuel there. No delivery charge. No HAZMAT fees. Coming from selling cell phone service, this is the easiest thing in the world to sell. You are a new customer, or an old customer, you pay the same price. I love it. Our Customers love it, too.
Which brings me to the next point. We've charged a $35 dollar set up fee since we started, and after doing 100+ tank sets a year for the past few years the numbers are starting to show that this doesn't even come close to covering the vehicle and equipment. Say nothing about the man hours, regulators and fittings. And we kinda already knew that. But it never seemed right to charge any more - most of the time customers had just purchased a home or been through a dispute with their previous provider, and a lot of the time cash was at a premium.
So, after much back and forth in the office and thinking back to why we do what we do, we decided to move that set up fee to $100. It was the right move when comparing it to shifting cost to all our existing customers. Relying more on credit checks and deposits is another move we'll be making, and that one was almost as tough. As much as we'd like to always rely on a handshake, we can't bring ourselves to make everyone pay for situations caused by a small percentage of our overall customer base.
Sitting at coffee one day a few weeks ago, Jim Lictus got to telling stories and I was amazed at all the things he'd ever put maple syrup or sugar on, or in. "During the war they were rationing sugar, and we could make all the maple sugar we could need. You just made the changes you needed to make"
Thank God we've still got some old timers to go to for advice.