It’s all about the brand experience
SOUTH AFRICANS have come a long way from the apathetic, uninformed consumers they were before, says Engen’s Retail Business Manager, Navin Reddy. “Our economy is in relatively good shape and we see many new products and services, local and international, entering and competing in the market place. This gives consumers more choice, freedom and information, which creates higher expectation.”
Given the ease of brand switching, many brands are also embracing the importance of emotionally connecting with consumers. Why? If consumers are emotionally connected, they will be more forgiving of a one-off bad service or inferior product experience, he believes.
When it comes to the Petrochemicals sector, in particular, Reddy believes the industry has adopted a stronger focus on service and convenience. “The service station is now seen as much more of a lifestyle choice, for top-up shopping, comfort on a long journey, as well as filling up the tank. It gives people the convenience and time-saving they so desperately crave in today’s fast paced way of life. And the big winners are companies that can meet the need for onestop solutions, while still promising superior product and service.”
Engen is definitely one of these winners, having been rated fourth overall in Ask Afrika’s Orange Index and second in the Petrochemical sector, one percentage point behind winner Caltex.
“Our core business is petrol and as a commodity that every motorist needs, customer satisfaction comes easily,” Reddy says. “Many points of parity prevail in the petro-retailing industry and it proved difficult initially to devise a strategy that would delight customers. Needless to say, we did manage to devise such a strategy, which included expanding the Engen experience with strategic partners in lifestyle and convenience such as Woolworths and Wimpy – and it has been extremely well received.”
He says the company also realised that its front-line brand custodians, ie dealers, pump attendants and cashiers interact with customers daily. So it was at these touch points that the company had an opportunity to enthral and inspire customers. A process of brand engagement commenced with the objective of making every custodian acutely aware of how their behaviour directly or indirectly affects the integrity and equity of the brand.
A service programme was rolled out, which taught basic service fundamentals to front-line staff and more importantly, prescribed a certain set of behaviours to delight and enthuse customers at every opportunity. For example, engaging in genuine dialogue with customers while filling up creates a real emotional connection with customers to make them feel that Engen is living up to its brand promise of “With us You are Number One”.
“In a nutshell, it’s about the brand experience, and this programme has been running successfully for three years now,” he says.
In a fast-growing and highly competitive environment, what makes Engen different?
According to Reddy, Engen’s competitors have chosen to differentiate themselves either on green enviro-friendly or purely functional aspects, such as fuel technology or product additive packages. “We on the other hand have opted to be the experiential brand. We recognise that the functional attributes of one’s brand are important, but realise that for long-term sustainability, a consistent positive brand experience is extremely important. It’s not only about what you say, but what you do – and how the general public experiences your brand.”
Customer satisfaction is an ongoing process and it takes commitment and promise, Reddy believes. “We have to keep customers interested in our brand, making our offering key to their lives on a daily basis or at each fill-up. Our customers have an expectation of being the first to get ‘the next good thing’ and as far as innovation goes Engen is an industry pioneer.”
As in most countries, there are pockets of excellence and pockets of shockingly bad service in South Africa, he says, and there’s definite room for improvement. “We believe the Government has a strong future vision and is trying to improve services, especially with the build-up to the FIFA World Cup in 2010. In some industries, like hospitality, we can compete confidently on a global scale. This is a direct consequence of the tourism boom we’ve seen over the last five or so years. This is a sector we’ve embraced and excelled in up and down the country.”
Interestingly, South African petro-retailing is a full service offering in that your car gets filled up for you as opposed to abroad where you have to do it yourself. And we have many other value adds, he believes. So the South African industry may easily be seen to be better than other global players in this sector when you compare the experience.
Customer satisfaction is an ongoing
process. Navin Reddy