For now, it’s a fact in our business: Regardless of whether the customer uses propane or heating oil, a small portion of automatic delivery customers run out of fuel.
The consequences of run-outs vary, from shaking customer faith in our abilities to service them without incident, to loss of the account altogether to a competitor (or a competing fuel), to costs associated with what you had to do to make the customer happy, to legal entanglements associated with property damage resulting from run-outs.
The reasons for run-outs are numerous and include unanticipated changes in customer use patterns, mis-deliveries, missing a customer-specific seasonal transition from Will Call to Automatic delivery, K-factors that do not adjust from warm to cool weather quite fast enough, and so on.
If you had a physical measurement of how much fuel was in that customer’s tank on any given day, you could prevent that customer from running out. Not only could you set in motion the delivery to the customer in advance of their running out, and thereby avoid the often unpleasant experience of explaining to the customer why they ran out of fuel, but you could actually hit that ‘ideal drop” number every time. Imagine it: happy customers and reduction in delivery costs for your company.
‘Where do I sign?”, you ask?
Remote tank monitoring has been around for decades in one form or the other, yet in 2012 you have more options than ever to monitor the fuel level in your or your customers’ tanks.
Notwithstanding ‘home grown” methods, including using an Internet-connected IP camera to physically view the tank gauge on a remote tank via an Internet browser, available options on the street allow you to monitor tanks either periodically, at your will, or both.
The basics include a remote tank or meter monitoring device, a connection between the remote device and your monitoring base, and you (commonly a server).
The method of connections between tanks being monitored and you include:
· Dial-up with phone lines (hard lines) to either send data, fax a report or allow you to ‘poll” the tank
· Dial-up with cellular lines to either send data or fax a report, or again, ‘poll” the tank
· Internet or so called ‘IP” connections using you garden-variety internet connections
· Satellite connections (common for locations with no phone, cellular or possible internet connections)
· Radio transmission
Once the data is either pulled from the remote device, or pushed from the remote device to a server, depending on the system or vendors you are using, you or any number of people can be notified in real time as to the level of fuel in the tank, including being sent an email. As an example, I receive an email every morning at 6:00 a.m. ‘from a tank” that tells me the level of the product in the tank. That same tank also sends me special alerts should the level in that tank drop below a certain level.
Remote monitoring devices can be had and powered by AC current, DC current (batteries), or even solar power. For instance, if you are monitoring your own tank farm and it is not practical to run power to the monitoring device located at one of your tanks, the remote device can be powered with batteries.
A quick Google search for things that are obsolete yielded the following: Typewriters, public pay phones, dial-up, maps, e-mail accounts you actually pay for, getting film developed, movie rental stores, landlines, long distance charges, VCRs. Let’s add ‘run-outs” to the list.
See you next month.
Shane Sweet is in management with a major Northeast marketer of heating oil, propane, bio-fuel and motor fuel. From 1993 to 2007 he served as Executive VP and Lobbyist for the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association and from 2007 thru 2010 was President & CEO of the New England Fuel Institute. He lives in Manchester, Vermont and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-558-6101 cell. Suggestions for future column content are welcome.