From Facebook pages to smartphone apps, operators are staying in touch with professional drivers and the traveling public alike, and then greeting them with a smile when they walk through the door.
Inside The Store
Dan Alsaker, chief executive officer, Broadway Flying J Truck Stops, said, “For us, we still embrace the good old fashioned way of interacting people with people.” He added, “We still find it extremely important and gratifying to have full-service restaurants for example. You have to be a people person to be a waitress in a full-service restaurant or a fuel desk cashier because you’re going to be talking to these folks or helping people solve a problem.”
Alsaker said ensuring employees interact well with customers starts at the top. “We always believe it starts with leadership and it is showing and doing by example,” he said.
Prior to hiring, Broadway has management and mid-management candidates take a “Kolbe test”—a skills-assessment test developed by a woman named Kathy Kolbe. Alsaker said, “It tells us if they’re the right fit with our culture. Also, we’re looking for that human side of them. Are they regimented or do they have the flexibility to take care of the person in need?”
To recognize employees who make a special connection with customers, Alsaker spotlights “extra-mile stories” that the company shares internally and often with the media. He explained, “With our extra-mile stories, we continually remember that act of kindness that differentiates us from our competition.”
Darren Flitton, fleet and truckstop manager for Sinclair Oil Corp., said there are a number of ways Sinclair employees connect with customers when they’re inside the location and added that customer service can boost sales (see related story on page 8).
“Our cashiers are fully trained to take care of the driver at the fuel desk with speed and accuracy and we get them out the door and on their way, but sometimes we wonder why the merchandise sales do not follow the fuel sales,” he said, adding that personalized attention from employees can make all the difference.
“Years ago when I was running a travel plaza, my friend Gordon showed me how to truly connect with the drivers. Gordon was always in the aisle with the drivers looking for ways to help them. Gordon would not just point to an aisle and go the other way, he took the driver to the item,” Flitton said.
On The Road
A growing number of companies are using social media and technology to stay in touch with drivers in between their stops.
Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores is using its Love’s Connect mobile app, which has been downloaded 230,000 times to provide drivers with GPS-enabled store location information, offer real-time fuel pricing and route planning.
“Love’s Connect app allows us to connect with drivers by providing them information they need on-the-go, like location information, fuel pricing or loyalty account information,” said Jerry Hamm, Love’s corporate marketing manager of loyalty. “We have also used focus groups and driver surveys to get feedback from drivers on how we can make their stops at Love’s better and so we can better understand their needs.”
The app also allows drivers to share their thoughts using the anywhere, anytime customer feedback feature. “This allows us to address customer service needs in a timely manner without drivers having to take the additional time to make a phone call to the customer service department.”
Hamm sees the app as a way to boost the customer’s overall experience and help garner repeat business. “We are able to enhance our loyalty program through the app by providing real-time My Love Rewards loyalty account information and offer additional incentives to customer through our mobile ‘Deal Alert’ coupons, which are pushed out directly to app users,” he said.
CAT Scale Co. has an app that allows drivers to enter their location and find their five nearest CAT Scale locations. The app has been downloaded 10,000 times.
“Because we add locations often, it helps them in their route planning. It can also help them if they’re delivering in a new area they’re not familiar with,” said Heather DeBaillie, marketing manager for Iowa 80 and CAT Scale Co. “We did it to be helpful for the drivers.”
DeBaillie said it is important for operators to consider how they can make an app that is useful for drivers. “If it’s not or you don’t really have anything of value to put in the app, then I wouldn’t spend the money to do it,” she said adding that Iowa 80 doesn’t plan to create an app for the truckstop side of its business.
However, Iowa 80 Truckstop is connecting with drivers via Facebook. “We get a lot of interaction on our Facebook pages. Social media seems to be the best way to reach drivers to pose a question or get their thoughts on something,” DeBaillie said. “You get a lot more eyes seeing it at one time versus just walking around and asking people questions in the truckstop.”
“Before that drivers were on the road and there was no way to get to them. If you mailed them something it took a month to six weeks to get to them if they even saw it at all,” De- Baillie said.
She added, “There is an expectation that companies with a large presence in any industry have a Facebook page and post something regularly.” Regularly doesn’t necessarily mean every day. “Maybe you post once a week, but make sure what you’re posting is relevant,” she explained.
All forms of social media can allow an instant connection with customers. “We can reach drivers in real- time and have two-way conversations with them on the spot,” said Amanda Kuhlman, online communications specialist for Love’s. “We inform them on new store openings, new service offerings, new products and listen to their feedback while answering any questions or concerns they have.”
Social media also allows Love’s to learn about its customers and connect with them on a personal level by listening to what they are talking about and what interests them, Kuhlman said.
Kuhlman said social media can also keep drivers up-to-date on Love’s locations during a crisis. “For example, during Hurricane Sandy we provided drivers a heads up on locations that remained open during the storms and were very transparent on the standing of fuel supply at specific locations. The amount of positive feedback we received was outstanding; drivers appreciated being kept informed of what was happening and our honesty.”
A growing number of retailers are connecting with customers via mobile marketing. With more and more consumers using smart phones, companies can reach potential customers in a variety of ways. One of those ways is geofencing—a marketing technique that allows advertisers to select a virtual fence around a certain geographic area and send customers an alert on their mobile device when they enter the area. Customers opt-in to the program and choose to share their location by turning on the GPS setting on their handheld device.
Photo Credit: Ira Wexler/NATSO
This article originally ran in Stop Watch magazine. Stop Watch provides in-depth content to assist NATSO members in improving their travel plaza business operations and provides context on trends and news affecting the industry.
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