Professional drivers’ experience at fuel pump can turn either them into loyal customers or send them running to the competition. There are several elements truckstop and travel plaza operators should consider when thinking through the driver experience, including how well equipment works, ways to speed the fueling experience and how to use the pumps to boost inside sales.
Monitoring Wear and Tear
Many operators are focused on increasing their gallons and partnering with new fuel card providers or building a relationship with TravelCenters of America or Pilot. “If your diesel fuel gallons grow significantly as a result, you need to be aware of increased wear and tear on your equipment,” said Darren Schulte, vice president of membership for NATSO.
“Everything you do from the pay-at-the-pump receipts to the hoses, nozzles and breakaways will experience significant wear and tear and you’ll have more breakdowns. If you’re not aware of that, it can create a poor customer experience.”
Locations also have to consider when to update the pumps.
Locations that want to allow drivers to pay at the backcourt need to be EMV compliant. “A lot of operators never had those pumps open for credit cards and they always required someone to come inside and pay,” Schulte said, adding that operators need to think about the convenience customers may expect, especially with hours-of-service requirements. “If that person rolls up to your operation and has to go inside to get the credit card authorized and your competition allows them to not do that, they have a distinct advantage over you.”
The fueling process that a driver goes through is much longer than what a car customer goes through. “The actual fueling is fast with high speed diesel nozzles taking just minutes, but that isn’t the only part of the process,” Schulte said, noting that drivers can’t leave the pump unattended. The entire fueling process takes —about 15 to 20 minutes. “They pull up to fuel, throw away their trash, wash their windows, etc. If they have to go in to pay and your competition provides the option to pay for fuel without having to go inside, you are putting yourself at a disadvantage for the customer who wants to fuel and go".
Customers overall want less friction. “Think of ways to allow them to pay that doesn’t require them to go inside. I think that is part of the reason you see the box trucks fueling at the forecourt. They can fuel at the forecourt and not go in,” Schulte said.
Additionally, locations may want to consider fueling for drivers so they can go inside to shop with what limited time they have or bringing receipts outside so drivers can get on the road faster.
Schulte also recommends locations to highlight the ability for drivers to pull forward via painted pull forward lanes. “Make the process easy for them to understand that you would like them to pull forward one truck length out of professional courtesy should they want to run into the store to get food and drinks,” he said.
Enhancing the Driver Experience at the Backcourt
The backcourt experience at truckstops and travel plazas is often ignored, but Schulte said he believes backcourts should look exactly like forecourts. “I would ask any of us to go to our forecourt and see how we speak to customers to try and capture their attention, then go to the backcourt,” he said.
Schulte encouraged locations to add the same marketing materials on the building and on the pumps in the backcourt that are on the forecourt. “If you’re doing pump toppers in the front, do pump toppers in the back. If you're doing fuel nozzle collateral in the forecourt, do that in the backcourt,” he said. “All the promotional collateral that is utilized in the forecourt to improve conversion rates and telegraph offerings, especially food should be utilized in the backcourt with your professional drivers.”
The backcourt entrance should also be inviting. “If it isn’t pretty or inviting or safe, it doesn’t matter what you’re putting on the pump to tell me to come inside, I’m not coming inside,” Schulte said.
Locations can also enhance the forecourt experience. Dan Riccio, product marketing manager for retail dispensers for Gilbarco, said demand for DEF continues to increase, and Gilbarco has introduced its standard DEF offering for the forecourt. “We’ve had a DEF dispenser for the backcourt for years but now offer it as duel sided as well as standard flow,” he said.
Locations can leverage their current encore 700-S dispenser and can add on as a retrofit kit or a factory installed variation. “Essentially it allows you to not give up an entire fueling station for DEF,” Riccio said.
Mike Lawshe, CEO of Paragon Solutions, a NATSO Chairman’s Circle Member, said operators should try to think through little conveniences that can save time. “It could be having sinks at the fuel area or more and better facilities to clean windshields,” he said.
Marketing at the Pump
Sarah Trumler, product marketing manager, media solutions for Gilbarco, said retailers used to be much more passive about using the screen on the pump, but that is changing. “I don’t think they saw it as a marketing channel. Most retailers weren’t using them,” she said.
However, fuel retailers have realized they need to capture customers and drive them inside. “Retailers are seeing we have this untouched marketing channel. They are right there, they are steps away from the convenience store,” Trumler said, adding that content has to be creative to get people’s attention. “We’re also competing with cell phones and other distractions, so they have to create good content.”
Gilbarco has introduced a new 15.6-inch touch screen, which the company has identified as the ideal size to communicate marketing messages with customers. Previously, it was a 10-inch screen. “We eliminated the softkeys on the side of the screens and put eight touch zones on the screen itself to maximize that space,” Riccio said. “We’re trying to bring that modern feel that younger customers expect but that everyone can use.”
Casey’s General Stores is rolling out a 100-store trial run of the Gilbarco Encore experience, which will be more interactive. “If that goes as well as we’re hoping, then we’ll roll that out to half of our stores and the other half are waiting on our upgrade to be replaced,” said Tony Spuzello, director, commercial fuels for Casey’s General Stores.
Gilbarco’s platform uses open-source data to understand several variables, including the weather and household income by area. “The future of media and where people want to get is, ‘how can we recognize the person?’ We know the backcourt and forecourt are very different,” Trumler said.
The key is to create good content. “We have data that shows sound and video are more likely to capture someone’s attention,” Trumler said, adding that operators can create their own content, work with media partners to create content for them or play national advertising.
“I tell self-managed customers that we’re providing a tool, but it is on the marketing team at these retailers to create great content and run their own content and experiment. It is not just the Cokes and smokes we’re used to.”
Some locations are using the pumps to highlight positive things they are doing in the community or to give shout outs to employees or local graduates. “It helps to throw in that other content so a customer doesn’t feel like they are being bombarded with ads,” Trumler said, adding that locations can also monetize the pumps, selling screen time to other businesses.
For locations looking to interact more with customers, Trumler suggests they use QR codes. “Most retailers are using that for downloading their app. I have some retailers that use it for feedback,” she said.
So far, Casey’s has focused on promoting its app, but is starting to move into other areas. “We’re removing some redundant material on our pumps that isn’t driving a lot of traffic and going to replace it with more messaging around our proprietary card about joining our card program,” Spuzello said. “We are putting better marketing material on our high-flow diesel lanes reminding drivers of the cards we accept for over-the-road and giving a Casey’s email address if they want to discuss fleet discounts.”
Thinking Beyond Fuel
While the fuel pump is critical to many drivers’ experiences, Lawshe said it is important to remember that growth in the last mile may mean more and more drivers aren’t fueling. “Drivers aren’t always there to fuel, especially if they are a last mile,” he said.
Short-term parking near the location can help capture those non-fueling customers. “You have to look at it differently,” Lawshe explained. “As a designer, we look at who the customer is, and that customer has changed.”
Operators should calculate their percentage of over-the-road and local drivers. “That last mile or local driver might be using the same truckstop two, three or four times a day. If you are his favorite stop because you have that close in parking where he can run in and run out, you can capture that business,” Lawshe said. “You have 360 degrees around a typical building, so how are y using that?”
// Created for Stop Watch magazine, the magazine of the NATSO Foundation. The NATSO Foundation is the research, education and public outreach subsidiary of NATSO, Inc. The NATSO Foundation provides programs and products aimed at strengthening travel plazas’ ability to meet the needs of the traveling public through improved operational performance and business planning. Visit www.natsofoundation.org for more information. (Donate to the NATSO Foundation here.)
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