Customer Service in the Petroleum Industry
Customer Service Starts with understanding What the Customer Is
I’ll start to define customer service with the following quotes:
“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises; he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.” Mahatma Gandhi
“We listened to what our customers wanted and acted on what they said. Good things happen when you pay attention.” John F Smith, Former CEO and President General Motors
“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Bill Gates Microsoft
The only reason for being in business is the customer. This is just as important for an engineer, a geologist a software developer or anyone engaged in the resource industries, as it is for a coffee shop or a hardware store. Only the products differ. In this article I will attempt to define what a customer is in terms of what it means to me in the petroleum resource industry.
In general a customer is someone who buys something from you when you have demonstrated that you have listened to their needs and you have the ability to deliver those needs.
According to the Wikipedia a customer, also called client, buyer, or purchaser, is usually used to refer to a current or potential buyer or user of the products of an individual or organization, called the supplier, seller, or vendor. This is typically through purchasing or renting goods or services. However, the term customer also includes anyone who uses or experiences the services of another. A customer may also be a viewer of the product or service that is being sold despite deciding to not buy them.
To give more depth to this the customer must be defined in terms of the typical Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. I will briefly elaborate on each of these. Some of them may seem obvious that often we tend to overlook.
Who is my customer?
The customer to me is someone who wants to use my product or service for the purpose of enhancing their product or service such as a well drilling reporting program for their customers or stakeholders which are people who have a vested interest in the outcome of a project or process, such exploration and developing companies or the drillers or the geologists who evaluate the resource. Another example may be someone developing a log analysis, core analysis or a core logging or 2D or 3D modeling program for geologists or engineers. My product or service may be seen as adding value to their process, by providing insight into their needs and wants and the needs and wants of their customers. For example as an experienced petroleum geologist I may have additional insight into process or work flow used by other geologists. This will be helpful information to someone designing a software program to help geologists enhance the speed, accuracy and reliability of the work performed by them.
What is the product I am delivering to the customer?
Answering the following questions will help define a customer:
- Who will be the end user? For example it may be a geologist, engineer, driller, technician, manager, or any combination of the above.
- What problem does it address? For example it may involve reporting, calculating, modeling or financial.
- What solution does it offer? Does it automate, increase process speed or accuracy, or decrease cost?
- How easy is it to use? How easy will it be to train someone? Is it intuitive, customizable, scalable to more users, and is it stable and reliable?
- Can it be used with other existing products, such as Accumap, GeoScout, Hydrocarbon data systems, Petra, or Petrel?
When does someone become a customer?
Someone becomes a customer probably at two points in time. First, they are an informal customer when they see me as a possible solution to a problem they have, especially if I have demonstrated that I understand their problems and that I may be able to help develop a solution. Secondly, they are formal customer when they have agreed to engage my services or product. In either case they will only become my customer when I have demonstrated that I am actively listening to their needs and wants.
Where do I find suspects or prospects that may become customers?
This is a very broad question. It would require a much larger answer than I can give in this short article. Let me oversimplify by saying that it depends on how well I have defined my target market. Having said that, places to look are associations, clubs, contacts, conferences, trade shows, the internet, and social networks specific to my target. It is these places that I build the initial trust with prospects that may lead us to working together towards a common objective.
Why would someone become my customer?
As someone who speaks with prospects, I need to be aware they are always asking themselves, as they should, a number of questions such as:
- How soon can the results or product be delivered?
- How relevant is the product to my needs?
- What are going to be the reliability issues?
- Is this going to make my job easier?
- Does it fall within my corporate policies?
- Will it help me and my company’s bottom line?
- Will my team buy into it?
- Can I do this internally?
- Is there a sense of trust?
- What other options do I have?
- How will this integrate into my processes?
- How will communications be handled?
- What will it cost?
How do I acquire and retain a customer?
I acquire customers by applying simple principals of marketing strategies:
- Having a salable product
- Defining my target.
- Defining my suspects
- Groups of people within my target market such as geologist and engineers
- Finding prospects
- Specific individuals or companies with my target market
- Asking questions to understanding the prospects’ needs and wants
- Actively listen with both ears!
- Understanding the competition
- Delivering a quality product or service with good support in timely fashion
- Following up with prospects and customers
- Getting in front of people
- Getting referrals
- Getting feedback
- Capitalizing on opportunities my own strengths
- Being prepared
- “Luck occurs when opportunity meets preparedness”
- Understanding and addressing potential threats to success
- Knowing areas where I need help and seeking it.
Retaining customers requires the application of a few simple rules which provide a great customer service experience:
- Have a clear understanding by the customer and me of the deliverables.
- Deliver on promises
- Empower the customer to provide valued input.
- Empower my suppliers, such as subcontractors or associates to provide valued input
- Continue to actively listen with both ears!
- Actively observe the customer’s processes especially where it relates to my involvement.
- Provide processes for quality control.
- Empower other stakeholders such as end users of the customer’s product to provide input and feedback on designs and processes that may affect them. These could include engineers, petrophysicists, prospect geologists, petroleum technicians, well site geologists, or while drilling monitoring companies such Pason, drillers, completion specialists or integration of other processes such as directional drilling, well logging or WITSML.
- Get continual feedback from the customer on progress, timelines, results and costs
Information is the Key to Great Customer Service
Throughout the customer service experience process there are three stages of information gathering:
- Discovery of needs
- Before someone becomes my customer I must research that prospect as much as I can before I even approach them
- Based on this knowledge I need to listen to the prospect’s needs
- I must demonstrate that I understand those needs
- Once the prospect has agreed to become my customer I must work out the details of the product delivery.
- During engagement
- By this time I am delivering the product and I need to gather more information such as feedback on how well the product or service is being delivered and what I can do to improve it. In other words, what is and what is not working.
- Post engagement
- This involves a postmortem on how well I did such as quality, timing, and value to the customer and asking for more work and referrals.
This provides a basic outline. Many of the basics here apply to all customers but the details are specific to each case. I must do my research based both prior to and during interaction with customers and stakeholders.
Another factor in which affects the customer relations is quality assurance which I will discuss in my next article, as it pertains to the petroleum resource industry.
G-Logic Solutions Inc.
Rick McCulloch, P.Geol.