Price Protection 2.0: Online Customer Enrollment Eliminates Hassles
By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia, Inc.
Part 2 of 7
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second installment of a seven-part series in which PriMedia President Richard Rutigliano offers strategies and tactics for mastering the constant marketing challenges that Oilheat dealers face.
If price protection is part of your marketing strategy, you can add flexibility and eliminate hassles by leveraging the Internet for faster turnaround and reduced expense.
Price protection isn't for everyone, but if market conditions compel you to offer programs, you can make life a lot easier by using the Internet to simplify customer enrollment.
With online enrollment, you can sign customers up at any time of the year, leave offers on the table for only as long as you want to, and execute contracts in one day. You can also strike the exact balance of automation and control that you prefer.
A speedy online enrollment process transforms the dealer's experience, because there is more flexibility and less expense—with no negative tradeoffs. Rather than printing out contracts, mailing them to your customers and waiting for customers to mail them back, you can turn a contract around in just minutes. You can generate a fully customized contract in PDF form that the customer can finalize online with a legally binding digital signature.
Online enrollment reduces your administrative chores, and it's better for customers, because they can choose price protection at any time of the year and sign up almost instantaneously.
You can build in as much automation as you want. For more control, establish a process that includes a phone call to determine the terms or to finalize the contract. Or if you prefer, automate the entire process online and skip the phone calls altogether.
Combine Functionality and Information
To serve customers most effectively, it makes sense to build a price protection portal on your website that combines the enrollment functionality with complementary information resources. Price protection is an important commitment, and customers have lots of questions, particularly about the more complex products such as capped price and cap/budget. You can help them feel more comfortable about signing on by publishing detailed information. Consider providing all of the following:
- A Price Protection Primer: If a customer has never purchased price protection, they might need a better understanding of the products to get comfortable. Tell them what price protection is and how it works.
- A Video or Audio Introduction: Create a video or podcast that describes your programs and the enrollment process.
- Program Descriptions: Explain each program in detail. If you offer combined pricing/budget programs, you might want to provide separate descriptions for each combination.
- Charts and graphs: Create graphics that demonstrate how a cap program performs as oil prices rise and fall.
- Pros and Cons: Help customers get comfortable and make the right choices by clearly explaining the advantages and disadvantages of each option. It will be harder for customers to complain about an unfavorable pricing outcome when you have gone out of your way at every step to explain the pros and cons.
- Fee Explanations: Capped price programs are expensive. A simple, straightforward explanation helps customers understand the value and associated cost.
- Customer Obligations: Remind customers that they are signing a binding contract, and that you will expect them to honor it.
- Frequently Asked Questions: The FAQ format is a good way to direct customers to the information they want.
There are many benefits to putting so much useful information online. First and foremost, you are delivering great customer service. Consumers appreciate helpful information that is easily accessible, and they have come to expect it on the Internet. Many of them would rather get information from a company website than ask a lot of questions on the phone. They know they can revisit the page any time, and they don't have to worry about getting every answer that their spouse will want.
You'll also save time and headaches for your employees. Rather than answering every price protection question over the phone, they can refer customers to the website with confidence—and without feeling that they are under-serving them.
Your price protection portal will also enhance your company's image. When customers and prospects visit your website, they'll appreciate your commitment to convenience, information and customer service.
Make a Commitment to Self-Service
Online price protection enrollment is a great customer service tool because it delivers the kind of convenience that consumers have grown to expect. In the 16 years since Amazon started selling books online, consumers have learned that virtually any transaction can be made online.
"The Internet is no longer a niche technology," said Jonathan Carson, president of Nielsen Online. "It is mass media and an utterly integral part of modern life. As our lives become more fractured and cluttered, it isn't surprising that consumers turn to the unrivalled convenience of the Internet when it comes to researching and buying products."
Expectations for small, local companies may have been modest just a few years ago, but those days are gone. Customers expect online convenience at every level of the economic spectrum, and—as always— the future belongs to companies that give them what they want.
Local companies may love the sound of ringing phones, but a growing number of customers would rather conduct their business online and skip the phone call altogether. Companies can adapt by enabling online transactions through their websites wherever possible. The best approach is to develop a customer account lookup mechanism that serves as an umbrella for a full range of transaction types.
You can enable customers to log in and manage their accounts through your site. Online account management makes it possible for them to order fuel, schedule service calls, review their account history and make payments. You can also build in advanced features like a budget plan calculator, budget plan enrollment and an online loyalty rewards system including points redemption.
From Luxury to Necessity
Online account management might be relatively new in the home comfort industry, but it is fast becoming a necessity. Consumers who shop online are accustomed to being in control. While they might truly appreciate the small/local/family-owned nature of your business, they still expect great customer service on their terms—and that means online convenience.
When you transform your website into a robust selfservice hub and information resource, you can simultaneously reduce the time that CSRs spend on the phone with customers while improving your customer service. That's because CSRs can refer customers to the website for information and self-service transactions— not to get them off the phone, but because customers will prefer using your online resources.
You can also take advantage of increasing customer traffic on your website for effective, low-cost marketing. Identify the pages that will get the most traffic— particularly in the account management portal—and post notices there for special offers and cross marketing. When you enable customers to use your website for price protection enrollment and other selfservice transactions, you reduce your costs while delivering the kind of convenience that today's customers demand—a true win-win situation.
October Marketing Reminders
As part of this series, I am including reminders of steps that dealers can take each month to strengthen their business. Here are my suggestions for October:
- Digitize all your price plans and contracts
- Update your website's price protection program information
- Add pay online to your website to make price protection enrollment easier
- Craft an easy-to-understand price protection customer letter
- Create a special edition price protection newsletter
- Develop a price protection pros & cons insert/mailer
Richard Rutigliano is President of PriMedia, Inc., a full service marketing and communications firm with offices in New York City, Long Island and Boston. The company is now offering free marketing consultations to Oilheat retailers. Phone: 800-796-3342, or visit their Web sites at www.primediany.com and www.oilheat-advertising.com.