Utilities—we all need them, but we’ve all felt like we’ve been ripped off (at least at one point) by at least one of our utility companies. If you haven’t, then your provider is probably doing everything right—so stick with them, they’re rare! So how do you ensure that you’re getting the most value out of your provider? How do you ensure that your business is valued and sought after? Not just prior to acquisition (this is normal) but on an ongoing basis?
Here are the steps I go through to ensure that my utility companies go the extra mile for me. In the example I use throughout, they offered me both recurring discounts to meet/beat competitor prices as well as small little “touch” (which I call “value”) that no one else was. Here’s are the steps:
1) Shop Around
One of the most obvious, but least executed steps here is to just shop around. Try calling up every potential vendor who might possibly be able to service your area—you’d be surprised at what some might be willing to do to bring service into your area even if it doesn’t currently exist. As you shop around, create a comparative chart detailing every feature offered by each competitor. Almost every company will have a differentiating value proposition and it’s important to find out what they are. Also, ask them straight out: “why should I choose you over your competitors?”. Keep this noted for future reference (I’ve often referenced these even years later).
In an example with my gas company, I called vendors that offered commercial gas (some were willing to provide me with fuel despite residential location and use), vendors that didn’t service my area [today] which were willing to bend their rules to acquire new business, and the local tried, trusted, and true.
2) Ask For Incentive
As follow-up to the question asked in step one (why you should choose them versus a competitor), you need to ask for incentive. Service providers often run promotions or have the ability to offer added value to earn your business both on the get-go as well as in perpetuity. Find out what your service provider is able to do today and ongoing to earn and keep your business. This might be a one-time discount or it might be a recurring account credit. Ideally both.
My chosen gas company offered to paint my tank green to blend in better with the yard—pretty cool value-add. They also offered me discounted fuel (beyond what the competitors were willing to) and were willing to match the free tank rentals that many of their competitors were offering me in step 1. In the end, I ended up with the best of all worlds: green tank, discounted fuel, and a free tank rental.
3) Keep Them Honest
With ongoing business relationships, it’s often easy to take advantage of customers, especially when you’re billed monthly. Keep an ongoing log to document every offer, credit, and relevant promise made by your provider. If they say they’re going to do something, keep them accountable to that. If they don’t follow through, remember that you have options (such as switching providers). You may need to remind them [nicely] of this.
My gas company offered (during acquisition time) to paint my tank green once the snow melted. They dropped the ball and 16-months later my tank was still white. I reminded them of this in a recent conversation and they promised to do it this coming spring and then credited my account with 200L of free fuel—not bad! Let’s hope they follow through this time.
4) Play Nice
It’s easy to get upset, frustrated, or downright irate with customer service reps. Remember to put yourself in their shoes when you’re talking to them. If someone made a mistake, it’s the companies responsibility to take ownership so there’s no point taking it out on them. I always do my best to let the person on the other end know how much I really do appreciate the fact that they are trying to help me out and are doing a great job of it.
On a previous delivery, my gas company dropped the ball and brought too much fuel (more than I ordered). As mentioned, they also failed to paint my tank green, and finally decided it was okay to charge me for the rental of their tank when their competitors did not. I was nice yet stood firm on the negative experience I was having and they went the extra mile for me. In the end, I thanked the guy for his time and let him know he was doing a great job. I ended up with free fuel, a free rental, discounted fuel prices, and another promise to paint the tank green this spring—let’s see how that goes!
What’s your story? Has your utility company ever said one thing, then done another? Tell me about it in the comments below!