20 or so years ago, we installed two large propane tanks to power our cooktop and a new furnace. Since they have an expected lifespan of about 15 years, we asked someone from our propane company to come take a look at them. We had noticed they were rusting a little, so better safe than sorry, right? Sure enough, they need replacing. How this leads to us replacing the propane supplier as well is a tale from which any business can learn.
We have been very happy with this company. Service has always been prompt, they deliver on a regular schedule and we’ve never run out of propane. That was the case when we called this time to come have a look at the tanks – they were there the next day and came back to us with a proposal to replace the tanks. We made an appointment for later this week to have the work done.
Just out of curiosity, we made a couple of phone calls to other suppliers. What we found out enraged us. Not only was what our supplier proposing to charge us to remove and dispose of the tanks way out of line with the market, but what they had been charging us for propane over the last decade was substantially higher as well. I’m talking about higher to the tune of over $1 a gallon, and when you’re using several hundred gallons a year, that’s a big difference.
In addition, these guys never offered us the ability to “lock in” a price for a heating season. Our oil supplier, as an example, sends us a letter every year with three different lock in options. It shouldn’t surprise you that when our supplier called to confirm the appointment, we cancelled it, informing them that we’re talking to other suppliers and had discovered that we were being ripped off for years.
10 minutes later, the phone rang. Suddenly, the cost to remove the tanks had vanished. Our rate for propane had dropped a lot, and we could lock it in for the year if we so chose. While we still might stay with them, our opinion of them has changed substantially. Customer service isn’t just about answering the phone and handling issues when they arise. It is caring for your customer even when they don’t know that they need care. Would we pay a little more for great service? Probably. The propane is a commodity so the difference is service. That needs to have transparency, and now that we see what that service has been costing us, we are angry.
There are no secrets anymore. Yes, it’s our fault for not asking about pricing and plans, I suppose. That, however, demonstrates the value in keeping customers happy. We didn’t ask because we were happy with them. Now that we have asked and have realized that this has meant the overpayment of thousands of dollars over the years, we are far less content. If you’re keeping customers happy by keeping them in the dark, you had better be damn sure there isn’t a rusty tank out there waiting to expose the issue. Is there?