Most of us in the propane industry hate paperwork. Ask any service tech, delivery driver, safety rep, sales rep, manager or office staff if their fondest dream is to have a stack of paperwork waiting for them in the office and more than 75% will say a resounding NO! And you can’t blame them as most of the amazing people in our propane industry would much rather be doing productive activities that truly serve the customers and industry we hold dear.
The old saying “the job’s not done until the paperwork is completed” though completely true is not the most motivating thing to remember when attempting to complete a difficult task. Imagine hearing an employee say “this job is a really tough one but at least I can look forward to the paperwork at the end of it”, those words have probably never been uttered.
On top of that we all know that customers do not pay us for doing documentation, clerical work like filing and managing records. Clerical work, paperwork, etc is simply not a money generating activity but rather a cost overhanging our industry. These days with the cost of tanks, gas, trucks, payroll, insurance rising we simply do not have the bandwith to endure unnecessary costs and desperately need to eliminate costs as fast as possible to prepare for the rising inflation.
So if paperwork and clerical work is oppressive, time wasting, energy sucking and an unnecessary expense then what can we do about it? This is where a comprehensive technology solution for managing a propane business should swoop down (in tights with a cape) to help free us from the shackles of old world drudgery. So what does that look like and how do you find it.
First as a base layer it’s necessary to have a forecasting, routing, ticket printing and billing system in place… yes the old world software solutions that have been around forever (often called the “back office software” or “ERP” are necessary and there are dozens to choose from. Regardless pick one and get on with it. They’ve all been around for 20+ years and have matured to a point that they all have great functionality so choosing based on ease of use and pricing will save you many headaches and save your wallet as well. In my studies over 95% of the propane companies in N. America are already using one so most likely you already have this and if you don’t then get it.
Next on the list is choosing a tank monitoring company for the 5-10% of your customers who have sporadic fuel useage. There are over 20 tank monitoring companies and since this is a newer technology it may take more homework. Since some of your friends and network may have chosen based on a sales pitch or they may have made their decision years ago and since the technology is changing frequently you may need to do some homework here but here are a couple quick tips. Make sure it interfaces with your ERP back office software and that it works in your geographics as some work better depending on geographic topology, some only work on certain networks that may or may not be in your area so test them before you buy them. Try to purchase from one vendor so you don’t have multiple different monitors with multiple software solutions. Remember complexity is your enemy.
Next think outside the box and benchmark against the most successful delivery companies… Amazon (2million deliveries per day) and Uber (17+million deliveries per day) they both do it without an offices with CSR’s and no phone calls. They have an app for customers to use and order and an app for their employees to do all their work, their business is run on smartphones and 2 apps. The future of delivery is an app based world where your customers should be able to order a delivery, see their past orders, order service and receive coupons and messages from you. If you don’t have it yet you need it so get yourself an app for your company. Since this is customer facing you need one that has your name on it in the app store, one that has your branding. Some people call this app the “poor man’s tank monitor” because it allows you to get tank readings from all your customers without you needing to purchase a tank monitor as the consumer can enter their reading into the app when they go to order. These are the tools that will help you get more sales per customer and help you grow a fantastic lead list as non-customers download it to take advantage of your coupons.
If it helped Uber go from ZERO customers to 17 million deliveries per day in 13 years that speaks volumes. Make it easier for propane users to order from you than it is to order from your competitors! The second half of the equation is to have an “everything” app for your employees. Yes that is what Amazon, Uber, Tesla and most companies are doing. It eliminates tons of old world headaches like paperwork, forms, documents, filing, and over 1 hour of wasted time a day per employee.
Just today I spoke with an industrious propane company that had created some fillable PDF’s that his team was using to fill in some forms for his business. It allowed his team to eliminate paperwork and once saved could be sent to the office as a completed pdf document with signatures too. It could also be filed more quickly as it was digitally clicked and dragged into the appropriate customer file on an Apple icloud account. To his delight he could finally read everything “written in each document” for a change too!
Another propane company had purchased three to four programs each designed to do different portions of the field employee work, one was great for sales estimates and invoices, another fantastic for service work orders, in another they had programmed it to do their gas check and another helped them document and manage their tanks. All were app based so they could put those apps on each field employee smartphone or tablet and off they went. Paperless warriors. All work done faster, clearer and easier than before. The employees were happy as their “paperwork” chore was now much easier and the company was happy as they were saving money and better handling the business with now legible inspections and work orders.
In speaking with propane attorneys, propane safety consultants and propane insurance companies they are all singing another tune. They see many legal cases where if only the propane company that was taken to court had used a digital solution to document the Gas Check, Service Work Order, Installation, Liability releases, etc. they would have won their cases but since they used paper that is easy to lose, hard to read and easy to defeat in a court room they lost. The safety experts recommend digital documentation in the field.
If you have not moved your Safety, Service Tech, Sales, Training, Inspections, and all the work your field personnel do OFF paper and onto a digital tool there is great news! You now have more options that cost considerably less and do much more than the old technology used in our industry the last 10 years. The best technology should be available on an APP that can be downloaded right onto the smartphones you already have so there is NO need any longer to purchase tablets or any other old school devices! No need to pay for another cellular line for each tablet but rather the cellular line you already pay for in the smartphones your team uses can serve even more for the digital record keeping associated with every piece of paper that is no longer needed nor wanted by your outside employee field personnel. The trillion dollar companies spent millions to figure out that doing everything on a smartphone saves them time and capital expenses… follow the leaders and don’t reinvent the wheel.
Its finally time to free up your team from paperwork, clerical work, filing and hand entering information that our field personnel gather on clipboards and paper. You can be freed from hours of unprofitable payroll and expensive gadgets. Welcome to the age of Propane apps on Smartphones that make your team’s lives easier and more enjoyable. So go ahead and check out the options, try out some of the new propane apps designed specifically for your technicians, drivers, sales reps and managers to see how easy it is to save time, save aggravation and money. Go to the Apple and Android app stores and do a search for propane apps, try them out, get yourself a couple demos or go to their websites and watch the videos. Take off the chains of outdated paper shuffling and get with the times! PERC in cooperation with the World Propane association did a world technology competition just before Covid, check out the results of that competition for apps that can help you move toward a faster, more efficient lower labor, lower business operating costs solutions.
Enjoy the freedom of having a comprehensive solution for your company so you can have all the forms, documents, inspections, work orders, tank readings and critical company metrics etc all at your fingertips on your smartphone. Start saving time and money while improving every company critical metric. Here’s to a better and brighter propane future!