Data mining? What does that have to do with plumbers, HVAC techs, electricians, or any other service company? How does “data mining” help improve fleet management and increase profitability?
First, what is “data mining”?
Data Mining – collecting and analyzing large amounts of data to establish relationships and patterns of behavior.
Large corporations have used data mining for years to determine customer habits and to meet these habits or desires in the marketplace. Retailers use data mining to determine marketing strategies; the result, increased profitability.
Companies also use data mining internally to establish and streamline company practices, such as purchasing, human resources, and maintenance. In the age of slimming profit margins, this has become essential to assure continued profitability.
In the past, the benefits of data mining were largely reserved for larger companies with in house analysts or the resources to hire an outside firm to measure their company meta-data. Today, with the advent of network transactions and cloud-based computing, data mining is now available to the small business owner or entrepreneur.
For service companies, most business is done out of the office. Whether you are a handy man, an electrician, an HVAC or landscape engineer, or a contractor; you rely on your fleet of service vehicles to get the job done. Most small business owners don’t have time to compile and analyze data related to their own company. How can you as a small business owner make sure that your current business practices are as efficient and profitable as possible?
Over the next few posts, we’ll look at how a good fuel management program can bring the benefits of data-mining to the small business owner. We’ll look at how data-mining fuel usage data can help you maximize fuel efficiency, manage fuel accounting, and make informed decisions about your company fleet.
Stay tuned to learn about how you can maximize the fuel efficiency of your company fleet.
If you have been with Fleet First Fuels for any length of time, hopefully you’ve been using our site locator app to quickly and conveniently locate the network stations closest to you. With over 55,000 sites now on the network, this becomes more convenient every day.
Customers using the iPhone or iPad lost the use of this app several months ago, when the iOS was updated. Today, Fleet First Fuels is happy to announce a new and updated site locator app for the Fleetwide network; the Fuelman Mobile locator app. Fuelman has been a part of the Fleetwide network for over a decade, and now the Fuelman Mobile app is available to locate sites across the Fleetwide network.
You can find the Fuelman Mobile app in the Google Play store or in the iTunes app store. Simply search for “Fuelman Mobile.”
Fleet First Fuels, a Roe Oil Co., Inc. Go with the Best!
If you are in the mid-west, you are probably familiar with Murphy USA. Their red, white and blue logo stands out, bringing patriotic color to the plains states.
Today, Fleet First Fuels is happy to announce that Murphy USA has joined the Fleetwide Network. All Roe Oil Company, Inc. and Fleet First Fuels customers can now take advantage of over 1,200 sites operated by Murphy USA. This addition to the network brings even more flexibility to meet your fueling needs.
Whether you are a service fleet in the mid-west, or a west-coast family traversing the plains, take your Fleet First Fuels card to Murphy USA!
January 1st. A day known for parties, personal resolutions, and plans for the future. A day of hope and expectancy.
That was the past.
Fast forward to January 1, 2015. Because that is the day that Californians will wake up and find a new reality. Welcome to higher gas prices and increased cost of living.
You see, January 1, 2015 will see the implementation of AB 32 on fuel in the state of California. That means that the cap and trade bill passed in 2006, will now be arbitrarily stamped onto the general public in the form of increased gas prices. Thank you California Air Resources Board (CARB). You mean, a government agency can increase the cost of fuel on a whim? Scary right?
Non-partisan analysts predict that the price per gallon for gasoline and diesel will increase by as much as .20 a gallon…immediately. The cost will continue to rise with the CARB’s own analysts citing a rise of .76 a gallon by 2020.
So, come January 1 put your resolutions aside and get ready to pay more at the pump. And the grocery store, and the mall; anywhere that relies on fuel for transportation. The cost will be passed on to you. What a nice New Years gift, right?
Thankfully, some are starting to realize that paying more for gas might not be the best idea. Thanks to groups like Fed Up at the Pump, the word is starting to get out, and there may be time to put a hold on this disastrous piece of taxation without representation.
If you are a small business owner in California, and especially if your business involves a fleet of vehicles (1 and up), please take the time to research and take action on this important issue. At some point, there will be a tipping point. A point beyond which business will not survive in the state. And if regulatory taxation like this is allowed to continue, that tipping point may come sooner than most people think.
If you are in the local, San Joaquin Valley, come out to a free luncheon sponsored by fedupatthepump.org and learn more about the impact of fuel prices on small business and the local economy.
How will increased fuel costs affect your business?
|1.||↑||Scary Gas Station, by Richard Schatzberger CC BY-SA 2.0|
Business Fleet posted a helpful video today regarding fleets and train safety, specifically, stopping for train crossings. This may seem a bit obvious, but as they report,
“On average, nearly 2,000 Americans are killed or injured at railroad crossings each year.“
Anecdotally, our office sits right next to an uncontrolled train crossing; in other words no train crossing guard. On a daily basis, we have seen fleet vehicles cross the train tracks without so much as a pause. While most think they will hear the horn of an approaching train, most drivers today will have their windows up with the A/C blasting. Being mindful of train crossings is essential for fleet drivers.
Take a moment to remind your employees about best driving practices. Your company vehicles, and even more importantly, your employees are at risk.
Keep on trucking.
Feedback: How do you encourage safe driving practices with your employees?
Recently, a local news network fell victim to fuel theft, to the tune of $1400.00. That is a lot of money, especially for a small business owner. You can read and watch how this fuel theft unfolded here.
After stealing the network’s fuel credit card, thieves passed it around and fueled multiple vehicles, all of which was caught on film. The problem in this case, was that this fuel card was really just a credit card.
Many fuel companies today offer their own brand of “fuel card.” But in most cases these “fuel cards” are simply a credit card branded for fuel. While some cards offer convenient summaries of fuel usage, they are still a credit card. This leaves the card open to theft.
Credit cards are good for some things. Making a payment, earning mileage or reward points, and almost universal acceptance. These features work well, but not when it comes to fuel purchasing and management. The problem? Credit cards fail to offer the controls and security features that keep your business funds safe.
How can a small-business owner fuel his company vehicles while protecting himself from fraud and theft? The answer is a true fuel card that offers controls and tracking of fuel use. Find out more about the the controls offered with a fuel card here.
|1.||↑||Credit Cards by 401kcalculator.org, CC BY-SA 2.0|
One of the most important relationships for a small-business owner to maintain is with his or her vendors. Vendors are part of a company’s success. Vendors supply materials, management, marketing; the list could go on.
So, it is in a company’s best interest to go with the best vendors possible. Owners and managers will often think a good vendor equals a price-competitive vendor. Price is important. Every business owner wants to know that his vendors charge a fair price, and they should. But there is another element to consider when choosing a vendor. This element is harder to determine than a price or value. It lies behind closed doors and in the thousand mouse-clicks of someone in an office you’ll never see. This oft overlooked element? Integrity.
Integrity: firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values1)“Integrity.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 14 July 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/integrity>.
This week, USA Today released a story that highlights the importance of vendor integrity. They revealed that a major fuel and convenience chain has settled (to the tune of $92 million) with federal investigators and customers to avoid corporate prosecution. This vendor is claimed to have held back rebates owed to customers – to grow their bottom line and increase profitability. Personal and corporate greed brings shattered trust. Integrity is now faulted and broken. Many customers including business owners and fleet managers will likely take their business elsewhere. Integrity matters.
Most people trust that a national, well-regarded company will operate with integrity. Somethings can’t be controlled and companies, like people, will at times break trust. But there are some steps that a small business can take to make sure they deal with the best vendors; vendors who operate with integrity.
1) Do some due diligence. Look a prospective vendor up online. Do they have a reputable website and a track record of honest dealings? Do they have good reviews by people who have done business with them? While not always objective, sites like Angie’s List and Yelp have now brought the reviewers to you.
2) Get to know the vendor. Many times, small businesses will deal with a large vendor through a representative or sales-person. Get to know your account rep and make sure that they operate with integrity. If you are looking for a local vendor, look for someone who gives back to the community. Your local chamber of commerce is a good place to start. Is the vendor a member and does the company actually do their part to benefit the other businesses in the community? Ask around and you will soon find out if they are a company with integrity or not.
3) Understand your vendors operations. Make sure you understand how your vendors handle their billing, payments, rebates and services. Take a moment to make sure that any owed discounts or rebates have been credited. Are their billing and rebate formulas transparent and easy to understand on your regular bill? When you call do they answer clearly and truthfully or are they evasive?
Vendors are essential to a successful business. Make sure to go with the best. Look for a vendor who operates their business with integrity.
Sound off in the comments: How do you go about selecting a vendor?
|1.||↑||“Integrity.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 14 July 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/integrity>.|
|2.||↑||Trust by Terry Johnston, CC by 2.0 bit.ly/1oYZ4Xj|
As the owner of a small business or service company you recognize the importance of customer service. In large part, this is what sets you apart from your competitors. Let’s say you are an electrician. What makes you preferable to the dozens of electricians in your service area? What will bring new customers and keep existing customers? Customer service. You already know this. You eat, sleep, and breathe customer service. But like most owners, you aren’t always the one out in the field. Your employees – the technician, the plumber, the electrician – they are the face of your company. It’s your employees that determine the ethos of your company in the minds of customers.
Ethos: the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person, group, or institution.1)“Ethos.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 10 July 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ethos>.
Sometimes the best technician or service rep can have bad customer service skills. Customer service has value, so how do you get your employees to buy into this? Consider these suggestions to bring your employees on board and build your company’s customer service ethos.
Talk about it. A lot.
Any time you want to develop a mindset in someone you have to talk about it frequently. Repetition is the key to learning. This educational truism also applies in developing an ethos of service in your employees. So make sure to talk about the priority of customer service.
- Take a few minutes during a regular staff/employee meeting to highlight customer service.
- While we’re on meetings; during a meeting raise a customer service issue and brainstorm with your employees how they would respond.
- On a less formal note, mention customer service in passing as you meet an employee in the shop or hallway.
- Tell employees how you handled a recent customer service issue.
Talking often about customer service will impress its importance on the minds of your employees. You’ve made your employees more aware of customer service. Now help motivate them to action.
Promote it. Incentivize.
Sometimes, being the point of contact for your company puts your employees in difficult situations. Complaining customers, difficulty with a job or install, or pressing personal issues; things can begin to pile up and push customer service to the side. Reward your employees for excellent customer service to help them make it a habit.
- Set up a system to get customer feedback on your employees’ customer service.
- Reward employees when they get a good review. Give them a gift card to Starbucks or their favorite fast food stop. Recognize them at a meeting.
- Make it competitive. Set up a quarterly customer service competition. Arrange a higher value prize for the first employee to get a set number of positive reviews. Example: Give your employee a $75 gift certificate to a nicer local restaurant.
Your employees are mindful and motivated. Now work from the top down to make sure your customer service ethos is company-wide.
Model it. Own it.
Ultimately, you set the tone for your company. As the owner or office manager, you set the priorities for how your company will do business. While your employees represent you to the customers, you determine the direction of your company. So customer service has to start from the top. It is a top-down endeavor.
- Make sure your office manager and staff are on the same page. When they ask you a customer service question, walk them through resolution.
- Model customer service in front of your employees. Go out with your techs for a service call from time to time. Come out and meet a customer and show your employees the ethos of service.
- Send an occasional email to your company reminding them of customer service.
Set your company apart from your competition with your ethos of customer service. Take your customer service to the next level. Talk about it, Incentivize it, and own it. As your employees take on this mindset and put it into practice your company will benefit from new customers and the loyalty of existing customers.
How do you develop an ethos of customer service in your company?
|1.||↑||“Ethos.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 10 July 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ethos>.|
|2.||↑||“All in a Days Work” by MFer Photography, CC BY NoDerivs 2.0 http://bit.ly/U4MBHV|
|3.||↑||“Employee Meeting 3” by ICMA Photos, CC BY-SA 2.0|