During a recent visit with family and with the fuel tank showing a big red Empty, my Mom was insistent that we had to get gas from Billy. “Who the heck is Billy?”, I wondered? (Bear with me, this gets interesting.)
We pull into the most ordinary of Shell gas stations (international readers: you might better recognize this company as Royal Dutch Shell) and are greeted by a very happy personality, Billy, who pumps the gas at this full service station. He has an entire conversation with my mother — not just about the expected “what grade of fuel” but about regular life issues such as weather, health, etc. Like two old friends who bump into each other in a cafe. Then he finally goes and pumps the gas. Then I watch Billy move on to the next car where he proceeds to have another friendly conversation with another customer who he clearly is well acquainted with. And on Billy moves to yet a third customer, just as our fuel gauge reaches Full. Billy’s station is always busy, it seems.
“Mom, how long have you been coming here?”
“Oh, since I got my first Subaru, in 2001.”
“Nine years you’ve been going to the same place. There’s plenty of other gas stations all over the place. And you don’t go anywhere else?”
“Why would I? He’s a polite young man and he always smiles. And it’s full service for only a penny more than the self-service stations. Plus, now I recognize the other customers, too.”
Can you imagine that? A sort of social-networking-meets-customer-retention at a gas station? As you might guess, this Happy Billy no doubt means a very happy Shell station owner, selling what is otherwise a most fungible of commodities wherein people will often drive miles to save a penny per gallon. Instead at this Shell station on Post Road in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, people go out of their way to pay more (in a recession) for one of Billy’s smiles.
Now, I’ll be honest. This wouldn’t work in New York City, where I live. People are in just too much of a rush. But in the correct environment where life is slower and individual customers are seen as individual people this is incredibly effective. I can only hope Billy gets a bonus based on revenues.
I wonder, how many online businesses are willing to think of their customers as fellow citizens of the same small town and to know them with the online equivalent of a Billy smile? When’s the last time you felt that sort of allegiance to your cable company, or the convenience store where you buy milk? And think of the long-term revenue it means for a company that achieves that sort of loyalty.
Does your sales and customer service staff treat your customers to a Billy Smile?