With all the changes going on over at service station retailer Z Energy, we decided to have a chat to its head of retail, Mark Forsyth. He talks sustainability, how big the market is for self-service in the fuel industry and what a service station of the future might look like. rn
With 211 stores nationwide spanning from the tip of the North Island all the way down to the bottom of the South Island, Z knows a thing or two about being a part of a community.
Its focus on community led to it being a big winner in Retail NZ’s Top Shop Awards last year, including a People’s Choice Award for its Kaikorai Valley Dunedin store.
Forsyth says the journey to being community focused began five years ago, when the company established it wanted to make each of its sites famous in their neighbourhood.
This led to the creation of the Good in the Hood programme, where Z Stations give away $5,000 to neighbourhood groups each year.
“All things being equal, if we’re looking after people after in the community, it’s not too hard to extrapolate the people in the community might look after us,” Forsyth says.
“We recognise that customers have a choice, particularly in fuel, with lots of places they can fill up.”
Customer service is something Z prides itself on to differentiate itself from the competition.
Over 2,500 of its staff have completed NZQA level two qualifications, as well as over 700 completing level 3. Several staff are also working towards a Bachelor of Applied Management.
“Investing in their further education is part of our commitment to our people,” Forsyth says.
However, he says while there are guidelines for staff, Z lets their people be who they want to be and bring their personalities to the table in store. This is called the ‘Z factor’.
This is what creates such great customer service, he says.
“We don’t have a standard greeting, it could be ‘Kia ora’, or it could be, ‘G’day bro’. We want our sites to be reflection of the neighbourhood,” he says.
“The way you’re famous in South Auckland and talk to customers is probably different in Invercargill, for example. What better way for staff to define that than to define it for themselves?”
He spoke of a letter he received from a woman whose car had broken down on one of Z’s sites while she was on her way to the airport.
One of the workers at the station jumped in his own car, drove her to the airport and dropped her off, he says, and then arranged for her car to go to the local mechanic.
“He didn’t do that because I told him to do that. That would never work. What we do is trust our people to make great calls, to treat customers the way they would want to be treated in the shoe was on the other foot. It’s a natural extension of being famous in the neighbourhood.”
Customer service versus self-service
Customer feedback led to Z installing self-service options at its stations, Forsyth says.
He says there’s a group of people where speed is the most important, not service or interacting with a person, so they wanted to make the process easier for them.
Forsyth says about a quarter of Z’s customers now pay at the pump.
Interestingly, he says sales in store have actually gone up as a result of self-service.
“I’ve never been a proponent of forcing customers to do something they don’t want to do, like to go in store in order to buy something. There’s now smaller queues in store, so people are more inclined to buy.” It’s a win-win for everyone, he says.
The next big shakeup to service stations will be when payment cards on mobile devices becomes more mainstream and when customer data becomes a bigger part of the experience, he says.
He gave the example of a gas pump that greets the customer when they pull up and notes that’s the third time they’ve been into the store that month by awarding them with a coffee, which will be waiting in store.
“That’s the exciting stuff we’re starting to think about in the future, combine the best of both worlds: pay at pump and if you fancy a coffee, order the coffee on pump and it’s waiting inside,” he says. “People are increasingly time poor and looking to get in and out as quickly as possible.”
Pushing for sustainability
Z’s latest campaign alludes to its latest sustainability push, which will see the company invest $26 million in a biodiesel plant opening later this year.
It’s also investing in six additional electric vehicle (EV) charging stations around New Zealand.
Forsyth said like most things Z does, customer feedback led to its changes around sustainability.
This is reflected the latest data from Nielsen research, which showed consumers increasingly wanting to buy ethical and sustainable products.
Two in five Kiwis will pay more for a brand from a company boasting environmental or social sustainability credentials, and 22 percent bought a product or service from a company supporting a worthy cause in the last month even though it was slightly more expensive.
Other initiatives from Z include recycling coffee grounds, car washes having water reclaim units, LED lighting in forecourts and the soon to be rolled out biodegradable coffee cups.
“Those are directly things our customers have asked for and we’ve responded by doing them,” he says. “It’s making it easier for people to play their part.”
As for the future, he says the best of Z is yet to come.