fuel pumpOver the last couple of weeks I have run into the same issue again and again during my morning commute. The situation goes like this, see if it sounds familiar. I get in the car and pull out of the garage only to realize that I need to stop and get gas. There are three gas stations (two of which are the same brand) to choose from, without going considerably out of my way, so it is not like I have an overabundance of choices. I make a choice of brand, drive in and proceed to pick a pump. I slide my card in the reader at the pump and pump my gas. As usual, I take this opportunity to wash my windshield, side windows, back window, headlights and taillights. When the tank is full, the pump clicks off. I deposit the squeegee back into the bucket and return the pump nozzle into its holder. The next question that pops up on the screen is “Receipt? Press YES or NO.” Now, because I like to keep track of my gas mileage (more on that in a later post) and because I have a hard time remembering to tell my wife the amount to enter into the check register, I always press the YES button. Here comes the annoyance. The screen then reads, “Please see cashier for receipt.” ARG! The words on that screen hit me like someone punching me in the stomach. The fact that I have to take time out of my day to walk into the store, wait in line, ask for a receipt and walk back out to my car doesn’t bother me all that much (I certainly can use the exercise). The thing that bothers me so much is the missed opportunity for this gas station to provide excellent customer service.

The invention of pay at the pump gave the decision making power back to the customer. The customer could again decide whether they wanted to go into the store to pay for their gas. This simple invention added value to society by giving people back time into their day. Now that pay at the pump has been around for a relatively long time, it seems that gas stations, at least the ones in my area, are dropping the ball on delivering this one piece of customer service. Maybe they don’t realize the value I place on that 60 seconds of my time. Maybe they consciously or subconsciously want the customers to have to come into the store because they know that customers are more likely to buy something if they can just get them to walk through the door. Maybe they, like everybody else these days, have been forced to cut back on direct labor due to the economic slowdown. Whatever the case may be, they are failing to deliver a critical piece of customer service that I (and I’m sure I’m not alone) look for in a gas station.

There are many different ways I can think of to make sure that the gas pumps never run out of receipt paper. Maybe the gas station owner can start recording replacement rates by pump number and look for signals or trends that would indicate the best time of the day or week to replace the roles. Maybe the cost of throwing away the last couple of feet of receipt paper would be outweighed by the cost of not completely satisfying the customer so that they will return happily every time they need gas. Maybe someone could invent a system to alert the attendant when the paper is running low so that they could take a minute and go out and replace the role with a new one. Maybe each gas station owner could empower their people to come up with the best system that works for them, in their environment, and allow them to iterate through the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle many times, constantly driving towards a better solution.

Whichever solution they choose to implement, I look forward to the day when “Pay at the Pump” returns back to actually completing the transaction AT THE PUMP!

Do you have any ideas on how to improve this process?
Mike W.