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Revenue Increase and Improvements in Cost Efficiency Using Web-based Communication A Case Study in the Petrol Retail

Industry: Aral
Harald Eichsteller, Managing Director, Aral Online GmbH, Germany.

Abstract
Retail customers in the petrol industry become ever more demanding. With an increase in price awareness and price sensitivity brand loyalty tends to fall. The presentation shall demonstrate that web-based communication can be a powerful tool to counter this trend. In business-to-consumers, communication that is specifically targeted at the client’s needs generates direct as well as multidimensional advantages for both the customer and the petrol company. Target marketing, i.e. web communities enriched by content, does not only generate customer loyalty, but is part of a multi-channelling concept. The next step of personalization is 1-to-1 marketing that is preferably supported by an integrated electronic Customer Relationship Management (eCRM). This facilitates overall cross-selling which, in the past, especially in the field of business-to-business has often run into organizational constraints. Continuous and strict eCRM is the instrument of choice to properly prioritize individual activities. Web-based communication thus enables bundling and restructuring of a) sales activities in client-orientated structures, b) product and services development apart from sales c) sales office work in service centers. The profit potential from business-to-consumer activities, that is from commercialization, commissions, sales, content selling and marketing with additional PR value, allows the efficient and value adding utilization of the entire web estate. Business-to-business extranet functionalities, which are extensively interlocked with the business and IT processes of suppliers, partners and customers enable and improve long-term and profitable partnerships. New ways of doing eBusiness open up two ways of profit maximization for companies. First, a turnover increase is achieved by direct multi-channelling, differentiated customer relationship as well as service improvement. Beyond that, internally and externally aligned process improvement leads to higher efficiency.

Introduction
Aral is the leading retail and fuels brand in Germany, having been established in Bochum, Germany in 1898. Its history of over 100 years has always been based on quality, service and innovation. The first flight over the Atlantic Ocean from east to west in 1928 was fuelled by Aral gasoline, the first automatic hydrogen filling station in Germany was situated at Munich airport in 1984 by ARAL and the first petrol company to publish the differing prices of the fuels at every single station in Germany via internet and mobile telephone was ARAL in 2000. The case study will show the variety of web-based approaches and the role of the central competence center leading the eBusiness initiative of Aral.

Internet – Efficiency and Customer Focus as Key Success Factors for the Future
After the first websites having been launched in 1997 Aral continued to extend its eBusiness activities in a company-wide campaign and initiative in 2000 and 2001; all parts of the value chain and processes were reviewed and checked for potentials of exchanging data electronically; for all the different customer groups Aral customized differentiated online offerings. The high quality linked to the Aral brand is transferred to all internet, extranet and portal offerings on equally supreme quality levels. As a central unit the organization of ‚Aral Online‘ is responsible for selecting and controlling the internet agencies that design and program web applications. Hosting the Aral websites, selling banners, setting standards in design and usability, installing web controlling procedures and quality management systems for the Aral sites are main tasks constituting the overall coordination and standard setting role of this central competence center. The team has been established with experts for conceiving, advising and implementing eBusiness projects. Different professional records and profiles secure time efficiency in terms of short start-up periods and rapid implementation. The online unit helps the operational business units elaborate strategies and concepts, provides best practice approaches and benchmarks, manages interfaces and facilitates collaboration between Aral IT functions and agencies. All projects target on highest quality, innovation and uniqueness.

www.aral.de – One Portal to the World Wide Web of all Aral offerings
Aral uses the online world as an additional new channel. Anything what our clients see and encounter at our service & gas stations and all subjects which might raise any questions, have a counterpart or answer to be found at www.aral.de. Information about new fuel products and qualities, advertising and sweepstakes based on TV, radio and site campaigns are updated on a daily basis, a Q&A section for standard requests helps answering most questions. Complaints and eMail interaction is handled within shortest response times by the ‚Aral Online‘ team. All product campaigns of the Aral shop are featured on www.aral.de, a selected assortment can also be ordered online.

Figure 1 – Home Page and Station Watchlist Every user can install up to 10 of his/her personally preferred Aral service & gas stations on the homepage of www.aral.de. At every new visit to the site the user will be shown the current fuel price of his/her preferred quality at his/her station of choice. The service of delivering price information to end customers has been made available on mobile phones in early 2001. In 2002 the Japanese concept of i-Mode was introduced in Germany comprising a portal offering of ARAL with a new generation of mobile technology and applications.

Multi-Channel Strategy – Internet as Acknowledged Component in Modern Marketing Concepts
All traditional advertising channels as print, radio, television as well as bill boards, posters and displays at the service & gas stations are systematically linked to the internet and consequently lead to www.aral.de. On the web additional information can be pulled by the customers; selected products can also be ordered online. So there is an additional traffic of some ten thousands of visits generated for each single product campaigned as ‚lead product of the month‘. This traffic is a 100 % precise delivery-on-demand without any spread in cost efficiency and with a very high effectiveness; printed flyers that also fulfil this kind of task are to be designed, produced and distributed with higher cost and lower performance ratios.

Figure 2 – Linking Offline and Online

Specials for Differentiated Targetgroups – Online Worlds with Fun and Edutainment Components
Multi-channelling also leads to closer relationships to carefully selected and defined target groups. At Aral there is a selection of target groups that has been chosen long before the world wide web started to be spread out. Some internet offerings exemplify the online approach that supplements traditional ‘offline’ marketing mix components. www.fuehrerschein.de (literally: www.driverslicence.de) – driving school online for learner-drivers and young drivers – from virtual driving lessons to free private lessons for the official theoretical exams with all kinds of information and trends round about mobility and cars. www.bikerclub.de – online community for bikers as an independent web portal with various services and values like tour proposals, tyre specifications, technology news, bike test ridings, sweepstakes with community-member photos, many innovative information and communication offerings and a game selection with most famous legendary ‚Bikeflyter‘ (>1,5 million downloads – www.bikeflyter.de). www.aral-kart.de – website for kart fans and kart-track operators, providing tools for finding and rating kart-tracks, shopping information, games and a communication forum as well as the schedules of the national kart events and all information about Aral special fuels for racing karts. www.kidstation.de – secure edutainment portal for kids from 7 to 13, offering reports, information and a variety of educational games for discovering the internet as well as the environment. Communication is facilitated by tools like eMail, billboards, instant messenger for kids and lots and lots of games. Five friendly characters are ‚on duty‘ for transporting issues on- and offline, as the yearly security initiative for school kids at all Aral stations in Germany. www.Aral4family.de – extending the kidstation offering for parents, information portal covering issues like road safety, mobility and entertainment.

Business-to-Business – Customized Services for Commercial Customers
Different businesses demand differentiated approaches. Aral offers all commercial customer groups and partners customized information and interaction possibilities. We learned by customer research that the retail and fuels brand Aral is so strong that commercial customers expect retail and fuels items even on the business-to-business (B2B) websites. Therefore we offer a quick business log-in on the public homepage and apply same design, usability and functionality standards to all B2B sites as well.

Figure 3 – Single Standards in Design & Function Most importantly the high quality linked to the Aral brand has to be transferred to all internet, extranet and portal offerings on equally supreme quality levels. The central online unit ensures that all websites fulfil these standards, figure 3 shows the public homepage, a community site and the commercial fleet service site. The differentiated approach is exemplified by the ‘B2B’ online offerings of www.aral-mineraloelvertrieb.de – commercial customers of big scale and resellers of the whole product range from fuels, lubricants, heating oil, jet fuel and liquid gas can gather information about the services of Aral’s commercial customer business and the features of the extranet platform. www.aral-lubricants.de – car retailers and workshops as well as industry and manufacturers order specified Aral lubricants online. Additionally the customers can find various information about lubes – from the right liquids for manufacturing machines to security data sheets of all Aral products. www.aral-card.de – fleet managers of professional car fleets as well as transportation and freight agents find all information about the specific offerings of Aral Card Service. The different cards and services are described and entry forms are prepared for downloads.

Extranet – Customized Applications with Personal Entrance Code
The next step of a web-relationship with a commercial customer is to connect IT systems of the client with a company’s own IT. Browser-based applications are routed through diverse firewalls protecting customer databases and applications from unauthorized access. Transactions that used to be set up various steps and people being involved are now based on an interlinked electronic infrastructure. The piles of paper transferred to Aral station managers for information and instruction as well as the rows of handbooks with safety data sheets of fuels and lubricants are now available 24 h / 7 days a week and are guaranteed to be up-to-date. Demands that used to be written on paper, sent thru fax machines, picked up by people, typed into pc’s, being printed out, being put into an envelope to be transferred back to the client are replaced by electronic processes. The extranet for Aral station managers provides access to all important information and services of Aral‘s central units for the station managers. Communication in both directions is easy and fast. Routines are becoming self-running, many business processes can be handled more efficiently.

The extranet for Aral Card Service facilitates the complete card handling online – comfortably, fast and secure. Card data updating, card orders, customer data changes are examples of the online services, innovative concepts like a car & truck tracking system via GPS are being tested currently. Business clients of Aral Commercial Customer & Reseller Services do have the possibility to get updates on current notations and quotations and to trace their invoices, credit lines and order history. The extranet facilitates communication and helps making processes more efficient.

Conclusion
After almost five years of intensive work with eBusiness projects Aral has made some key learnings in web-based communication and utilization of the internet. We have to admit that some ideas did not work out and that a few of our value propostions may not have been compelling enough. In total we made much more steps forwards than backwards and learned much more about out clients than expected. The following key learnings are now used as principles for further projects at Aral. • • • • Give your customers a sustainable advantage. It is important to be market focused as well as sales focused. Concentrate on creating a high customer loyalty to your brand. Get close to the customer – both offline and online. Establish an organization and a mental attitude that makes you learn more of the relationship between the company and its customers at all touch points and through all channels. Markets are Conversations (www.cluetrain.com). Consider the significance of word of mouth in web communities rather than the effect of extensive media spending. Focus on a small but significant market segment initially. This provides entry into the market and delivers key learnings without major investments upfront. Adoption of new technologies is a learning process. Consider that customers sometimes need some time to learn about new possibilities. Innovation is a paradox. It is not necessarily somewhere in between. customer driven or technology driven, but

Outlook
1999 to 2001 were the internet years of building, venturing and experimentation. 2002 will become the year of re-consideration, consolidation and entering into the world of eCollaboration and eCustomer Relationship Management. This promises to reveal more business benefits for all companies that take an active part in exploring the new business opportunities of closer relationship to their business partners. Multi-channelling will no longer be a vision or concept but a given element of communication and interaction with customers both business-to-consumers and business-to business. Integrated eCRM is the framework that enables companies to put all web-based concepts and activities into one comprehensive approach including multi-channelling and customer segmentation. Therefore, starting with eCRM implementation means to develop different strategies for the various target groups depending on their needs, their value for the company and their stage within the customer life cycle using the appropriate channel. Finally and probably one of the most important issues is to design eCRM according to the overall customer and market strategy because it is only one component in building up a customer-centric organisation. Customer orientation that utilizes customer knowledge via a multi-channel approach will be the key sucess factors to build up brand loyalty beyond the petrol station.