While most South Africans can’t really tell the difference between fuel quality, when it comes to choosing a petrol station, the stakes are high - and the race is tight.
Engen scored the highest in a customer satisfaction survey conducted by marker research firm Consulta at the end of 2019. Bringing in the rear was Caltex, which came in below the industry average.
Engen had an overall score of 80.8 index points – Caltex came in last at 77.2, below the industry average of 79.6. Shell scored 80.3; BP and Sasol 79.2; and Total 78. When it comes to brand loyalty, Engen has the most loyal customers at 84.5%, BP follows at 80.7%, Shell at 80.4% and then Sasol (78.8%) and Caltex (77.6%).
"The overall Customer Satisfaction score for the industry is high at 80, however there is no outright leader in the customer satisfaction stakes, which leaves the field open for a brand to take the lead in providing a differentiated customer experience," says Ineke Prinsloo, head of customer insights at Consulta.
"Fuel, as a product, is a commodity and aspects such as quality of fuel is essentially a hygiene factor, and not a differentiator. Most consumers have no understanding of fuel quality at brand A versus brand B and expect that they will get a product of appropriate standard at every fuel station.
“However, what is not a commodity is the customer experience and the choice that consumers have – here the stakes are high to attract the patronage of customers who are prepared to go out of their way to use a specific brand because of the experience and perceived value they get at a particular fuel station,” explains Prinsloo.
In terms of global comparisons, South Africa’s fuel station brands are much more popular than those in the US, for example. "In the US, a fuel purchase is typically a DIY process where you fill up your vehicle yourself, whereas in SA customers would be assisted by forecourt employees.
It is easy to see why employee attitude and service ethic can play a make or break role for fuel stations and customer satisfaction in SA," says Prinsloo. When customers were asked what SA fuel stations needed to improve on, the top five mentions were: service experience, staff attitude, rewards and value for money, skills and knowledge of staff and cleanliness.
All fuel station brands performed on par (74.6) in terms of perceived value. Sasol has the lowest rates of customer complaints of all the fuel station brands, and an equally impressive complaint resolution score.
“Another big driver that fuel companies have tapped into is that of loyalty programmes and rewards – most brands have tied up with partners such as Discovery Miles, Pick ‘n Pay Smart Shopper and eBucks as one way to differentiate and attract consumers to their service stations by offering customers points/rewards on their chosen loyalty programmes,” says Prinsloo.
“While convenience also plays a big role in terms of customer choices, it is not a substitute for a lousy experience in the forecourt with staff and other aspects such as cleanliness and safety. In this regard, the people factor is fundamental to the patronage that a fuel station enjoys.”