A top executive in the lube industry thinks services – from engine oil analysis to data benchmarking – will be the most critical factor in winning and keeping fleet customers in the near future.
“Within lubricants, we’ve found you must talk solutions today – not just products,” Steve Harman, president of Shell’s U.S. lubricants business, told FleetOwner. “It’s about focusing on the total value we can provide customers, from helping them reduce their maintenance costs to improving fuel efficiency for their equipment. Because the more efficient we help customers become, the more profit they will make – and that helps both of us in the long run.”
Harman said Shell is beefing up its investments in research and dedicated staffing to the transportation market on a global basis, with 100 people dedicated to the needs of the North American market alone. “North America represents 30% of the global lubricants business, especially because the distances traveled in the U.S. are so long and so much of the freight is moved by road. The U.S. is much more reliant on road freight compared to Europe.”
He said that U.S. fleets also tend to be more sophisticated and more open to exploring different solutions to help them reduce costs and boost the efficiency of their operations. “That’s because, going forward, transportation faces a number of significant challenges – not the least being more stringent emission standards,” Harman noted. “Fleets are far more interested in managing the total cost of their operation today, not just lubricants and engine oils.”
To that end, Shell is tapping into its global data pool, compiled from years of work with fleet customers all over the world, to provide more detailed benchmarking information for fleets serving specific niches and helping them better manage their operations. “We’re doing this even for small fleets and owner-operators, the ones running just one truck,” Harman said. “Leveraging that information will help even the smallest operator make improvements.”
Above all, providing this type of assistance will require longer-term and more personal relationships with customers, said Harman. “About 70% of my personal time right now is spent in the field with customers and prospects, figuring out what their needs are and how we can meet them,” he said. “With the challenges posed by high fuel prices and the U.S. economic slowdown, everyone is interested in finding ways to improve their bottom line.”