Like too many of us in America, my family consumes a lot of gasoline. In our little fleet, we are trying to keep four cars, three motorcycles, two lawn mowers, one ATV and a partridge in a pear tree running. When you throw in the weed eater and other miscellany, astonishingly I think we are approaching 50 spark plugs. Clearly it is time to begin divesting, but in the meantime, all of these cylinders … when in use … have been fueled by British Petroleum. My affinity for the BP brand began when the first Amoco stations starting being re-branded over to the ‘BP green’ brand. I don’t know if it felt a bit gentler, or greener, or had a slight British sophistication that appealed to me. For whatever reason, we have been a highly loyal BP fleet, pumping considerable amounts of our hard earned cash into BP machines, for years. It is funny how brand loyalty works; what starts a relationship, what trauma a relationship survives, and what eventually kills it.
Part of our commitment to BP is the accumulation of loyalty points; which then can be redeemed for any number of awards, including BP Gift Cards. The gift cards, typically our chosen award, is simply a prepaid credit card in increments of $25 or $50. You drive up to the pump, swipe the card, pump until the card is emptied, and off you go. Or at least that is the way it is supposed to work. Unfortunately, our local BP station, the Delafield Convenience, can’t seem to get the process mastered. Maybe they have old pumps. Maybe they don’t know how to configure what payment is accepted during which business hours. Maybe they are employing a strategy of coaxing you into the store by disallowing pay-at-the pump. Whatever the cause, I would suggest they are blissfully ignorant of what erodes brand loyalty. For the past couple of years, I have been met with a consistent stream of disallowed attempts to read gift cards, get receipts, use the regular BP Credit Card, etc. In a scene horribly reminiscent of “PC Load Letter” in Office Space, the pump simply reads “See Clerk”. Well guess what! I don’t want to see the clerk. And I certainly don’t want to see the clerk simply to use the gift card that has been awarded to me for my consistent loyalty. What logic is being employed to disallow the use of their own BP Gift Cards? They hold value, or they don’t. The pump automatically stops when the card is exhausted. There is no “drive off” risk to the station. Yet, the pump silently taunts me with “See Clerk”.
I stroll into the station, as I have done dozens of times to get a receipt that should automatically shoot out of the pump, or ask why I cannot process a gift card … to be met with the explanation that the gift card in question will work inside if the pump won’t let it be used outside. Fine! A stroll in, a stroll out, pump some gas, a stroll in and back out will be a nice addition of exercise to my morning errand. Yet at the pump, I try to engage the fuel type by selecting “Pay Inside” only to be met with the intransigent adherence to “See Clerk”. As I stare in irritated disbelief, the clerk sticks her head out the door and broadcasts loudly that I need to pull around to the inside pump to pay inside. Really? Seriously? I replace the nozzle with my right hand, as I form the “OK” signal with my left hand, and give her an exaggerated wink. Quick as a bunny, I jump into my car, pull across the street to the Daybreak Mobil Station, and activate the pump with my credit card. With the aforementioned clerk watching from across the street, I fill my car, collect my receipt on the spot, and drive off quietly.
As I reflected, I realized that brand loyalty is truly a peculiar phenomenon. In this case, it started for reasons I can’t even remember. Once the connection was made, however, it was a strong enough bond to survive a trauma of global proportions. The Gulf spill was a horrible event, but I rationalized that it really could have happened to any company, and anybody that has worked in a giant company will completely understand … huge multinationals, like our governments, are totally unprepared to deal with catastrophe. With that line of thinking, I had continued to stick by BP. But when it came down to the day-to-day interaction with the local representative of the brand, when it came to repeatedly disallowing the most simple of transactions … I cracked. Essentially, I threw my hands in the air and proclaimed “BP, you’re dead to me!” Years of loyalty eventually undone by the one local station that I interacted with the most. Hours later, remembering the cheerful blue Mobil pump and the advertising for the efficient Speed Pass feature, I jumped on the web and opened a Mobil account, complete with cards and Speed Pass key fobs. I guess for me, at least with commodity products, it comes down to making sure that everyone you rely on to represent your brand, starts with getting the basics done right and done consistently. Without the basics, there really isn’t anything left to build upon.