Published in Energy/Utilities

Valero Mystery Shopping Delivers Consistent Brand Experience and Increases Sales

Overview

Valero Energy Corporation is an international manufacturer and marketer of transportation fuels and petrochemicals. As the world’s largest independent petroleum refiner, Valero has a workforce of 10,000 employees with a refining capacity of approximately 3.1 million barrels per day. Today, Valero sells products to both the wholesale rack and bulk markets, and approximately 7,400 outlets carry Valero’s brand names in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Ireland.

Founded from humble beginnings in 1980 in San Antonio, Texas, Valero has evolved into an industry leader. The company’s guiding principles have earned them numerous safety, business and corporate responsibility awards over the years. Marking the nineteenth year to be named on the Fortune 500 list, Valero ranks #37 on this year’s list.

Above all else, Valero has a strong Commitment to Excellence (CTE) in producing environmentally clean products, stressing absolute importance of occupational and process safety, raising millions for children’s charities with The Valero Texas and Benefit for Children, and perhaps the most important, its commitment to the communities in which its employees and customers live.

Challenge—A Consistent Positive Consumer Experience

The world of petroleum refining and ethanol production brings with it the need to work and sell through wholesale marketers. Valero and other petroleum refineries don’t typically sell directly to the consumer, which means they do not have direct control over the operations and behaviors at their stores, and thereby are only a tangential influence on the overall consumer experience. Instead, they rely on a network of independent marketers (which Valero calls its “customers”) to sell their gasoline to stations who are the primary touchpoint with consumers.

Valero’s challenge—no matter where it is operating—remains ensuring that all customers deliver a consistent, positive consumer experience—one that represents the Valero brand with its operational standards and the commitment to excellence it strives to deliver each day. As you can imagine, this is a difficult task to achieve with so many independent stores and customers/marketers. Nevertheless, Valero is committed to its goals, service, and fuel quality and they feel that one way to increase customers’ gasoline volume is to better monitor and enforce the compliance standards which the brand has set for all stores.

Solution—Mystery Shopping a New Level of Commitment

In 2010, Valero launched its CTE mystery shopping program which was aimed at helping all its customers develop a stronger understanding of the consumer experience at all of their branded locations. The program provides Valero’s customers/marketers with insight into the actual consumer experience as well as an objective assessment of whether each location is meeting the image (and customer service) brand standards that Valero has firmly set and communicated. The feedback provided to Valero via the CTE mystery shoppers is an unbiased, unvarnished, and unemotional view of the quality and consistency of the consumer experience. The program helps their customers zero in on areas where specific stores may not be meeting brand standards—from fixtures that need maintenance, to product stock and everything in between—anything that directly influences consumers’ overall impressions of the Valero brand, an individual store, and a consumer’s unique shopping experience.

The CTE program was designed to monitor a set number of Critical Success Factors. For example, it monitors and assesses the cleanliness of restrooms, ensures Valero’s brand is consistent on signage and marketing materials across all stores, seeks out any evidence of the stocking of sexually explicit materials and synthetic drugs or drug paraphernalia (a definite NO by Valero’s brand standards), identifies if a consumer is likely to recommend the Valero brand to others or return to the brand, themselves, the next time a need arises and much more.

The results of the CTE program are shared with program leadership during Quarterly Business Reviews (QBR). The program also provides Valero and its customers/marketers with competitive information to gauge their performance relative to others. This can be based on both hard metrics such as Volume/Gallons Sold as well as more behavioral and/ or attitudinal measurements such as Cleanliness of the Fuel Island, Friendliness of Staff, or the Quickness/Efficiency of the Transaction—all benchmarked against other retail petroleum brands. This competitive data comes from CXStandards™—a benchmarking study conducted each quarter by MaritzCX across 20 major industries. CXStandards™ gathers and analyzes direct feedback on consumer customers. Either looking at CX within or across industries—all brands, including Valero and others in the retail petroleum space, can better see how they are performing relative to direct competitors. The end result is better understanding and gauging the needs of the consumer across any number of situations to determine what creates a strong customer experience—and, more importantly, to replicate that within their own business model and brand standards.

Results—Achieving Brand Standards and Gasoline Sales Growth 

  • Valero is seeing positive results since launching the CTE program and is continuously evolving through consistent and continuous management of the CTE program. They’ve helped their customers maintain brand standards and improve consumer experience.
  • Customers that met brand standards over 95% of the time in 2015 and 2016 sold more gas volume than Distributors scoring below 95%, and have seen better compliance.

The CTE mystery shopping program is an effective tool that helps create awareness around important consumer-facing behaviors and galvanizes the most beneficial actions across all customers. By collecting unbiased, objective intelligence about their customers’ efforts, consumers’ desires, and performance of their competitors, Valero can identify its own competitive strengths and weaknesses to make the necessary adjustments and gain an industry advantage.

Valero’s CTE program is a forward-thinking mystery shopping program. It is a way to ensure excellence, but through doing so, giving their customers the opportunity to change or rework efforts when brand standard scores are low so their customers can initiate remedial efforts to, once again, become compliant with the standards set by Valero.

Through the CTE program, Valero works with their customers that market the Valero brand to ensure that when a consumer visits a Valero to make a purchase, that individual is getting the most positive consumer experience possible.

The Valero Difference—A Commitment to Excellence

Valero is “committed to excellence” …Around their customer and consumer experience—and at all touchpoints…To their employees and their communities…In delivering their products safely to different locations…and in providing the types of site-level engagement and experiences that consumers want to receive.