What does the filling station customer of the future want? And which choices do you have to make today as an entrepreneur? These questions were answered by the author Steven van Belleghem, main speaker at BigBrother’s Fuel Day on Thursday 22nd March 2018 in Ede, the Netherlands. Steven was this year’s host. His latest book appeared recently: Customers the day after tomorrow. This is part one of the interview with the author.

The same refuelling perception for 23 years

When it comes to customer experience, the petrol and carwash sector has much to gain, notes Steven. “Some 23 years ago I filled my car for the first time. If I go and fill up nowadays, there is zero difference in the experience. Almost nothing has changed! That’s inconceivable, don’t you think?”

I’m in a hurry!

Steven explains how he usually experiences filling up. “I’m in a hurry! And I’m hungry. I’m forced to grab a pre-packed sandwich, because outside the office hours there are generally no freshly made sandwiches left. I go to the pay-desk. There’s a customer in front of me who needs help. So I wait and wait, but a 2nd pay-desk doesn’t open. I eat my sandwich at a bar table with a built-in waste bin right in front of me. It goes without saying that I’m not happy when I step back outside.”

The ultimate filling station experience

Steven’s ultimate customer experience at a filling station would be as follows. “I pre-order a fresh-cut sandwich from the car. Both my car and I are recognised as soon as I drive into the station. I am greeted with: ‘Mr van Belleghem, I have your sandwich here.’ If I have enough time, I can seat and eat it at a comfy table. Afterwards, I simply walk out. Payments for the fuel and shop are done fully automatically.”

Fine as it is?

This is not even the most futuristic scenario that Steven is sketching. When will this become reality? “I hope shortly, but I expect it is not going to happen any time soon. The branch is tied up in the shit of yesterday. There’s no much feeling of urgency. The tone is: everything is fine as it is, right?”

Food retail shaken awake

Steven illustrates how that ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude can be disastrous. “The American food retail sector thought that e-commerce wouldn’t take off so fast. Until Amazon introduced an online groceries service and took over Wholefoods, a chain of quality supermarkets, in June 2017. The whole sector has been turned upside-down; prices have fallen by 30 to 43 % in the US. European supermarket chains also lost shareholder value and it’s just a question of time before Amazon also enters this market in Europe.”

Translating tomorrow to now

Right. So that has to be done differently. And not only because of doom scenarios, but especially because of the opportunities. In his latest book, Customers the day after tomorrow, Steven gives pointers to how you anticipate the customer of tomorrow and how you can score as an entrepreneur. “It’s my invitation to dream about your ‘tomorrow’ and then translate that to your ‘today’.”

Dream and experiment  

For the filling station branch it comes down to these three steps.

  1. Think like Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon). If he were to build a filling station, what would that look like?
  2. What can you tackle today?
  3. Experiment: make a top 3 innovations list and start with pilots.

The customer as guiding star

“Choose only things that have an impact on the customer,” is Steven’s advice. “The customer is your guiding star, not the technology. A customer en route is in a hurry. Focus on saving time. Shorten the time it takes to refuel and pay, for example with automatic payment. And surprise your customer with service.”

Learn from McDonald

According to Steven, the petrol and carwash branch can learn from innovations in the retail sector. “I am impressed, for example, by how McDonalds with its traditionally driven process, has nevertheless introduced a totally new manner of ordering: table service.”


The way that McDonalds has personalised its products, has also impressed Steven. “If here in Belgium I indicate that I don’t like cheese, they know that, so to speak, when I go into a McDonalds in Copenhagen. In addition McDonalds has set up e-delivery together with Uber; a major success with a 20 to 30 % increase as a result. McDonalds thus satisfies the customers’ growing need for service.”


That degree of personalisation and service requires data. For a filling station, this means knowing how long ago a customer used the carwash, which sandwiches he prefers, which pump he has just used to fill up etc. Steven explains why this is important. “The complexity of the competition is increasing. Unique selling points no longer exist, because customers get your USP everywhere. The only way to improve your service even more, is to personalise.”

What do you invest in?

Invest in (personalising) your customer process or in fuel innovations?  And what does the future of the electric car look like? Steven has specific advice for the petrol branch: “Invest especially in a happy customer. But don’t forget to keep up with the developments of the main car manufacturers, otherwise you’ll miss the boat. Electric-powered vehicles are not yet ideal when it comes to time and certainty for the customer, but I think that will be solved. And BMW and Mercedes are going flat out for the electric car.”

 Scheiwijk remains favourite

Is Scheiwijk still Steven’s favourite Dutch filling station? “Absolutely! And I have a great story about it. I was recently driving near Utrecht late in the evening. I was hungry and wasn’t much looking forward to a pre-packed snack. Lo and behold, I spotted a Scheiwijk! And again it was a very pleasant experience. Just like in Gorinchem: a delicious freshly made sandwich and attendants who were really friendly, even though it was late.”

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