Bank of Best Practices
Group of interest: Clients
Commitment: Guarantee the client´s satisfaction with service excellence
Objective: Maximize the value of products and services for the client
Synopsis: With the implementation of the distribution channel in the aliphatic and aromatic solvent chain, Ecopetrol and clients have built a new way of interaction based on reliability, quality and service.
Ecopetrol is not just the main oil, gasoline and natural gas producer in Colombia. Out of each single crude barrel, an endless number of derivative products are extracted, which are also marketed and turned into raw material for thousands of items, such as plastic chairs, paints or candles, which are part of Colombians´ market basket.
One of the most dynamic production lines and highest sales in Ecopetrol correspond to petrochemical products; that is where the aliphatic and aromatic solvent items are found. In such business sector Ecopetrol supplies products like hexane, xylene, and several other solvents acting as the base for paints, adhesive solutions, thinner, varsol and other types of lacquers or resins.
Since these substances are to be carefully managed and they may eventually be the raw material for unlawful activities, they are subject to controls by the National Department of Anti-narcotics, which sets more responsibilities over Ecopetrol when selling them.
By 2005 this solvent sector was as varied as informal. Many companies, some of them in doubtful standing and incorporated in house garages outside the cities, bought these products.
Being aware of the problem and the need to apply the best practices -business and HSE- to the customer chain, the National Commercialization Manager´s Office of Ecopetrol implemented a strategy that has had positive results: the distribution channels; they mainly consist of organizing the house and providing with a monitoring system clients who have complied with a set of requirements and have adjusted themselves to a socially and commercially responsible scheme.
The idea was to enforce the strategic object Ecopetrol has defined with this group of interest to maximize the value of products and services for the client.
"At the beginning it was common to see our solvents commercialized by people who had nothing to do with this business. We designed a strategy based on a training process to guarantee that the unequal sales force in the market would use the adequate arguments and language to sell our products. It originated the marketing channels as an extension of our sales force," highlights Felipe Trujillo, manager of Petrochemicals and Industrials of the Supply and Marketing Vice-presidency of Ecopetrol.
A series of meetings were, therefore, held, as well as systematic workshops, where clients of these products were instructed to start getting certified in HSE Procedures, and they were encouraged to have duly certified transport fleet and storage tanks.
"Certification educates us and teaches us to do things better. With the distribution channel implemented by Ecopetrol, it has taught us to make the marketing forms professional. The monitoring, lessons and meetings Ecopetrol has invited us to, have in all helped us know and share with other companies. This has been helpful because it ends with business mistrusts and resentments and jealousies", states John Jaime Ramos, business director of Propein, a company domiciled in Bello (Antioquia) and devoted to commercializing chemical products for the industry.
For technical certifications, Ecopetrol was advised by Icontec (Technical Standards Institute), which was responsible for verifying and assessing compliance with the required standards to issue the corresponding certifications.
Together with meetings and trainings, Ecopetrol set the business roadmap with its company clients in the solvent sector. It told them how discounts they could expect would be provided.
In the first stage, such discounts were determined according to the purchase volume. This factor was an influence so that many companies that were still informal could come out of Ecopetrol?s client list or small companies could merge and use the competitive advantages.
Thanks to the addition of synergies, for instance, Cooindis (a multiactive pre-cooperative of solvent industries) was constituted and domiciled in Bogota. Its legal representative, Julio Roberto Avella, says that thanks to incentives by Ecopetrol, the five members of Cooindis have been trained in administration and have reinforced their knowledge both in products they commercialize and in financial and marketing subjects.
"Ecopetrol´s invitation for each member of the channel to be accredited with ISO 9001 certification was important because at Cooindis we decided to work on the quality area and we have now significantly progressed in such a way that we are processing the formalities to be certified by an integral quality system", says Avella.
Over time and within the schedules and terms known by all the channel members, the business discounts were subject to compliance with certifications; therefore, Ecopetrol checked Icontec?s reports on each company.
"With the roadmap the client knows by which month they have to be certified with ISO 9901 and ISO 18000 to be accredited the benefits granted by Ecopetrol. This helps the company be ready. Once the benefit date arrives, the companies that were not certified, will lose their discount. We have raised the standards and we have now fully local companies with multinational competitiveness standards. We have raised the bar," says Felipe Trujillo.
Monitoring, the key
The other great advantage of creating the distribution channels, and particularly the solvent channel, is the improvement of relations between Ecopetrol and its clients.
Today the aromatic and aliphatic solvent channel includes seven companies. It is a significantly lower number as compared to clients Ecopetrol had in this area by 2006, when there were over 100 companies to be sold these products.
"It is much easier to have high service standards if you have seven clients you can visit every day. We have guaranteed that our account officers know our clients better, and service and technical advice to be to reachable. This closeness has reduced the response periods for their requirements and improved the information we have on them: each officer knows the inventory level, the needs of and niche market where clients are; this helps us provide better services", says the manager of Petrochemicals and Industrials of Ecopetrol.
Ecopetrol and clients belonging to the channel highlight that both parties have been benefited in terms of safety, service and professionalization.
We have been very honest with our channel members: "You are legally and economically responsible for serving the clients that I, as Ecopetrol, have been transferring to you. If you fail to serve them well, I, as Ecopetrol, come in and arbitrate. If in shortage periods you speculate with the product and do not serve the regular clients, a client complaining is equal to a volume I take off you and I directly serve him".