View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Thursday, August 21, 2008

UAE Self-Service Petrol Station Experiment

One of the positives that expats discover when arriving in the UAE is that petrol stations are service stations, with attendants on hand to fill the tank, check the oil and clean the windows.

Not for much longer. ENOC has launched (12 August 2008) a three month ‘experiment’ with 10 of its 165 stations in Dubai and the northern emirates being self-service.

It is a tried and tested technique to bill something as an ‘experiment’ so you don’t get egg on your face if the thing turns out to be a dismal failure and it does help angry customers to consider that the change is not necessarily here to stay.

Progress Reports?
It would be good if ENOC gave some fair and honest progress reports not the promotional gloss.

Driving to Dubai from Fujairah one day this week I kept an eye on the petrol stations and it was evident that the traditional Service Stations were buzzing with cars and customers and the experimental Self-Service Stations (Al Rafia on the Dhaid-Sharjah Rd and Thouban on the Sharjah-Fujairah Highway) looked empty. Motorists were obviously voting with their cars.

From my cursory survey it would appear that the ENOC experiment is going to prove costly, not only for petrol sales but for the many food items that customers buy at the attached convenience stores.

Cost on Employees
What about the loss of income for Petrol Station attendants during this experiment? One manager at an ENOC Station said today that all the attendants were being redeployed at other sites. Does that mean that other stations are overstaffed temporarily or are all ENOC attendants getting fewer shifts over the next few months? Attendants on site are not inclined to be too vocal with their thoughts and criticisms.

ENOC appears to have been intentional about wanting to commence the experiment in the middle of summer but one would question the wisdom of this especially if they want to get customers on board with the new self-service way. One of the things that makes the UAE different from the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (home of many expats) is that this country has such high temperatures. Filling up the car and cleaning the windscreen on your way to work when you are dressed in a suit, or on the way to a night out when you are dressed in your glad rags, is bound to get you in a sweaty lather.

While many expats are used to petrol filling equipment, there are many people in the Emirates for whom this is a new experience. There seems to be little information offered to motorists when one arrives at a Petrol Station, about how to use the equipment.

Cumbersome System
The current method of ‘pay first-fill up later’ is extremely cumbersome and frustrating. It involves guesstimating how many dirhams worth of gas you will need, going inside and paying, telling the attendant the type of petrol and pump number you will be using and then filling up with the pump that automatically cuts off when you reach your amount. This method leads to motorists erring on the conservative side and putting in a lesser amount of petrol to avoid having to go back inside and asking for a refund if you over-estimated the thirst of your vehicle.

If this is a security issue with motorists driving off without paying then the attendants on hand can be trained to be alert and take down the license plate numbers of the offending vehicles. If this is a chronic problem, stations can install security cameras (CCTV), as happens in many countries.

‘Cash Transactions Only’
Again, this seems to be a money-saving ploy and is a backward step in this electronic age. Not being able to pay by Credit Card is unhelpful for tourists who prefer to pay by their bank card.

Unclear Feedback Channels
The issue of feedback is not clear to customers. When I asked an ENOC manager about giving feedback he said he would pass on my comments to the authorities but hearsay is not adequate or reliable. It seems ENOC is only monitoring the financial trends and if this experiment increases their profits, the customers and unemployed attendants will just have to accept the changes.

It this is the way all petrol stations go in the UAE it would be helpful to provide options within the one station—Self-Service that is cheaper for the customers and Service-Provided which costs more.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: The news that greets the ‘ENOC experiment’ stations—no service, no credit card transactions, not enough information, no clear feedback process and not enough options.

Check out the new series and photos entitled ‘Fujairah Building Boom’.
The first post is at this link:
Fujairah in Focus