By Scott Kwas on Jun 10, 2018
Scott Kwas is a technical advisor for Shell Lubricants based in Alberta, Canada. With history in engineering for Shell’s corporate flight department, he is uniquely positioned to understand the challenges his customers face: “I was in customers’ shoes previously and guilty of some of the habits that I’m now going in and trying to correct.”
It pays to be an observer
Scott’s experience is so important because understanding customers’ challenges can be a big part of the problem.
There can often also be many reasons why users struggle to get the best out of their product, from education to price pressures and even warehouse organisation, and, as Kwas explains, sometimes a pair of eyes from the outside is needed to give a clear perspective.
“They’re on site every day and they don’t really catch what a Shell expert or someone specifically trained in lubricants would see. By partnering with someone like Shell Lubricants we can see if a funnel is a contamination risk from being used with multiple lubricants. We know this best practice. It really is our strength.”
“We get boots on the ground. We put on the hard hats and vests and look for areas of improvement,” he adds. “While we’re performing those assessments we look at elements of what could be a progressive lubrication programme. That’s down to things like storage and handling or using the product for the right application. Perhaps they can use it in a better way?”
One product, so many implications
It can seem strange to some customers that a lubricants expert might want to take such an interest in a whole range of processes when surely, what we’re talking about is a simple commodity? Kwas is quite clear that he needs to help customers change this mindset.
I really try to educate my customers to quit looking at lubricant as a commodity. They should be looking at the power it can bring to their organisation.
That power, as Kwas calls it, is much further reaching than simply smoothing out the day to day product management. He firmly believes it is possible to make significant improvements to companies’ end profitability if they take the time to focus on the details.
“In today’s economy, we’re seeing contracts for our customers being lost by pennies. They’re looking for any way that they can leverage suppliers or manage maintenance that’s going to bring savings to the bottom line. We have the potential to help our customers respond to this environment and be more competitive.”
Kwas agrees that it can seem counterintuitive sometimes to begin a conversation about saving ‘pennies’ and then come in with an argument for spending more on premium oils. “A lot don’t realise the effect a poor-quality lubricant can have on systems and the life of the oil. I try to educate the customer on the benefits of using a stronger lubricant. They should be looking at the potential to extend the oil drain interval or have better system efficiency and fuel economy. That can be a saving in the region of six figures for some of my customers.”
Bringing the argument to life
Arguments like this struggle without some real-world proof that the promises equal reality, such as in the case of machinery maintenance. A good example is oil drain intervals – the amount of time the engine can go before it needs an oil change. “We really try to show them the savings and we work with our customers to quantify it for them. If they have an oil drain interval of 250 hours a month, we might potentially be able to double it. And if we double it, we can show them what the saving would be.”
The experience and in-depth technical knowledge Shell experts bring to the table is a vital part of this conversation. Kwas understands that reassurance is essential: “We have to go to a prospect that may be new to Shell and they’re putting a lot of trust in a supplier who comes in recommending change.
“Trust isn’t just that there will be more money at the end of the process. Customers also have to be sure that, whatever advice we bring, there will be no adverse effects on machinery they depend on daily to deliver their bottom line.”