For 40 years, Bernard Smith has been behind the counter of our Gas & Gear store in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, serving customers the gas they need every day.
Having last year been awarded a Long Service award for 40 years in the business, Bernard sat down with us to share his thoughts on what has made BOC so great over the last four decades – and what’s making it even better today.
So, Bernard, how did you first come to BOC?
I started my first job at this very store, working in the cylinders department just over 40 years ago. It was a government work experience programme, and it was only supposed to last six months, but I ended up staying a whole year. At the end of that year, a vacancy came up, and my boss said “well, why don’t we just keep Bernard and put him on a full-time contract?” And that’s how it all started!
So you’ve been with BOC for 40 years?
I have, and I was recently given the 40-year Long Service Award at a celebratory lunch in London, which is presented to those who have served 21, 40 and even 50 years at BOC. It’s a very special award and I’m proud to be one of the people to have received one.
What was the Hanley store like when you first started?
We were supplying more than 1,000 cylinders per week. There was a constant stream of customers coming in and out the door, from 8 in the morning till we closed at 5pm.
And how does that compare to today?
Things haven’t changed much in that regard. 40 years ago, we were one of the only gas suppliers in Stoke. Now, we compete against many large and small local suppliers. That’s why I think customer service is so important to us. We know our customers have a choice of gas supplier, so we have to make sure they keep coming back to us.
Have your customers changed?
I’ve seen new industries come along over my 40 years – air conditioning and refrigeration, for instance – so, we’re selling gas to a wider range of businesses than ever before, and we have to keep up to date with our customers’ businesses. But the people themselves haven’t changed. They’re much the same as they’ve always been. We have some long-standing customers who have been coming to our store for years, and they like to do things the way they are familiar with, while others prefer the convenience technology has to offer. One customer recently showed me how he uses our app to quickly re-order gas and then have it delivered directly to his door. And with Click & Collect, customers can choose what they want online www.boconlineshop.com and then pop into the store to pick it up.
Tell me about the customers you serve.
The thing about BOC customers is they know what they want, and they know how they like to have it. We have many new customers, but we also have some that have been doing things the same way for the whole 40 years I’ve worked with them.
Some prefer to get in touch over the phone, some prefer email and some are now using Click & Collect – but many still come to the store with a shopping list and like to deal with us face-to-face.
Has technology changed the way you do business?
I suppose things are quicker nowadays. 40 years ago, we were still hand-writing receipts and faxing invoices. Nowadays, almost everything is instant. Well, maybe not everything – we’re still using the same printer we bought in 1982!
Do you think, in the future, more people will start to purchase gas online?
I think some people like to purchase online knowing they can sit back and wait for their product to arrive, or collect it in-store. But sometimes they’ll see an offer online, then come to purchase the product in person – and they’ll say, I’ve seen this product online, can you do me a deal? And of course, I say no problem!
Has technology changed the way you approach customer service?
At BOC, we’ve always prided ourselves on giving our customers choice. And for me, customer service is one of the most important parts of the job. So, while there are many more ways for our customers to get in touch with us now, I know that many of my customers prefer to do things the same way they always have. What’s important for us is that we give them that choice – while still making sure we get our customer service bob on the nail every time!
We would like to thank Bernard for taking part in this interview and wish him all the best for the future. Bernard will be retiring later this year leaving behind an amazing 40-year career and he will be missed by his BOC colleagues and Gas & Gear Hanley customers.
Discover why we’re on a journey to reimagine BOC by embracing cutting edge technologies, developing intelligent applications and redefining what great service means to make things even easier for our customers.
Read our recent blog to see how we’re making it easier than ever to be our customer.