The COVID19 pandemic has led to an increase in the number of organisations accelerating their journey of digital transformation.
One such organisation is the Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) which is an Indian government-owned oil and gas explorer and producer. It is under the ownership of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Government of India, headquartered in Mumbai, Maharashtra. It operates two large refineries in Kochi and Mumbai.
The objective was to make BPCL’s customer interface comprehensive & integrated digitally, Urja, the Chabot is now available on the company website for any queries for both B2B & B2C.
Using Whatsapp & Chatbots
“We are already there on WhatsApp and currently doing around 30,000 to 40,000 bookings on the WhatsApp platform. We also have a chatbot called Urja, popular for queries and transactions every day,” said Mona Srivastava, Chief Manager, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL).
She further explained that at Bharat Gas, IVR remains the most popular channel given its convenience. On the IVR, customers are used to pressing 1 for booking, and it’s become muscle memory for them. Some don’t even wait to hear the menu. This isn’t something that WhatsApp or chatbots offer.
“As an organisation, we have tried to wean away from the customer from IVR to WhatsApp since the latter allows us to use push messaging or send out content. But customers are not ready to leave the IVR,” added Srivastava.
Introducing technology at BPCL
“It was as far back as 2000 when we began to computerise the distributors’ part of the work. A distributor typically would receive orders from the customers and then delivers them. Then he will have to do stock accounting and then some cash accounting. So, the four key processes for the distributor were completely manual. To digitise and automate the end-to-end order to the delivery process, we at Bharat Gas built our in-house software called LPG Next that our 6,500 distributors continue to use to date,” said Srivastava.
She further explained that the distributors were advised on what kind of dot matrix printers and which computers they should buy. Most of the distributors were naturally very jittery about this changeover because what they felt was that this change would take away their control over the business.
For context, the concern was that since these distributors didn’t know how to operate the software, they would have to keep people who were well versed in running the software, and therefore they felt that the control of the business slipped from their hands. While much has changed in technology, this statement and mindset have remained the same.
Any business which is trying to digitise its whole operations, somewhere the people, wherever they are in the chain of the events, always have a sense of losing control.
“They feel some unknown entity is now coming and will control everything, and they will not have any role in decision making. And I feel there’s a similar resistance today in 2022 with AI and Machine Learning. So, in terms of filling the gaps, whether external or internal, the challenges remain on both fronts,” added Srivastava.
Talking about the application Srivastava pointed out. “Think of LPG Next as a kind of a motherboard. Everything else is built onto it, including all our external integrations. So, we see LPG Next more as a platform and not just software. And now, through API calls, everything is built through that ecosystem.”
So, whether it is the IVR or the last mile delivery app, which the delivery boy is using, or in the showroom itself for the main work of accounting and everything, this LPG Next is the bedrock on which everything inbuilt. This includes our digital payments, including NPCI Bharat BillPay and other similar integrations.
“When the smartphone usage was not that much, and we were mostly dependent on landlines. Even though the mobility had come (in 2011-12), the biggest pain point for a customer was running out of cooking gas at home. Now, so much has changed. But think of when the electrical cooking gadgets were not that popular, and a household was so heavily dependent on LPG only for fuel needs,” added Srivastava.
She further pointed out that running out of gas was like a living nightmare. Even contacting the distributor back then was a challenging task since all his lines would always be busy.
Hence many had to resort to going physically to distributors and standing in long lines to book a cylinder. But all that changed drastically when BPCL brought the technology of the IVR. This is the first part of how BPCL is undergoing its digital transformation journey. Stay tuned for more.