State of the industry – why 2023 is the year of the customer

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The past few years have had an unprecedented impact on customer needs, habits, and expectations. From fluctuating unemployment rates to global socio-political movements, the pandemic forced organisations and consumers alike to re-evaluate their financial and ethical priorities at every turn. In line with these shifts, the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Infrastructure reframed their core pillars to better reflect these attitudes alongside the all-encompassing nature of sustainability (GFC-6 June 2020).

Undoubtably, having a centralised vision of what sustainable infrastructure must encompass helps to unify global efforts, and enact long-term change. However, these guidelines can leave some unsure of which issues to confront first, or how to enact change efficiently. This sentiment became more complicated during the pandemic, as key assets ranging from labour shortages to natural resources became more difficult to access and develop consistently, regardless of industry or location.

Luckily, these shifts and their repercussions are stabilising as we collectively strive to find equilibrium once again. Today, it’s clear that ethics and sustainability are of greater importance to consumers than ever. Visible changes like sustainable packaging and reducing waste in the manufacturing process are amongst the most important sustainable practices amongst consumers, according to Deloitte’s 2022 Sustainability & Consumer Behaviour report. Further clarity on the environmental sustainability of products and services is also needed, meaning it’s up to individual brands to make their green status well known across practices and products alike.

Optimistically, environmentally sustainable innovation is increasingly gaining momentum across industries. The automotive industry, for example, is taking these consumer needs very seriously, with the electric vehicle boom often considered a tangible proof point of this change. Furthermore, the automotive industry  starts to reap the rewards of a circular economy through the creation of new revenue streams, cost reduction, and overall profitability by around 1.5 times across the entire value chain, as explored in the World’ Economic Forum’s report, Driving Ambitions: The Business Case for Circular Economy in the Car Industry. Because of this, it’s crucial for related industries to pre-empt the ripple effect these shifts will have if they want to flourish. 

Within the lubricant industry, it’s key we ensure customers have visibility around reliable brands that align with both their ethos and finances, as meeting these demands are crucial to growth and success. Customers’ requirements ultimately impact product development, drive demand, and shape the boundaries of innovation for years to come. Yet, many companies design products from the top down, with customer needs often becoming an afterthought, causing many products to perform poorly – simply because they aren’t being designed with consumer or industry needs in mind. 

We understand that consumers are the driving force behind products, and that each product we create needs to offer a solution to specific consumer challenges, whether they’re environmental, economic, or ethical. That’s why we ensure our customers and partners play a key role in our dialogue from start to finish. It’s paramount that the lubricant industry not only meets these needs, but anticipates them. This enables us to provide customers with reliable products and services before their problems even take shape, so they can turn to our products with confidence. It’s time for customers to shine in 2023 – here’s what meeting their needs looks like for the year ahead.   

Customer-centric perspectives drive innovation

It’s undeniable that 2023 brings a fresh set of customer challenges, largely centred around sustainability, ethics and the rising cost of living. We anticipate these needs by operating under the philosophy that customers are essential to providing better industry products and services, as well as helping to push our strategy and business constantly forward.

Because this philosophy is ingrained in our company, goods, and services, PETRONAS Lubricants customers understand that our products are designed to work specifically for their benefit, by extending the lifespan of both the product and the planet. We apply this ethos to more than just our products, too. End consumers rely on our partners and distributors to deliver reliable services and effectively communicate the features of our products and services, offering the best customer experience to the end consumer. For any consumers facing financial challenges, for example, it’s crucial that our partners are able to educate them on how our lubricants can increase the longevity of their vehicle, so that it can have a longer lifespan with fewer issues, and cause the least amount of financial strain as possible.

It’s equally important that we ensure this ethos applies within our organisation, too, which is why we’re very proud that PLI Italy is ranked #1 as the “Best Employers for Women 2022” in the Raw Materials and Energy Category (German Quality Institute ITQF). The company is also targeting over 24,000 beneficiaries through educational programmes between 2020 to 2024, in an effort to support young people who are keen to gain valuable skills for the future.  

It is energizing to see the lubricant industry adapt to change and improve sustainability practices with such efficiency, too. At PETRONAS, we’re making small and big changes in line with these shifts. From utilising electricity from renewable energy sources and LED lighting (saving 50-150 tonnes of CO2) to replacing and recycling hardware in production with greener alternatives, we’re seeking out constructive change in every single aspect of our business by applying our three “R’s” policy: Re-use, recover, recycle. We are members of CONOU, one of Europe’s leading organizations in the field of circular economy with specific focus on the collection and regeneration of waste oils. In 2021, to quote only one piece of data, CONOU managed to regenerate 98% of the total waste oils from lubricants.

In the simplest sense, innovation is key to progression – whether our customers have visibility on these changes or not, they feel confident knowing that we’re constantly striving to improve. These ever-evolving customer considerations are vital, not only to PETRONAS, but to our partners and the wider lubricant industry as a whole.

Looking to the future

Customers are seeking out efficient, high-quality solutions that meet their environmental care expectations. Society has become much more cognizant of how industry practices can impact the environment and our livelihood, and they are making ethical choices in support of these considerations.

As we see governments become stricter with environmental legislation across all industries, it’s important we reflect on how to better our practices within the lubricants industry as well. The Plastic Tax currently being implemented across Europe is an excellent example of how the government is ensuring that organisations consider their granular impact on specific aspects of the environment.

These taxes may raise eyebrows, but they should be viewed as opportunities for innovation. At PETRONAS Lubricants International, we’ve utilised these regulations to better our technology, and effectively and efficiently move towards a circular economy to improve our practices. We have increased the use of refined base oils in PLI formulations (where possible), and while we continue to provide an offering in recyclables metal cans, we have also significantly reduced the quantity of virgin plastics in our PLI packaging through various initiatives such as our PETRONAS Ecovent 20 liter pack, a pail that is up to 250 grams lighter than its predecessor, with up to 50% recycled plastics – PCR (Post Consumer Resin). Our PETRONAS Bag-in-Box, launched in 2022, utilizes 92% less plastics than an alternative pack and is UN certified for international transport, which has had a tremendously positive impact on our partners, consumers, and environmental targets alike. We’re continuing to implement these innovations in 2023 with many new products and features about to be launched, as we continue to anticipate consumer environmental expectations and needs, as well as government guidelines, by building closer relationships with customers and partners alike which is a key factor of our success; and their ongoing feedback is of the utmost importance to the evolution of both our company, and our partners’ companies, and to our continuously improved offering to the market.

In the lubricants industry, addressing topics like misinformation can be one of the biggest hurdles for businesses, customers and partners alike. To address this, technology has become an invaluable tool for communication and training, commercially and otherwise. It is up to reputable and qualified brands to provide accessible resources for the entirety of the lubricant industry. Beyond gaining a competitive advantage, this ethos is directly linked with progression, and minimises (if not eliminates) risks within this industry because it’s based on genuine needs. Ultimately, for those wanting to gain an edge in the lubricant industry, the first step is to look to your customers, and truly listen – you never know what you might learn.

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