S8:E2 Energy FAQs with Sylvia McConnell and Erica Manns Pt. 2

Jun 20, 2023

Show Notes

In this podcast episode, the hosts continue their conversation with Erica and Sylvia, two administrative leads for the energy division of Series Solutions. They discuss various topics related to customer accounts, such as the importance of setting up an account for tracking purposes and the responsibility of landlords and tenants to have separate accounts. They also talk about the Ceres Access app, which allows energy customers to manage their accounts and make payments. The hosts and guests emphasize the focus on safety in the propane industry, including the need to shut off tanks in case of a possible leak and the importance of regularly replacing regulators. They also highlight the customer service and competitive pricing offered by Ceres Solutions. The episode concludes with a preview of the next episode, which will cover frequently asked questions in the feed division.


Morgan Seger (00:03):
Every day we rely on food, fuel, and fiber. But how much do you know about these industries we depend on? In this podcast, we dive deep into the production and processes of these everyday essentials. This is Field Points, an original podcast production from Ceres Solutions. Welcome back to Field Points. I'm your host, Morgan Seger. In our eighth Ceres, we're going to be answering frequently asked questions across the energy and feed divisions. In today's episode, we're continuing our conversation with Erica and Sylvia and we will be answering questions like how to turn off my propane, why do my regulators need changed? How do I pay my bill? And more Throughout this conversation, I'm joined by Ceres Solutions digital marketing and communications manager Callie Curley.
Callie Curley (00:48):
Today we are continuing a conversation with Erica and Sylvia, two of our administrative leads for the energy side of our business. And between these two ladies, they have over 40 years of experience on the energy business. They're a huge asset to Ceres solutions, not just our company, but to our customers and the people that we serve every day. And an awesome representation of more than 100 admins that we have across Ceres in our agronomy and energy offices. They're not just the people answering the phones, they're the ones making sure the offices run. The admin is the one you ask every important question you have about what you may need and how to get the information that will best serve your customer. So I love having them on the podcast and I know that they have a lot of great information for us as we continue to talk about safety and quality of service to customers.
Morgan Seger (01:38):
We're kicking off this conversation with Erica explaining why we ask for customers to apply for an account and how customers can do that
Erica Manns (01:47):
With all the safety we have to be able to track when we've done the system test, when their regulators need to be updated. So we set up their account and we have a tank set up on that account and when we make our deliveries, we tie it to that tank so we know what's going into that tank and being used. I know some people say, well, I just want to pay cash. I don't want to set up an account. I said, but still, we have to track everything for insurance, for all the safety purposes. We have to know that we've kept everything up to date and that's how we can do that is through an account.
Sylvia McConnell (02:20):
We get into situations where we get phone calls regarding landlords and tenants. Yes, and that's a big thing. We ask that the landlord have the tank in their name, so the landlord is responsible. That is actually their property. Yes, they may have tenants in and out. The tenants will also need to have an account
Erica Manns (02:39):
Because responsible for the bills. So we can move that tank and keep the history to each account so when that person moves out, it goes back to the landlord or vice versa. When somebody moves in, you can move it. So you keep all the history, you keep all the safety stuff, but each time somebody moves in, we still go out there and do the system test so we can go over things with them so they know themselves what they need to do in case of an emergency. They know how to read the tank, so it's kind of beneficial and you
Sylvia McConnell (03:05):
Don't know talking about appliances.
Erica Manns (03:07):
Yeah, you don't
Sylvia McConnell (03:07):
Know. Did they take the appliances? Did they leave?
Erica Manns (03:09):
Sometimes landlords might supply 'em, sometimes they don't. So every time somebody moves in, it might be a new appliance coming into that home too. So we have to make sure everything's good
Sylvia McConnell (03:17):
And they may not know, and each appliance needs a shutoff valve safety purposes and that's a must. Once you take an appliance out, that line needs to be capped and a lot of people don't know that. A lot of people don't even know turn off your shutoff valve. So we want to make sure being a new owner leak check when the landlord says Joe Smith just moved in, we set it up right away, get out there, get the system check done, make sure that the appliances are still there, none were taken. If they were that the shutoff valve is shut off and the light is capped off. Our service staff is the experts.
Morgan Seger (03:50):
Siri Solutions recently rolled out a new app called Ceres Access. Now Sylvia is going to walk us through what Ceres access is and how energy customers can use this tool to manage their account.
Sylvia McConnell (04:03):
Ceres access would be to look at your account once you've been approved to do so, pay your balance,
Erica Manns (04:10):
You can set it up to pay with a credit card. There is a surcharge for that, or you can set it up like an A C H where you could just have it come directly out of your checking or savings account, which is really nice because like I said, you can pick and choose Some customers, especially some of our business customers or farmers, maybe they get a delivery every week and they don't want to have to pay a big lump sum at the end of every month so they can go in and pay that by invoice each week if they chose to. So it helps them
Sylvia McConnell (04:35):
No matter what the individual schedule is, we try to be convenient for
Erica Manns (04:39):
Everybody while we're on that. If they do want to go on, if they haven't set up their account yet, they can go to our website, which is www doce, c e r e s dot co-op c o o p. And about halfway down the page, the main page, you'll see a box that says Ceres access and you'll click the signup button and just follow all the appropriate prompts on the left-hand side and if they are having any issues, they can contact their local office or if they just want to do it that way they can contact their local office and provide their email address and make sure we have a correct phone number on file. And we can also send them a link to their email and they can go through that way and set up their account. And as we said, you can review everything that you've ordered and get an idea of how much you use. If you just want to know, a lot of people want to know what the usage is because maybe they're going to sell their home and that's something that's asked so they can get some of that information to the Ceres access as everything's progressing and updating. Sometimes, like I said, they can't call during the day to get that from us
Sylvia McConnell (05:39):
If they would happen to contact us after hours. We do have an after hours service that each of our energy locations has that number on their machine through our new phone system that it's directed to our after-hour service. So we want them to feel comfortable that they, even if there's emergency after hours, it will be handled. We will get it to our service staff, we will get it to our driver if it's scheduled fill and it's our fault, if it's a leak and it's an emergency, we will get to it right away. If it's a call in, we do allow 48 hours to put them on their correct routing schedule. There are delivery charges. If you're on a call-in basis and you want it immediately, that may be accrued with that
Erica Manns (06:21):
Delivery. And if a tank does aren't empty, somebody does have to be home because we do again, have to do that system test to make sure everything is flowing correctly once we get the product back in the tank and make sure there's no air in the lines and there is a fee for that as well if it's at their fault.
Morgan Seger (06:35):
If you're not ready to pay your account online through the Ceres access app, I asked Erica and Sylvia if people can still go to the locations to pay their bill.
Erica Manns (06:45):
It doesn't have to be your energy location or your agronomy location. You can go to any Ceres location and pay your bill so it makes it nice. They can pull up your account and give you a receipt if you want one.
Sylvia McConnell (06:54):
We're still hometown. Yep.
Erica Manns (06:56):
We like to see our
Sylvia McConnell (06:57):
Customers still have mobile touch and yes, and the customers that have been here throughout the years and really support us throughout the years, we thank them and yeah, sure, come on in. We'll chat with you.
Morgan Seger (07:08):
Now we're going to transition to some technical information about propane. The first question Sylvia answers is why are tanks only filled to 80%?
Sylvia McConnell (07:17):
You get a lot of customers going out once we teach them how to read their tank and then they go out and they say, well, you only filled at 80% full. Well, the reason why propane tanks, and a lot of people don't know unleaded tanks also, if you really look at your car gauge, that full mark isn't a hundred percent full in your vehicle because propane, unleaded gasoline, they have vapors and when it gets warmer it expands. And so because of that expansion with heat, we fill the tank only 80% full, especially in the summertime. Now, if we would happen to overfill or if we would happen to get a hot day, even at 80%, there's a chance a propane tank, what we call would pop off through the safety relief valve, and that is because of the expansion of the product. So that is the reason why we only fill those 80% full. So with a 500 gallon tank being at 80%, we would put 400 gallons in. Now with it being cooler in the wintertime, we go a little more and at the most 85 because you're not going to have that possibility of that much expansion because of the cold weather. So we will go up to 425 gallons in the winter time on a 500 gallon tank.
Morgan Seger (08:32):
Now Sylvia shares some precautions customers should take when working around their propane.
Sylvia McConnell (08:38):
There's a relief valve and it releases product and that's what it's there to do. And we don't want kids playing on propane tanks. We don't want dogs hooked to tanks. We don't want really everything should be clear of your propane tank. There is a possibility at any time these are manmade units, there is a possibility of something going wrong or possibility of the vessel popping off and that relief valve letting go because of an overfill, because of the warm weather is, I mean it could be 60 degrees in the morning because the guys are getting out there getting started before the bluster reheat and the product is just fine. But right in the middle of the afternoon it could be a hundred degrees. So you got that 40 degree difference and that's going to expand that product and then with the possibility of letting that relief valve go. So yes, we want to keep everything clear debris around the tank just in case we want our customers safe. That's our main goal, is customers safe and supply 'em with great product. And
Callie Curley (09:41):
If it does pop off, what do you do next? Is there anything that the customer needs to do or any way that they would notice that that happened or it just goes back to normal and regulates itself?
Sylvia McConnell (09:48):
You can see the product coming from the relief valve. The best thing to do if you have a garden hose is to start spraying it off and cooling it down if it's safe to do so, you want to stay away if it's not contact Ceres. But yeah, the best thing, grab your garden hose and just spray water over the tank. It's not going to hurt anything to cool that. Cool that product down.
Morgan Seger (10:09):
The next frequently asked question that Sylvia tackles is what is temperature correction? So
Sylvia McConnell (10:15):
We have customers ask why my usage is different. There's a lot of factors in that. One, the weather plays a big factor. Subzero weather, the wind, I mean it could be just be a mild winter that yet be damp and windy and you will go through more propane than what you feel you should. Talking about temperature correction and propane, the propane industry standard of 60 degrees Fahrenheit is universally recognized as the base reference point for liquid propane volume correction. If there's a significant temperature drop over 20 degrees Fahrenheit, the gauge will indicate there is less propane in the tank. So for example, we were talking earlier about propane letting loosen the relief valve safety, the relief valve because of the vapor pressure. So if a propane gas tank or cylinder is filled on a hot day, it would actually have less propane in volume than a tank or cylinder filled on a cool day.
And there again, the reason is propane expands one and a half percent for every 40 degrees Fahrenheit temperature increase. So if propane volume rises as temperature increases and the volume falls as temperature decreases, you can have that adjustment in the gauge. As Erica said earlier, when you're checking your tank, make sure you take that lid and drop it just in case because that gauge may be sticking and you may have that with the temperature and then also a gauge possibility of sticking. You could have a drop five, 10% possibly there. Again, if our Ceres staff delivers on a summer morning when temperatures are around 65 and then the day increases to a hundred plus, the volume in the propane tank will increase also. So the reason why we only fill at 80% in the summertime is for that expansion of propane in the winter. We can get more volume in a tank than we can in the summertime.
So even though it says 85% being that on a winter day if it's sub-zero weather, you could possibly get 430 gallons, 440 gallons in a propane tank because it's not expanding as much. So you have to take that temperature factor in play as far as your usage. Also, whatever we put in the tank is what we're invoicing for. And the drivers, our meters on our trucks are calibrated annually, and then they're also in with the laptops and computer systems that the drivers use in their trucks for their billing. So everything is ran together, everything is efficient, everything is accurate. So whatever goes through that line into your tank is what you will be billed because we have been calibrated through the state and everything is up to par.
Morgan Seger (13:00):
Does it change the efficiency of the product when it's hot or cold? No.
Sylvia McConnell (13:05):
Okay. No, it's just the volume that's delivered, volume that's entering into the tank.
Erica Manns (13:10):
The other thing why we're speaking of winter or summer is making sure as a customer they have to make sure they have the snow plowed their driveway or the access point to their tank has to be plowed wide enough for our trucks, not just a car because they're much wider and if they can't get up their driveway, we can't deliver propane. And not only that, but once they get there, the path to the propane, because they may not drive all the way to it, they may have to walk it. There has to be a path for them to be able to get to that tank to be able to pull the hose so they can get to it. Or in the summertime, making sure your trees are not overgrown. They have to be trimmed and be able to get our trucks back to it. A lot of people have the trees around it and we can always get there, which we're a car parked in the way, or
Sylvia McConnell (13:55):
We'll try to give 'em a visual. So they need to imagine that they're out there pulling that hose of 50 feet and propane already is negative 44 degrees Fahrenheit, and so the propane hose is going to be on a subzero weather. It's going to be hard to pull anyway. And then you have the cold weather and you have the long distance to walk and you have the five feet of snow and just put yourself in the delivery man's place or the service man's place and it's not an easy job. And we commend them every day, every year. I mean, summer, winter, they have things that have to be done in the summertime also. They're again, system checks and keeping up with our insurance requirements and making sure that our customer's tanks look good by painting and training
Erica Manns (14:44):
To keep up on training and certifications.
Sylvia McConnell (14:47):
There is something to do all year round. And then you know it grain dryer season come and we'd love supporting our farmers. Of course we're a co-op, but then next thing you know they're running hard in grain dryer season and then it's winter and they're still busting then to deal with the weather. And so we commend our staff, they're top, top-notch and kudos to them.
Morgan Seger (15:11):
There are different situations where customers may be asked to shut off their tank. Next, Sylvia and Erica walk us through how to do that and when customers might be asked to do so.
Sylvia McConnell (15:22):
People are asked to do that when possible leak may be occurring and that's inside or outside the home. And so we ask when they contact our call center or any local office and say, Hey, we have a possible leak. There are forms that our admin fill out of a possible leak, and there's a list of questions that the customers ask, and the first thing we have them do is, is it safe to shut off your tank? Well, there's a valve that looks like an outside spigot. Most every home has that. There's one on the tank. The main thing to remember is righty tidy lefty loosey. To tighten that, you turn it to the right and that will shut off the gas flow going into the home. So that alleviates any more product going into the home if the leak was possibly in the home. So we asked them to don't shut off any lights.
Most people don't have landlines. It used to be before years passed. Don't hang up the phone because that little bit of friction from that phone, depending on the leak inside the home, could ignite the product. Now propane's heavier than air, so it's going to go to the bottom. Most of the times your water heater's in the basement, most of the time that propane's just sitting there, it can creep up the stairs. It can just like the clothes you wear, windbreakers. We don't want that. Just that little bit of friction from a windbreaker can actually cause a spark and can ignite propane. So we want to make sure that we get all of our customers out with a possible leak, get 'em outside, get that tank shut off if safe to do so, and stay out until our service staff is there. We are considered the professionals. We are the professionals of propane. That's why people do business with us because we take safety as top priority. We take our customers as top priority and we want them out and safe until we say it's safe to go back in your home. Once we find out and get the situation resolved, then open up some windows. Do
Erica Manns (17:18):
Not candles. You don't want to light any candles. Again, that's creating a flame. So many people think, oh, let's light a candle. It smells. That's not really what you want to do. Just open the windows like she said, and let it air out. I
Sylvia McConnell (17:30):
Don't know since we've been in the business so long. But people don't realize, don't go, go checking your percentage gauge with the cigarette. Don't go checking your percentage with a vape because even that little click of a vape and you see people all the time staying at the gas station, they don't realize that those vapors and gasoline is exactly what ignites the flame. It's not the actual liquid product. It's the vapors coming from the gasoline that's going to ignite that. So you're sitting there and you take a puff off of a cigarette that's going to, it ignites those vapors and that's what causes the explosion
Erica Manns (18:03):
For pain's safe. But you also have to be smart and keep it safe, right? You don't want to unhook your tank and hook it to something else because that can cause issues. You just have to make sure the proper people are handling it.
Morgan Seger (18:15):
Proper management when there is a leak is very important for keeping everyone safe. Next, Erica and Sylvia, walk us through why Ceres Solutions is so focused on customer and employee safety.
Sylvia McConnell (18:27):
Why is sir so focused strongly on propane safety? There again, we've talked about our customers being our number one priority. Our customers and our staff at Siri Solutions are our number one priority. Sir has safety policies and procedures in place in which all of our staff, from our drivers to service staff and our administrative offices, we have to abide by those policies and procedures. And these policies and procedures are to keep our customers who our customers are. Our most precious asset, their most precious asset is their families. And this safety is keeping our customers safe and we're keeping their families safe. And we want our staff there again to follow these policies and procedures to keep them safe. We want them returning each day to their families just as we want to keep our customers safe. So that's why safety is our top priority. That's why we there.
Again, I sat on a policy and procedures manual committee and we took about a year and a half to really go through fine tooth comb, making sure that the policies and procedures in place, make sure now that we are following those so we can keep our employees safe, keep our customers safe, and that's our main goal in teaching our customers. There. Again, as we said, as Erica said earlier, propane can be dangerous. It is dangerous, but we want safety in place and we want common sense in place. And that's why we strongly focus on safety. We do have a website that have different topics. If customers are interested and propane, it's P R O P A N e.com/safety. And they can look on there again, reading your tank and
Erica Manns (20:27):
Talks about regulators,
Sylvia McConnell (20:28):
Regulators, cylinder fill. It's just a variety of safety topics that they can watch.
Morgan Seger (20:34):
In some instances, customers may be asked to leave their home until a Ceres solutions professional can come out and verify that it is safe to reenter. Next, Erica walks us through why we ask this of customers and explains the process to us.
Erica Manns (20:50):
We do get that asked a lot. Some people just don't want to leave their home. But it is very important because like we've spoken about, you don't know if something could ignite it. And sometimes we get out there and it could be a dead mouse, but again, we want you to be safe. We want to know it is not a propane leak. So we want you to leave that home, go to a neighbor's house, go down the road to your mom's house, wherever, go to the gas station anywhere, then we will call you, provide your cell phone number. We will call you and let you know, Hey, we're coming to check it out so that you can meet us back there and we can let you know what's going on or when it's safe to return into the home.
Sylvia McConnell (21:23):
Propane is odorless. Propane companies add a harmless chemical, so it is harmless, but yet it smells like rotten eggs and it's called mercaptan in there. So propane is detected
Erica Manns (21:34):
Because otherwise you would not know when you have a leak to be safe.
Morgan Seger (21:36):
Now, Sylvia walks us through why the regulators on the tanks need to be replaced.
Sylvia McConnell (21:42):
Well, there are two regulators in a propane system. There is one regulator at the tank and there is one regulator at the house. One is a high pressure and one is a low pressure. The high pressure is at the tank and it flows. They hook the line to it with the pigtail and run the line to the house where the low pressure is. With the low pressure regulates the pressure of gas flow going into the system in the house. So we don't want a high flow of propane flowing into the house and it'll basically blow out your appliances. So what that does is it cuts down the flow of pressure of propane to 11 water column. So a lot of people ask, why do you need regulators change? Why do we need regulators at all? Well, there again, you don't want that high pressure going into your home, but just like any other manmade device regulators, they have an expiration date anywhere from 15 to 25 years.
And sometimes they fail. So when we're doing a system check, we check the regulators, we check the dates of the regulators, we make sure that they're in code, we make sure that they're in date range. It's all about safety for our customers. It's all about keeping them, their families, our service staff, everybody safe and being able to go home to their families. We record these dates of the regulators in our system. They're again in the P three system. It's in that, and it automatically goes into our tank file. So those are always recorded and we run reports and we watch the dates. So there again, we can go on a rotation. If regulators are due for changing, if they're 25 years plus old, we can put them on a schedule and get those changed out and make sure we keep the safety flowing.
Erica Manns (23:25):
And even for our customer owned tanks, we can let them know we can replace these. Obviously, they own their equipment, so they would have to pay for the regulators, but we would replace them for them and do the system test to make sure everything's good.
Callie Curley (23:37):
Having worked here for so long, what do you think is special about SIR or Set Ceres apart from the other options that consumers have in the area? I mean, there's multiple companies in most communities, right, that anyone could choose to work with. Why do you think our customers choose, sir? Or why do you hope that they choose? Sir?
Erica Manns (23:52):
I know what a lot of customers tell me is the customer service and our competitive pricing. We have a set price or a market price. We don't ask you who you are and decide what we're going to charge you. And that's one thing.
Sylvia McConnell (24:03):
That's what I was going to say. Consistency in our marketing, consistency in our prices. We're not always the cheapest. We're not companies. We're consistent. We're a co-op. We are in business. We have a margin to make. Anybody in business knows that, but we're not out here to make the top dollar. We can't. We know what margin we need to make and we stick to that. So
Erica Manns (24:25):
We've got to keep our trucks on the road. We've got to keep the upkeep on them. We try to be as efficient as possible so we can keep those margins low.
Sylvia McConnell (24:31):
We are owned by our local farmers and we have an obligation and we stick by that. And there again, we're not the lowest and we're not the highest, but we're consistent.
Callie Curley (24:40):
And we're in your communities too, right? Our drivers are often serving their neighbors.
Morgan Seger (24:45):
Is there anything else you think our listeners should know or would want to know about Energy at Ceres?
Sylvia McConnell (24:50):
We have multiple departments and all of them. Ceres is very diverse, but being with the energy, but we just have a great staff inside and out. They take pride in their positions. They take pride in serving the customer. I don't know why customers wouldn't want to do business with us.
Callie Curley (25:11):
Between Erica and Sylvia, we have over 40 years of experience in this part of our business. You've worked different jobs within the company. Even if you didn't want to stay on one side of the company forever, you picked the energy side, but you've worked different jobs, you've had different experiences, you build over years. The ability to answer questions like this with ease at first, you don't know. And then you go figure it out, and then you can serve your customer better. And I think across Ceres, we have that in so many different ways that I just love when customers talk about what they love about working with sir, and it's all of the energy admins and the admins across the company that answer the phones and just know the answer or they know who to ask to get the answer. I never hear about Ceres that, well, I called and nobody would help me. Right? We'll either know the answer or you know who to ask. And that comes from years of all that learning. That's what makes you
Erica Manns (26:00):
The professionals. You're still learning even after 20 years. I mean, there's things I'm still learning.
Sylvia McConnell (26:05):
We just recently went to the International Propane Convention in Nashville, the VP of Energy, Howard and Eric, John and Vince Directors, yes, all the directors, managers, managers. And you walk around there and you go to classes. You are constantly learning the industry constantly. The industry is constantly evolving, constantly making improvements just as Ceres is with all the new technology and monitors and programs. And we are looking to move forward. We will be here in the future, and we are taking the steps to be here in the future.
Morgan Seger (26:44):
Well, that wraps up our frequently asked questions in the energy division. I want to say thank you so much to Erica and Sylvia for taking time to answer those questions and walking us through the ins and outs of what customers can expect in the energy division. Their passion for this business and customer safety was evident throughout this conversation and I'm just so thankful that we had the opportunity to learn from them. In our next episode, Kelly and I will be joined by Henry and Maddie from the feed division, and we will be working through another list of frequently asked questions. Be sure to subscribe so you're alerted when our next episode drops.

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