As kids, we were read stories by our parents that would end with the famous formula, "And they lived happily ever after." Wouldn't it be wonderful and exciting to know that when we land a new account, that the client will be ours forever? Unfortunately, that's a fairy-tale ending. Most operators have the same expectations or dreams after installing their equipment into a new client's office. The account, ideally will:
• Order a minimum of once a month;
• Purchase additional allied products;
• Rent a water cooler, microwave, refrigerator or icemaker;
• Reorder before running out of product;
• Only use our coffee in our brewers;
• Respect and safeguard our equipment;
• Expand and take our service along;
• Recommend other office accounts;
• Be loyal and protect us from competition;
• Pay their bills on time.
Okay, wake up and stop dreaming -- this is the real world. There is never a guarantee that any client will stay with your company for a predictable period of time. Contract or no contract, things happen, and at any moment you could get a call to pick up your equipment. There will always be a percentage of customers who will cancel service, reduce frequency of reorders, cheat by using outside coffee products, etc.
As professionals, we must set up controls in order to be more successful at retaining quality customers. Procedures should be put in place to flag locations that either stop ordering or slow down their pattern of reordering.
There are a few computer programs in the OCS marketplace with tracking software to let you know when a customer skips a purchase for the month, does not buy coffee, etc.; to flag you if monthly volume or sales dollar volume goes down; and to alert you to many other warning signs.
But one of the strongest controls is how you introduce your service to new clients. It is important that you tell them what is expected of them when they sign on as your customers.
Most decision-makers are professionals and understand that you are making an investment in their firm. And that there is an expectation that they will use your products in your equipment.
It is your responsibility to track every account, especially a new one. Tracking a new client for the first 90 days can set the stage for how they continue to respond as good customers.
If you have a pre-call system, make sure that your telephone customer service person calls a new customer within two weeks to make sure that they have enough supplies and that they are happy with their service. Have customer service ask if there is anything that they would like to order that your company may not presently be stocking.
The salesperson who sold the customer also should be following up with the buyer, and continue building good rapport. He or she should be asking about the need for additional services, such as water cooler service, refrigerators, microwaves, ice machines, etc.
If you are on route sales, your route drivers should be spending a bit more time at a new location, cleaning equipment and checking supplies. They should be asking the person in charge whether there is anything that location management would like them to do when visiting each month. The bottom line is to create a good relationship, because friendship and goodwill will protect your service from your competition and increase sales. Customers want to do business with people and companies that they like.
Here are some situations that will occur with your customers, and suggestions for resolving these concerns.
- Your customer is ordering from a discount club because your prices seem too high.You have to inform them about the benefits of your service, including free equipment, service or replacement of equipment when needed, delivery, credit, wide selection of products, ability to upgrade immediately to higher-volume brewers, bowl cleaning exchange, free use of airpots and thermals, commercial insurance and so on and on. Explain that a discount club does not have any investment in equipment and no service department to repair or exchange equipment. You may have to take a stand and tell a client that, if it can't purchase from you, you will have to take your equipment out of the facilities.
- Many customers have a seasonal business and may not be ordering coffee during certain months of the year.
Here is a good opportunity to explain to the buyer that your equipment is not getting its necessary return on investment; but you can be flexible, if they order some of your other categories of products, such as janitorials, paper supplies, water cooler services, etc.
- Your customer has either reduced coffee orders or stopped buying coffee, but continues to place allied product orders on a regular schedule.
Inquire into why this is happening. The chances are that your customer does not like the coffee you are supplying. You must taste the coffee for bitterness, strength, temperature and weight of fraction-packs, and taste the water to make sure it does not degrade the flavor. If they are happy with the coffee they are bringing in from outside but still using your equipment, then it must be the coffee you are supplying.
Ask to see the coffee they are enjoying, and immediately bring in samples of a similar blend with heavy weights. You may want to allow them to experience your single-cup brewing system, so offer a free trial, and have the employees taste the many straights and blends that are available to them.
The quicker you respond to your account's problems, the longer you will have your customer. The cost of acquiring a new account is much higher than keeping and servicing current clients. Make sure you put good controls into place to monitor your customers.
I can be reached at (516) 241-4883 or by email at OCSconsultant@aol.com, if you have any suggestions for future articles or just need to discuss a challenge that you've had with a customer.
LEN RASHKIN is a pioneer in office coffee service. He founded Coffee Sip in 1968 and after 22 years merged it with Dell Coffee, of which he became president in 1991. Sales at Dell topped $7 million dollars. Rashkin is also a founder and officer of Eastern Coffee Service Association and National Beverage Products Association. His industry honors include NCSA’s (now NAMA) Silver Service Award and NBPA’s Lifetime Achievement Award; he was inducted into NBPA’s Hall of Fame in 1996. His marketing excellence earned him NBPA’s Crystal Bean Award and three NCSA Java Awards. He is a frequent speaker at national and local trade conferences, consults on OCS sales and marketing and has is the author of two OCS training programs.