Today's OCS operators rarely confine themselves to a single equipment manufacturer or brewing method, and for good reason. Our industry continues to evolve alternative brewing methods, apply the latest technologies and adopt the perceived "best new thing."
Operators have no choice but to expand their offerings. The simple yesterdays when a simple drip brewer was more than adequate for almost any location are past. Today's demanding (spoiled) clients mandate a new world of workplace refreshment services.
Never mind the challenge of owner-operators and their sales staffs trying to keep up with all the manufacturers, brewing methods and OCS product combinations ranging from classic drip brewing to capsule brewing and everything in between. Our service technicians confront even more of a challenge, and they are the ones who ultimately will make the decisions -- consciously or not -- about the types of equipment and product programs that will succeed in your organization.
Unless you maintain a service department -- and it has someone who comprehends not only fundamental plumbing and electrical knowledge, but also the science of coffee brewing -- your business and your profits are in danger. A technician should know the differences among brewing methods and their applications, and why his company offers one type and not another. He should also know the basics of return on investment and how equipment cost of ownership directly affects the bottom line of any operator.
The term "technician" is defined as "a person who is trained or skilled in the technicalities of a specific subject." What is not clear is how our industry defines the term, and how we qualify technicians when the "specific subject" is as complex as coffee.
Unlike most other service-based industries, OCS is at a major disadvantage. Its pool of quality and experienced coffee technicians is a puddle compared to other industries. Consider automotive, heating and cooling, refrigeration, electronics and computers, to name just a few. They all have the luxury of recruiting technical personnel with at least some formal training or certification, whether through continued education, vocational and trade school attendance, or apprenticeship programs.
Using the automotive service as an example, ASE Certified Automotive Technicians (Automotive Service Excellence) can be certified in more than 40 auto repair specialties -- collision, braking systems, alternative fuels, even the little-known ASE Certified Parts Specialist -- all of which start with learning the basics of automotive technology and then continuing on to a specific area of expertise.
I have to imagine that many of our service personnel aren't spending their free time reading or surfing the Web to learn the purposes, underlying theories and nuances of coffee and brewing technology. And without educated, engaged, capable professional (and, of course, accountable) technical specialists, our chances of succeeding in the marketplace are crippled; but we all agree that "failure is not an option."
During my career, I've been factory-certified by more than a 100 different manufacturers of commercial beverage systems, including espresso machines, coffee brewers, grinders, bean to cup, cartridge systems, liquid concentrate, and the rest. I spent many years driving around God's creation as a field service technician, performing installations and repairs, until I got old and transitioned myself into a desk job where I soon began conducting service training all over the country -- and beyond -- for equipment companies, operators and national service organizations.
What I learned very quickly after conducting years of service training and providing technical support is that, setting aside the fact that few trainees actually had any interest in learning, or even ability to understand, the art of coffee brewing (yes, there is an art to it), that are two distinct types of equipment servicers: actual service technicians and those to whom I affectionately refer as "PRs" or parts replacers. That's it.
A basic question I like to present in my training classes to help me quickly assess which are the technicians and which are PRs takes this form:
You arrive at a location, walk up to the machine, and observe that the LED screen on the front panel is not illuminated and seems to be out of order. What is the first thing you are going to check?
Without fail, the premature diagnoses begin to fly: "the board," "a bad display," the (over) confident "blown fuse." All of them are wrong, and have helped us identify the parts replacers.
After a few more poor ideas are tossed out from the crowd, we may have the pleasure of hearing, "Is the machine plugged in?" I hear this and tears of joy come to my eyes. Here is my service technician; we have a winner!
Experienced service technicians simplify issues; inexperienced ones complicate them. Albert Einstein is supposed to have said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." Do your techs understand it? Can they explain it simply to you?
Is your organization constantly evaluating your technicians, or are your company's profits being continually bled by the high cost of inefficient and uneducated PRs? What kind of metrics do you have in place to gauge performance, like first-time fix rates, time on location, callbacks and parts costs, among others? What programs do you have in place to ensure that you have the most effective and knowledgeable service staff possible?
In order to survive in today's competitive marketplace, it is our responsibility always to observe and assess all of our employees, new and veteran alike. Next to capital equipment and product costs, the service department is one of largest expenses of any operation. It's an easily overlooked opportunity to improve the bottom line and customer retention, too.
Matt Greenwald's article is the fourth in a series about brewing and service procedures for OCS operators
MATT GREENWALD is the director of vending and OCS at Betson Enterprises (Carlstadt, NJ). Greenwald is a 20-year veteran of the commercial coffee equipment industry, where he's worked for roasters, distributors and manufacturers. Prior to joining Betson, he was vice-president of a national organization that provides installation, repair and maintenance services to some of the world's largest retailers, equipment manufacturers and coffee companies.