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EDITORIAL: The Codfish Doesn't Cackle...

Posted On: 10/2/2007

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Those who have attended enough sales training seminars have heard a little verse explaining why, although the codfish lays 10,000 eggs and the "homely hen" lays one, we esteem the hen much more highly. The reason for this value perception is that "The codfish doesn't cackle/To tell us what she's done."

The intent of the poem is to emphasize the importance of advertising. We wholeheartedly agree with that objective, but we think the rhyme has much wider significance, especially in vending and coffee service. In our industries, patrons seldom or never deal directly with field sales and service personnel. Proficient route drivers establish cordial relations with their customers, handling requests for different products, dealing with complaints and making refunds. Marketing-oriented operators always have encouraged drivers to do that, and assisted them in accomplishing it.

It is not enough to provide good service. In vending and coffee service, good service is more or less invisible. If the machine works, or if there is a canister of sugar in the cabinet when you need it, then all's right with the world. You simply don't notice. By contrast, when a problem does arise, you recognize it as a service lapse.

This may not be fair, but it is real, and we all encounter situations every day that demonstrate it. For that reason, alert operators long have recognized the importance of making sure they get the credit for doing something right. Many other operators, perhaps equally alert, traditionally have scorned to do this. They were taught not to blow their own horns, and they don't. It is an admirable principle, but one that is becoming increasingly counterproductive in today's world.

Many methods that have been used to remind clients of an operating company's excellent service are sensible procedures to follow in any case. A technician sent on a service call should enlist a responsible person at the location, preferably the operating company's customer contact, to test the machine and verify that the repair has been made before moving on to the next call.

Having gone that far, it is a matter of no difficulty and considerable communications value to ask the location contact to sign the work order, verifying that the problem is resolved. The work order should list the parts used, if any, and the time spent on the repair. These pieces of information are useful in managing parts inventory and assessing service cost. Over the decades, operators here and there have taken one additional step: they have instructed their technicians to add up the cost of the parts and the labor, write "no charge," get the client contact to sign it, and leave a copy with him or her. This not only communicates professionalism, but also reminds clients of the costs and annoyances that would be involved in operating the equipment themselves.

We once heard this method explained in detail as a coffee service account retention tool. The presenter was a coffee industry veteran familiar not only with OCS, but with roasting company practice in providing brewers to restaurant accounts. He emphasized the value of the technician's filling out the work order and summarizing the tasks performed.

One operator in the audience asked how to apply this principle when, as so often happened in the early days of OCS, the account had called for service because the brewer wasn't working, and the technician found the problem to be that someone had disconnected the machine from its wall outlet without anyone's noticing. "How does my service person write down, in effect, 'Plugged in the brewer that some idiot had unplugged' without insulting their intelligence?" he asked.

The old service manager did not hesitate. "Easy: just write, 'Restored continuity of brewer's electrical power supply'," he advised. We're sure that locations today are much better about not unplugging their brewers by accident, but this remains a good approach to dealing with the few unreconstructed ones that still do.

Getting locations to notice when you do something for them is not shameless hucksterism; it simply is good customer relations. Done correctly, it reinforces the technician's sense of the importance of the work while building customer confidence in the professionalism of the service. As remote monitoring systems become more prevalent, keeping this in mind will suggest powerful new ways of retaining accounts by stressing excellent service.