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Practical Applications: NAMA's Operator Perspectives

Posted On: 5/2/2011

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Tim Sanford, vending machine, vending machine business, vending machine operator, NAMA OneShow, National Automatic Merchandising, Bill Buckholz, Goodman Vending, Vending Times, operator, vending news, coin-op news, automatic retailing, office coffee service, remote machine monitoring, vending machine service, vending machine technician

The NAMA OneShow featured a new program, Operator Perspectives, which consisted of half-hour sessions conducted at Center Stage in the exhibit area. Each was led by an experienced operator, who devoted 15 minutes to presenting on a subject, then invited audience questions and comments. The subjects ranged from adopting new technology through loss prevention to coffee service, covering a lot of ground in between.

One of these presentations had the attention-getting title "37 Million Service Calls." It was presented by Bill Buckholz of Goodman Vending (Reading, PA), whose summary repays study.

Buckholz has analyzed the service calls recorded by three vending operations. He determined who placed the call (a patron, a route driver, and so on), what caused the problem (parts failure, errors in servicing, customer abuse, and so forth), and the percentage of calls that did not resolve the problem, thus requiring a second visit. He calls these "failed first fixes," and found that these represented 3.9% of calls.

Service calls are a major expense for any business with distributed assets, especially assets that are in intimate contact with large numbers of people. Buckholz made some recommendations for managing field service and maintenance with a view to improving efficiency and bringing the costs under better control. We were looking forward to hearing what he has to say.

This is a very important inquiry. It has long been recognized that an out-of-service machine not only represents a dead loss to the operation (once expressed as "downtime can kill you"), but it contributes to patrons' loss of confidence in the reliability of vending in general, and so depresses sales.

One of the most appealing aspects of the new remote monitoring systems is their potential for minimizing delay in reporting a malfunction, thus eliminating the need for somebody at the location to go beyond sticking a note on the machine to actually calling the operator. But the response must be fast and effective.

We have known operators with well-thought-out policies for dealing with equipment service. These begin with an ongoing preventive maintenance program. Beyond the essentials, such as periodically cleaning the heat exchangers on the compressors of refrigerated machines, it's possible to keep accurate records of service calls and use them to identify areas in which better maintenance is needed. And a real plus to preventive maintenance is that patrons who see technicians performing it recognize that they are being taken care of.

In vending and in coffee service, operators who recognize the importance of that instruct their technicians to make sure that the location knows they were there, and that they fixed the problem. Several operators have added that, when they've taken service calls themselves, they've found that opening a machine to repair it can be a teachable moment: people naturally stop to see what the guy is doing in the machine, and this is an opportunity to offer brief demonstrations and explanations, hand out samples and thank customers for their business. Anyone taking a service call can do this, whether the call was placed by a telemeter or by a public-spirited patron.

And we are delighted that NAMA has launched this education program. Much of the value of attending a convention is the exchange of information with others in the same business. As Buckholz noted, "One tip is worth the trip."