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Problems Are Opportunities

Posted On: 3/18/2012

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Alicia Lavay

Vending Times' January 2012 issue featured a seminar led by Jim Nelson of Everpure, held at the NAMA Coffee Tea and Water show. Nelson has been Everpure's pointman for educating operators on the opportunities presented by adding pure water to their menu of services, to enhance location profitability and increase client satisfaction. His objective at this seminar was to emphasize the importance of establishing policies for installing any kind of equipment that uses water delivered through water lines; building good working relationships with equipment manufacturers to make sure their installation standards are being met; and having a well-thought-out standing procedure for investigating client reports of leakage.

We also see pure water as a growth area for vending and office coffee service operators, and we think that this kind of presentation will encourage them to contact their suppliers to make sure that they're using the recommended installation practices. We cover these presentations because we also believe that this kind of story alleviates the fears some operators have about adopting new equipment because they perceive the risks, but don't know how to mitigate them. This holds true for all types of equipment, especially in an evolving marketplace such as the vending, coffee service and coin-op amusement industry. There is much to learn when adapting to a changing business environment.

It is important to be aware of possible complaints before your customers make them, and to have a plan in place when they do. Manufacturers and suppliers should make sure to explain the services they have available to help their operator customers enjoy the best possible results. And it's impossible to do that without first stating that something can go wrong. Operators are well aware of that already; what they want to know is what they can do about it, and how the purveyor can help them.

Complaints are inevitable when running any kind of business, and it is natural to react defensively to them. But it has been well said that "a complaint is a compliment." People don't complain because they don't like you. If they did not think you could correct the defect, they wouldn't bring it to your attention. Many people don't, and that is a real problem. Someone who complains has a high expectation of your product, your service and your reputation. When something goes wrong, a good customer knows that you want to fix it. People complain because they're disappointed; they like your service and want you to succeed. And sometimes they just need to be educated.

Look back on your history of lost clients. Did the loss occur after a series of complaints, or did the client just call up one day to cancel after a long silence? Perhaps there was a straw that broke the camel's back: an invoice was wrong once too often, another delivery was late, an order was incomplete or wrong once again, the sales representative offered no solution, or the repair person never showed up. If your customer contact tells you about these errors, you can correct them. Field salespeople, route supervisors and drivers should be encouraged to ask whether there are any shortcomings, and relay the answers to management.

A complaint is also an opportunity. It's a chance to gather market intelligence, find out what's really happening with your product and service and keep your clients satisfied. Sometimes a complaint comes as a surprise, but if you have foreseen the potential pitfall, recognizing its possibility upfront and finding a solution in advance is more than half the battle. Prompt corrective action builds customer loyalty. Everyone at your company at all levels needs to be trained in all the things that go wrong, because in the physical universe we inhabit, things certainly will. Over the years, we've noticed that even very small companies selling to operators win respect and affection by acting swiftly and effectively to correct a problem. The fast and caring delivery of a solution often seems to make a stronger positive impression than a long record of no problems at all.

With that in mind, if someone arrives at your exhibit at the next trade show with a grievance, welcome them. Don't act surprised, and by no means take it personally. Thank them; they are giving you the opportunity to demonstrate your professionalism by providing a solution. You also may get the information you need to make improvements to your services, enhance your business and reinforce your customers' trust.

And it is especially important, when selling something new that will add another level of complexity to the client's business, that you provide good information on how to handle that complexity. Customers live in the real world, too, and they know that things sometimes go wrong. What they want to know is what they can do about it, and how you can help them.