Driver Contest Builds Morale, Aids Customer Service

To progress in the highly competitive vending business, especially in an area feeling the squeeze on manufacturing plants, Appleton, Wis.-based Zaug's Vending & Food Service Inc. took another look at its fundamental mission — excellence on the job and for the customer.

Sometimes confined to a single sentence on the company business plan, this mission led Zaug's management to create an internal competition, a companywide employee performance program for route drivers. "We were looking at how to improve in the areas of clean, filled and working — and essentially to improve how we looked in the field," said Cary Zaug, vending operations manager.

Son of Allen Zaug, president of the company which has grown to 125 employees over past 68 years, Cary is credited for the highly successful route driver program called "Clean, Filled and Working." The program ran in Zaug's Manitowoc and Wisconsin Rapids branches as well as the Appleton headquarters.

An Assessment Based Program

Running from Feb. 28 to Sept. 2, Clean, Filled and Working consisted of seven managers going out to the field to evaluate the vending routes on an assessment form similar to the routine inspection forms Zaug's had originally been using. Point values based on the assessment form were published on a biweekly basis in the break rooms in all three locations.

The grand prize was a trip to NAMA National Expo, all expenses paid. While there, the winner would be able to experience the variety of vending products and equipment, as well as learn about other operations — not to mention have an opportunity to compete in the NAMA route driver rodeo.

The only dark cloud at the onset of the program was the concern NAMA might not hold the rodeo that year. However, Zaug's was still set on running Clean, Filled and Working, sending the top performer to the NAMA Expo. "We wanted to get them (route drivers) exposed to their industry," said Zaug. "It's not just a job. It's their chosen career. NAMA is something they wouldn't experience otherwise."

But the management also knew NAMA's route driver rodeo would strengthen its employee development initiative as a further incentive. Once a sponsor for the rodeo was found, Zaug noticed a change. "Drivers were excited about the prize — attending NAMA — but there was increased interest once the rodeo was announced," he said.

Prizes and Characters Equal Fun

"One of our concerns was the length of it [Clean, Filled and Working]," admitted Randy Schultz, vice president. But in order to see progress, the contest had to run for a substantial duration. To keep drivers inspired, Schultz and the other managers built some additional, immediate rewards into the program that could be awarded throughout the six months.

If the sales staff visited a facility and found a well stocked, immaculate machine, they stuck the Clean, Filled and Working Mascot, "Howie Duit," inside. This notified the route driver he or she had won a prize such as a cordless drill or two-way radio. "If we found a machine rated 100 — and that's tough to do — we felt they earned it," added Schultz.

Besides developing Howie, Zaug's used cartoon characters to represent the route drivers on the posted score sheets, to make it fun and not single anyone out with a photograph. Randomly assigned figures from Superman to Spongebob Squarepants stood beside the scores, which got closer toward the end of the program as competition got fiercer. "People started to notice their names," said Zaug about the driver-to-driver competition.

In addition to the grand prize, there were second and third places as well as one for most improved, won for the most increased score based on the original assessment. Other cash prizes were given out as "Honorable Mentions" to drivers recommended by supervisors who noticed them really embracing the program.

Drivers Cautious, Customers Enthusiastic

Internally, the initial response was mixed as the drivers left the first meeting where the program and rules were explained. "I think they were wondering what our motives were," said Schultz. "Some didn't care, some were excited … and some had a 'wait and see' attitude."

But as the program progressed, pride in performance and perhaps some additional competition began among the drivers.

Schultz noted that if he was slow in posting the results, his phone would begin to ring with drivers anxious to see their scores and informing him how well they felt they did. And to management's surprise, the maintenance and attendant employees requested similar programs for them to participate in.

"As managers, we were told we were doing something right, and that was rewarding," said Schultz. The program gave managers a chance to communicate with drivers away from a threatening or disciplinary arena. The expectations could be reiterated without finger pointing, and drivers could find out how they were doing without negative consequences.

On the customer side, not only did it improve appearance and service, but also communication. The customers were given handouts explaining the program before it began, and many were very interested. "They would ask the drivers how they were doing," said Schultz.

Zaug reported that drivers with top scores in the program are still performing at the same high level. "It really did exactly what we wanted it to do," he added.

"We're going to repeat this," said Schultz, "we feel it has had a positive effect on the drivers, and a positive effect on our customers." A program is also in the works for maintenance and attendants, although Schultz said the formula will be different.

Winner's Positive Experience

Steve Reader, the winner of Zaug's Clean, Filled and Working, received a 94 percent accumulative score. From the beginning, Reader had a positive view of the program. "I like competition," he said. "It's helped me in my job."

Reader described how route drivers get stuck in a routine. This program got him into a routine of excellence, which he claims is easy to maintain, even now that the competition is over.

As for Reader's chance to win $3,000 at the NAMA rodeo, he was excited and even studied for the written test. "First time in about 25 years," he joked.

Zaug gave Reader the schematics and other materials he received from Larry Eils, the senior technical director at NAMA, and Reader was able to practice on all the vehicles Zaug had to offer. He felt prepared.

Given Friday off, Reader and his wife, Jody, made their way to Atlanta, Ga., for the NAMA National Expo. "I couldn't believe how many people went to NAMA," Reader said.

The day Reader walked the show floor, he was overwhelmed by all the products and equipment. He was even cornered by a few overzealous sales representatives. The items that stuck out for Reader were a soda machine that used a robotic delivery arm, and the new bill changers. "It's amazing what they've got out there," he said.

At NAMA's rodeo, Reader scored 610 on the course, only 15 points away from the first place winner. "It was fun." Reader said. "My wife took a video of the whole thing. I would do it again if I could."

Remaining Competitive: Employees

In a shrinking market of opportunity, it takes innovation to stay ahead. The managers at Zaug's Vending & Food Service turned inward, putting together a program for their employees aimed at bettering their appearance and service. They didn't mandate — they inspired, to effect change.