In his book, In Search Of Excellence, Tom Peters talks about customer service and quality. But if you read it carefully, it also spells out something else excellent companies have in common: They always pay attention to their daily business fundamentals, without fail, day in and day out. They never get lazy about the small stuff.
Last month, I discussed the need for vending operators to change their operating procedures, given the more competitive environment and the fact that the industry has moved beyond its maturity phase and is actually in a decline phase. Last month's article reviewed ways to control costs, but did so within the context of developing a strategic plan that encompasses a culture of excellence.
This month, I more clearly define what a culture of excellence is in a vending operation and offer some ways to achieve it.
The culture of excellence begins with leadership
In vending, the culture has to be about managing customers for loyalty and for profits, simultaneously. No one should ever confuse the concept of managing customers for loyalty with the concept of managing them for profits. The only way to strengthen the link between loyalty and profits is to manage both at the same time; this is a very complex task indeed.
Eyeball to eyeball contact with customers, at all levels, is needed to build relationships. The vending business is a relationship business. People buy from people they like, and people can be very fickle.
In reality, the perception of quality and price/value relationships by the economic buyers of vending services is hugely influenced by personal relationships between the buyer group and the seller group.
But will the real customer please stand up? A chart on page 73 summarizes the different customer groups that vending operators need to be cognizant of, what motivates them, and how to meet that customer group's specific needs.
To add even more of a challenge, I have always believed there is a built-in bias against food sold in the at-work market. A customer making a purchase where he works has a higher expectation for the price/value ratio at the work place due to his perceived connection between the product and his employer.
If a worker dislikes his job or resents his employer, he probably dislikes you automatically, just because you're in his work place. I am sure you have noticed that at locations where the employees have low morale and are warring with the company, damage to the vending machines is always the heaviest.
Customer loyalty is nebulous
Most of the common wisdom about customer loyalty is bunk. Among the weakest measurements being used by companies are measurements for customer loyalty.
Frequently, satisfaction surveys and fancy customer relationship management software enable companies to disappoint their customers faster and more efficiently.
The dreaded registered letter canceling your contract all too often comes as a complete surprise. High levels of reported customer satisfaction are often contradicted by falling per-capita sales.
Data can be skewed when survey questions are asked of only the location management and not the end consumer. Or, the right questions are not asked. But here is where the real trouble starts.
When questions are asked by any provider about price, quality, service and variety, it creates an expectation on the part of the respondent that better things are on the way; your intention to improve satisfaction levels is implied.
The back end of the survey system often fails when no consensus of the survey results is communicated to the respondents.
Further damage is done when the areas of dissatisfaction noted by the respondents are not corrected to the full satisfaction of the respondents.
I am not saying surveys are not worthwhile. I am just offering a word of caution; make sure you have a complete plan and carry it out fully. If you're not willing to address all the perceived issues that may be surfaced, don't even start.