With change coming fast on so many fronts – customer needs, products, technologies, and new competitors – can vending operators adapt quickly enough to survive?
Most operators recognize the business environment is changing. But with the day-to-day challenges they face in a difficult economy, operators are unsure where to begin making changes in their operations. Operators are unsure which technologies to invest in and where they will get the best return on investment and improve customer relations.
Automatic Merchandiser this past year profiled operators who use new technology successfully. But many readers wonder if these are not exceptions whose experiences cannot be easily duplicated by the average operator.
In the interest of helping a “typical” operator strategize in a challenging industry, Automatic Merchandiser has developed a customer relations action plan designed to help operators determine what technology tools make the most sense, given that operators’ resources are limited.
Automated systems are replacing manual ones at a time when consumers are more attuned to technology than ever, and are more demanding of the products they buy from service providers. The new tools create new opportunities, but at the same time, new challenges.
One operator who recently upgraded her Website noted the frustration she encountered because of the capabilities that the new Website created. On the positive side, this operator, who asked to remain anonymous, said the upgraded Website has drawn more customer inquiries and has provided a tool to pre-screen customers. At the same time, she said some customers began asking for things like video touchscreens that are too expensive, while others that she would expect would want the most state-of-the-art tools only want the most basic service.
With all of this change occurring, the vending operators’ role continues to be one of meeting the refreshment needs of consumers conveniently while they attend to both at-work and non-work functions.
Technology brings more choices
Automatic Merchandiser has spotlighted a host of technology-based solutions to emerge in recent years that give operators new ways to meet their traditional objectives: cashless payments, remote machine monitoring, touchscreen messaging, self checkout markets, automated warehouse management, etc.
The new tools create new operating efficiencies that enhance customer service. In some cases, such as cashless payments and touchscreen promotions, the new tools create new customer conveniences as well.
In assessing the benefits of these new tools, Automatic Merchandiser concluded that virtually all of the decisions operators face regarding these tools have to do with making their businesses more customer relations focused.
Hence, the very purpose of the service that automatic merchandising provides gives focus to reorganizing an operation with new technologies.
The proliferation of tools makes planning more necessary. Few operators have the resources to take advantage of every conceivable tool now available.
Starting point: who and what are you?
The underlying question that an individual operator must ask is: What is the company mission?
The operator who sees his or her mission as providing the largest assortment of products at the lowest possible price will be different than the one who defines the mission as creating a memorable refreshment experience.
By understanding their mission, operators can develop more specific goals in the areas of service delivery and marketing.
The operator who successfully introduces automated warehouse management will be able to serve more customers with fewer route drivers. How to make best use of the labor savings will depend on what the company’s goals are in the area of customer satisfaction.
The company interested in minimizing customer interaction will be more likely to assign the former route drivers to tasks having less direct impact on customer service.