Step 6: List communication tools
Once the company has decided what types of information to communicate, and to whom, the next step is to decide what communication tools to use. These include the traditional tools such as customer newsletters, in-person visits, direct mail, telemarketing, as well as the newer and more powerful tools like Internet Websites, email, and social media.
The final step is to executive the plan.
Consultants advocate new tools
William Donohue, Ph.D., a professor and director of sales communication at Michigan State University who has participated in the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) executive development program, thinks tools that give operators more feedback from end users are more important than many realize. He said account decision makers only hear from a minority of end users.
“The vending machine people never get information from the people who put money in the machines,” he said. “We have to somehow get more direct linkage between the operator and the people who stick money in the machines.”
Donohue urges operators to seek consumer input via their Websites.
“Operators should explore making the vending experience more direct and even more fun,” Donohue added.
Tom Siciliano, who operates Integrity Recruiting & Consulting Inc., a Huntley, Ill.-based NAMA Knowledge Partner, said there are many online tools for businesses to use to support their social media outreach. One such tool is HootSuite, which allows a user to schedule social media posts automatically.
Siciliano said social media is a very cost effective way to reach targeted audiences. For vending operators, he said it’s a great way to help clients do their jobs better.
He noted there are also tools that allow a business owner to find out who is looking at their online information. He suggests operators find consultants who are knowledgeable about these new tools.
Sheryl Barlow, director of business development at CWS, a Rochester, Minn.-based web design firm, said social media is becoming a more important tool for businesses. She acknowledged that some owners are concerned about soliciting negative feedback, but she said businesses can control the information they make available for employees and customers to see.
Barlow’s company is developing a social media program for D&R Canteen in Rochester, Minn.
Operators experiences vary
Operator experiences using new tools for customer relations report varying experiences.
One operator who recently introduced SPIO redeemable coupon dispensers on machines and self checkout markets said he believes the technologies enhance customer relations significantly. These customer enhancements have increased sales and profits for his company. “We’re having better success at getting no-commission accounts,” said the operator, who did not wish to be identified.
He noted that to successfully use technology, it is important to have good employee training programs. The technology solutions he provides can create big problems if the field execution is not good.
This operator is among those who welcome the NAMA Facebook contest and gratitude tour to promote new vending technology.
Vending operators have not been quick to embrace social media. The Automatic Merchandiser State of the Vending Industry Report found only 22 percent are using it.
More operators have, however, recognized the need for more professional Websites. Operators have learned that customers are using the Internet to find service providers, and a user friendly Website helps win customers.
Vend Central Inc., a Pleasanton, Calif.-based provider of Website design and marketing services for vending, finds vendors more interested in improving their online presence, noted Neil Swindale, company owner. Swindale’s services include search engine optimization and online videos. “Videos are the fastest growing thing online,” Swindale said. “People love to watch product and service videos.”