OCS operators: along with survival, focus on the ‘long game’

Aug. 25, 2021

Just when office coffee service operators thought there was a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, the Delta variant has delivered a gut punch. Once again, the reopening dates are off, as Sep. 1 has turned out to be a false promise. Besides survival, what should operators be focusing on?

My suggestion: play the “long game.”

The long game is about providing quality service and value to clients who are still underperforming, like that 200-person location that has only 40 back in the office. While it would be easy to ignore the needs of these less profitable clients, that is a mistake for operators who plan to flourish after the pandemic is finally squashed.

Example of the ‘short game’

Here is a real-life example of playing the “short game” instead of the long game. This happened to me in early August.

I had an outdoor plug that was clearly defective. Southern California sun can take a toll on just about anything after 20 years of exposure. I personally do not like playing electrician, so I called a “Google-approved” company to come out and replace the plug.

Jack, the technician, was very professional when he took pictures and retreated to his truck to write up an estimate. He returned in 15 minutes with three options:

  1. Run a new electrical line to the breaker box and replace the plug: $2,600.
  2. Re-run the current electrical line to the breaker box and replace the plug: $1,200.
  3. Replace the plug after a complete diagnostic evaluation: $650.

Somewhat stunned, I asked, “You mean, you just can’t replace the plug?”

“No sir, we have certain procedures,” Jack said.

Then I tried to tug at his heartstrings by asking, “Is this the same job you would offer to a family member, like your dad, for example?”

“My dad would fix it himself. He is an electrician,” Jack replied.

“We aren’t the cheapest company out there and maybe, we just aren’t the right company for you,” he added. “We have a company policy that I have to follow.”

Gee, that makes me feel good

After that nice little touch of feeling cheap and demeaned, I sent him on his way and fixed it myself. Note to DIYs: if you shut down all the power in the house, it is hard to get shocked!

Of course, because every company today is obsessed with customer feedback, I was contacted by Ron, the electrical contractor’s customer retention specialist.

“We noticed that you didn’t use our services,” Ron said. “How did it go with Jack?”

I made it clear to Ron that Jack was totally professional, but that Jack is stuck with a company that plays the “short game” when it comes to customer service. Instead of providing a solution that everyone would feel good about, Jack was following a company policy of chasing the quick buck, no matter how obviously distasteful it was to the customer.

“The fact that the diagnosis of the problem, an obvious problem, was $200 alone, that was incredible. Jack didn’t even bother to check and see if the plug was working,” I explained.

Thanks for the new material

Naturally, I thanked him for providing me with an excellent example of playing the customer service “short game.” Because of the electrical contractor’s approach:

  • I would never use them for any future job, small or large.
  • I would never refer them to anyone.
  • If I were a vindictive type, I would probably give them a scathing review on Yelp.

The challenge for operators

OCS operators face the same challenge as that electrical contractor. It is easy to gouge on price or just say no to customer requests during these difficult times. Clients are desperate and frustrated. They want service for their underperforming facilities, especially for the few employees who are required to be in the office until the post-pandemic “all clear.”

When that stressed out office manager calls your office and asks for four cases of bottled water instead of the 40 cases that they would normally order, make the delivery. When that HR director calls, completely panicked about the inventory of paper cups (even though two sleeves will probably last their depleted staff another week), try to get someone out there to take inventory of the situation.

‘Long game’ riches, ‘long game’ referrals

As a former operator, I know that playing the “long game” is a tall order, especially when survival is at the top of the list, but here is the reality: you are resilient, you have found a way to survive and we are getting close to some sense of normalcy once again – we can only hope.

When the fog lifts and that elusive horizon is finally in sight, the operators who played the long game and delivered quality service and value despite the obvious challenges; they will enjoy the riches that accompany solid business relationships and the referrals that come from delivering excellence in both good times and bad.


Industry consultant and Vending Market Watch contributing editor Bob Tullio is a content specialist who advises operators in the convenience services industry on how to build a successful business from the ground up and advises suppliers on how to successfully connect with operators. Tullio’s YouTube channel, b2b Perspective, is designed to “elevate your business in two minutes.” Tullio is currently developing an online course, Leverage the power of LinkedIn to grow your business. Visit tullioB2B.com to learn more about VMW's contributing editor and his b2b services.


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