Improving Communication among Foodservice Partners

Working smarter to improve efficiencies

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From ice machines that know to work more during non-peak hours to combi ovens that allow users to scan a barcode to trigger previously entered cooking instructions to dishwashers that can recover some of the heat they generate and use it to bring cold water to temperature, there's no shortage of technological innovation in today's foodservice equipment industry. And yet, the communication among the various members of the industry still seems about as free flowing as the dinner table dialogue the Manero family had in the hit '70s movie Saturday Night Fever.

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That was one of the takeaways I had from the CFESA Fall Conference, which took place in Scottsdale, Ariz. a few weeks ago. For example, in a FE&S survey of CFESA members, only 48 percent of the service agents felt that foodservice equipment manufacturers do a good job of communicating new product introductions to them. That's pretty concerning when you consider that the authorized service agents are the ones in charge of handling warranty calls once a piece of equipment is installed. How that warranty is administered and how subsequent service calls are handled play an integral role in the operators' perception of the brand.

What was even more alarming was when one service agent told the audience he discovered that his company was the area ASA for a product line when an operator called them asking to have a tech come out to look at a new steamer. Upon receiving the call, the service agent went to the equipment line's website and, sure enough, his company was listed as the area ASA.

I am not sure who is to blame here and my reason for bringing this instance up is not to assign fault. That's an issue the service agent and the factory need to resolve privately, if they have not done so already. What was unfortunate, however, is that during my conversations with service agents they told me it is rather commonplace for new pieces of equipment to pop up in their territories unbeknownst to them. And that's not a good thing for anyone involved, particularly when 73 percent of the service agents surveyed indicated the factories they represent introduced new products into their areas in the past 12 months.

The familiarity that the individual members of the foodservice industry have for one another can lead to some extreme stereotyping about what the other company's role should be. For example, it is easy to think of the service agent as the member of the supply chain to engage after the sale. But, as Brock Coleman pointed out to me during a recent interview, service agents can offer some pretty important information before it is time to make a service call.

"Most warranty issues can be linked back to the way the product is installed. It would make so much sense to me to have the warranty service provider involved in the installation of the equipment," Coleman says. "We see complete kitchens installed, and it is only then that they discover something won't start or that when the staff turns everything on at once an electrical board blows or that a piece of equipment fails because it is too hot around it."

The individual members of the foodservice industry log an awful lot of air miles and hotel room nights each year traveling from one meeting to the next. From association gatherings to buying group meetings to sales and training calls at individual businesses it seems as there is no shortage for face to face interaction. That's good. But it would seem to me that the industry needs to start doing a better job of communicating with one another during those times together. Sharing experiences and best practices as to when would be the best time to introduce other supply chain partners into a process seems to be a good place to start.

While the business climate slowly continues to improve, the fact remains that all members of the foodservice equipment supply chain — including operators, factories, service agents, reps, dealers and consultants — are working harder than ever to make ends meet. And I doubt that many can work harder. But perhaps it is time to work smarter and that can start with improved communication.

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