Most people in the foodservice industry think of equipment repairs as “service calls.” While that’s not wrong, it is limiting. The companies that maintain and repair equipment are not just businesses to call, but firms to build relationships with.
Established partnerships with service agencies offer plenty of benefits for operators, ranging from faster, smoother service, to quicker problem solving, to valuable insights into an operation, says Nick Cribb, president of Albany, Ga.-based SAM Service.
On the most basic level, Cribb says, service agencies are going to give long-time customers preferential treatment when it comes to scheduling, both for planned maintenance calls and emergency fixes. This is simply common sense and good business.“Whenever you have a relationship and you do a lot of revenue with somebody — they’re important to what you do, you're important to what they do — they do get to skip to the front of the line in regards to other service needs,” he says.
Beyond scheduling, if a service agent is familiar with the operation, that can ease the pain of a service call. A long-term service partner often knows the history of specific pieces of equipment, while that company’s field technicians may know the kitchen’s footprint and operation. These both allow repairs to go more quickly and increase the chances of a first-visit fix.
This deep understanding of an operation’s equipment can also help with repair-replace decisions, Cribb says. Most professionally run service agencies will have records for each piece of equipment they repair. When an operator is considering whether another fix is worth the cost, a long-term service partner can tell the operator how much it has spent on repairs so far, and also advise them on how much they might likely spend going forward.
A good relationship can go much deeper than prompt, efficient service and detailed record-keeping, though. While most service calls go smoothly, with the needed part on a truck or just an overnight shipment away, a few calls turn into one problem after another. A replacement part may be defective, for instance, or a unit may have multiple issues that weren’t all caught by the technician.
When such a situation arises, having a long-term service agent can help smooth things over. The relationship, says Cribb, usually includes high-level contacts between the operator and the service agency. That allows the service agent to understand what it will take to make the operator happy, whether in the next repair steps or the final bill. Sometimes the service agent may opt to absorb the cost of a hiccup, regardless of who’s at fault, to maintain the customer relationship. “That’s a benefit the relationship can offer... [I can say] ‘we’re going to be doing this for another decade or two. This problem isn’t typical for us. I’m going to cut you a deal and make it easy on you,’” he says.
For larger customers, a solid relationship with a good service agency can offer even more benefits, says Cribb. If a service agent has a large chain client, it can stock commonly needed parts for that chain’s equipment, making repairs go more quickly. Agencies can even have their technicians trained on that chain’s specific pieces of equipment.
“I’m willing to pour into my technicians and office staff in a way that might benefit them,” says Cribb. “If I know I’m going to be working on a lot of pizza ovens, I will pay to have my greener technicians go off to training for those ovens so they can be more of an asset to that customer.”
The benefits of a strong service agency relationship are clear. By finding a firm that they trust and can work with, operators can get faster service, quicker resolutions when problems arise, and more skilled and knowledgeable service partners.