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A New Coffee Order?


September 30, 2009
By Brian Martell

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The OCS market is constantly changing and the players in that market seem to be competing with greater efficiency and less return.

The OCS market is constantly changing and the players in that market
seem to be competing with greater efficiency and less return.

For decades now, the constant lament has been escalating capital costs
with no corresponding increase in revenue or profit. Glass bowls under
pour-overs led way to plumbed-in units, which further changed to
thermal servers, which then changed to counter-top cup-by-cup machines
which were followed by cartridge-style brewers (pods, K-Cup, et al).

All the while, operators have been investing in new and more equipment
with the same amount of coffee being consumed (and now with less coffee
being drunk) and competitive forces eroding the margins. There is now
the potential for a reversal with the cost of the most expensive
systems, allowing for some customers to go backward to older less
expensive brewing technologies.

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Some of this push is being driven by economics where office managers or
HR directors are required to reduce their budgets and one of the
“perks” that is (at first blush) an easy target, is the coffee service.
Instead of costly cartridge systems, some offices are tempted to go
back to thermal systems. The reaction from employees to such a move
ranges from indifference to “oh my God, they can’t afford the coffee,
better spruce up my resume the end is near!”

With all the changes going on and what many OCS operators are regarding
as their worst quarter in a long time, there are a few fundamental
truths that stay the course in this sea of change.

Service: providing the service that no one else has or can, will always win you a spot at the table.

Developing a reputation of excellent service will get you invited to
new tables and build your business and hopefully, by extension, your
balance sheet. Service is a culture that transcends technology but
makes use of it whenever it fits the model.

An accepted technology in the business may be necessary to compete (no
matter how good your service, if you are going to take on the latest
brewing technology, you probably won’t get the account by offering
pour-overs), but when all things are equal, it is the quality service
provider that gets the brass ring.

So what is superlative service?

It can be summed up in a few simple points:

Listen
A great old sales person once told me that you have two ears and only
one mouth, that’s a good indication of how much time you should spend
talking and listening.

Of course, being a good listener means knowing what questions to ask
and the ones you will mostly ask revolve around what their expectations
are, what currently works, and what doesn’t. As sales reps improve
their understanding of the business and get better in tuned with
customer needs, the better the questioning.

It is this level of communication that gets to the root of why you were invited to speak with them in the first place.

Honesty
After reviewing your customer’s or prospect’s requirements, let them
know what your company’s capacities are, but never sugar coat your
service.

Sometimes this requires a good amount of training on the part of the
representative to truly appreciate what capabilities you have before
allowing them to be the mouth-piece for your company. Nothing will kill
a deal faster than broken promises or miscommunication with the
customer.

Even if it was a misunderstanding, there may be a lingering feeling in
the back of your customer’s mind that the miscue was intended to get
the business.

Integrity
So you are capable of delivering the goods and service in the time and
level specified by your representative; you better follow through with
the promise.

Integrity is the harmony between words and actions, which is easy to
associate when you think of the derivative word – integrate. Customers
are less and less understanding of the trials and tribulations you face
in getting the job done; they have enough issues to deal with
delivering on the promises to their customers.

If at all possible, go the extra mile so you are never in a situation of over committing and under delivering.

Sincerity
If you do make a mistake (and we all do): own it, admit to it, apologize and offer a remedy as a symbol of your sincerity.

Very rarely do we make mistakes on purpose, but by proffering that it
wasn’t your fault, or it happened due to circumstances beyond your
control may be accepted but your customer; but a genuine effort to make
amends will make them notice you in a very good light.

Of course, the above cannot exist outside of a well-managed and
efficient company. Service comes with a price; one that you bear as
your cost and one your customer must bear in the price you sell to them.

Accurately determining your costs, developing (and re-developing) your
business and financial plans and doing it all at the most cost
effective level you can achieve, are all part of what is necessary to
succeed.

So while the business world around soars and falls, recoveries and
bailouts abound and new competitive forces hover over the horizon, at
least the fundamentals of good business practice remain the same.


Questions or comments? Visit Brian at www.heritage-coffee.com