Know Thy Customer
As recent research reports are increasingly revealing, restaurant and foodservice operators are learning to appeal to would-be customers across a growing range of values. “Convenience” is such a value. “Customization” of meal components is another. “Ambiance,” “Speed of Service” and “Healthful” are all values that are being seen to drive foodservice customer acquisition and retention. Notice, in this post-recession business climate, that “Price” is not construed as value. In the words of Technomic’s Senior Consultant Matthew Mandeltort, “[Low] price is a noncompetitive, nonsustainable advantage.”
Obviously, a lot of time and intellectual capital is being expended to help operators in all market segments understand, reach out to and respond better to their customers. Sadly, though, the same cannot be said of suppliers of foodservice equipment. Manufacturers, dealers and reps, by and large, have little if any formal programs in place to monitor customer satisfaction with their products, other than warranty claims. How many factories and their distribution channel partners conduct follow-up surveys with operator-customers, form focus groups to assess restaurateurs’ and foodservice managers’ equipment “hot buttons” or make product and service information available via increasingly ubiquitous mobile apps?
It is a harsh reality that, with the exception of products developed in partnership with the largest multi-unit businesses, most foodservice equipment is developed in a vacuum, on a “if we build it they will buy” basis. And, in today’s over-supplied market, that’s not nearly good enough.
The more operators expend resources to connect with their customers, the more they recognize the disconnect they regularly experience with their equipment suppliers. That’s why equipment makers should understand that “Communication” is at least as important a value as build quality, productivity and energy efficiency. Remaining ignorant of how operators actually use different types of kitchen equipment, what they like, dislike and would like to change on products, and the sorts of services and support they value most is an omission no E&S supplier can afford in this still-shaky economy. Sales growth can’t be maintained by offering the lowest purchase prices. It evolves from learning what customers truly want and need, and giving it to them.