Automatic Merchandiser

OCT 2011

Automatic Merchandiser serves the business management, marketing, technology and product information needs of its readers including vending operators, coffee service operators, product brokers, and product and equipment distributors in print.

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C U S T OM E R R E L A T I ON S Foundation for success: customer relations By Elliot Maras, Editor A changing business environment requires a strategic approach that considers how all assets relate to customer communications. W ith change coming fast on so many fronts – customer needs, products, technolo- gies, and new competitors – can vending operators adapt quickly enough to survive? Most operators recognize the business environment is changing. But with the day-to-day challenges they face in a diffi cult economy, operators are unsure where to begin making changes in their operations. Operators are unsure which technologies to invest in and where they will get the best return on investment and improve customer relations. Automatic Merchandiser this past year profi led operators who use new technology successfully. But many readers wonder if these are not exceptions whose experiences cannot be easily duplicated by the average operator. In the interest of helping a "typical" operator strategize in a challenging industry, Automatic Merchandiser has developed a customer relations action plan designed to help operators deter- mine what technology tools make the most sense, given that operators' resources are limited. Automated systems are replac- ing manual ones at a time when consumers are more attuned to technology than ever, and are more 10 demanding of the products they buy from service providers. The new tools create new opportunities, but at the same time, new challenges. One operator who recently upgraded her Website noted the frustration she encountered because of the capabilities that the new Website created. On the positive side, this operator, who asked to remain anonymous, said the upgraded Website has drawn more customer inquiries and has provided a tool to pre-screen customers. At the same time, she said some customers began asking for things like video touch- screens that are too expensive, while others that she would expect would want the most state-of-the-art tools only want the most basic service. With all of this change occurring, the vending operators' role continues to be one of meeting the refreshment needs of consumers conveniently while they attend to both at-work and non-work functions. TECHNOLOGY BRINGS MORE CHOICES Automatic Merchandiser has spot- lighted a host of technology-based solutions to emerge in recent years that give operators new ways to meet their traditional objectives: cashless payments, remote machine monitoring, touchscreen messaging, self checkout markets, automated warehouse management, etc. Automatic Merchandiser October 2011 The new tools create new operating effi ciencies that enhance customer service. In some cases, such as cashless payments and touchscreen promotions, the new tools create new customer conveniences as well. In assessing the benefi ts of these new tools, Auto- matic Merchan- diser concluded that virtually all of

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