KANSAS CITY, MO. - The coronavirus has produced big spikes in demand for a variety of food products, making it more important than ever that the equipment used to make those foods runs like it should.

And to guarantee that, leading manufacturers are stepping up their game when it comes to providing their customers with the best equipment maintenance possible.

Milwaukee-based Hatco Corp. offers a one-year warranty on all parts and labor on the food industry equipment it makes.

But what really makes the company stand out when it comes to equipment maintenance and customer service in general is a sticker on every piece of equipment it sells with a phone number that connects customers to a Hatco representative — not a third-party service provider — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service was launched in 2003.

“The goal is to identify if it’s any kind of troubleshooting issue, and let’s see if we can fix it easily over the phone,” said Ryan Catarozoli, Hatco’s key account sales manager. About 99% of calls are answered within 30 seconds, he added.

If it can’t be fixed over the phone, the Hatco rep will help the customer find a nearby service provider from Hatco’s huge provider network. Or customers can find one themselves on the Hatco website. The service also offers a chat function, launched in 2016, with a Hatco rep always on call to answer queries by text.

All the customer needs is the serial number posted on the back of the equipment, Catarozoli said. After the service is completed, the service provider bills Hatco directly.

But as Catarozoli pointed out, there’s a good chance Hatco customers will never need to call Hatco or use its provider directory. Hatco equipment is not the cheapest in its category, he said, and there’s a good reason for that: it’s built to last and often doesn’t require more than routine maintenance. It’s not uncommon for Hatco equipment to still be in operation up to 50 years after its installation.

For those occasions where service is needed, Hatco relies on what the company has long referred to as what Catarozoli called a “knock your socks off” approach to customer service.    

“We want to be easy to work with,” he said. “We won’t make you jump through hoops for different warranty things. When you’re talking to our service people, they understand your situation.”

The pandemic effect

Maysville, Oklahoma-based Burford Corp. has always had a strong service department. With the coronavirus, there’s been a big uptick in calls to the company’s 24/7 service line, said Josh Hughes, service manager.

The dedicated line allows customers to receive technical support regarding operating and troubleshooting any piece of equipment they have in-house , he said.

That said, technicians still travel to facilities that require onsite assistance. Once a Burford tech is onsite, he ascertains the root cause of the problem, provides training to both the operating and mechanic staff, visits with production and mechanic supervisors daily over what has been done and then presents them with relevant paperwork verifying all needs were covered prior to signing out of the facility, Hughes said.  

“Our technicians cover any Burford Corp. equipment the facility has in house as well, making adjustments, providing recommendations on P.M. that may be needed and providing a corresponding parts list,” he added. “We strive to reduce downtime on all of our equipment, especially during this time, as many facilities are running 24/7 trying to keep up with the demand for baked goods.”

Nationwide coverage

Hobart Service, a division of Troy, Ohio-based Hobart Food Equipment Group, has nationwide coverage, with 70 branch offices and over 1,500 of the best technicians in the industry, said Steve Gilbert, Hobart Service’s director of national accounts and new business development.

  Each technician has an average of 500 hours of in-class equipment training.  Hobart also focuses on customer and technician safety by holding 1,200 hours of safety training per year, resulting in an incident rate that’s 23% below the industry average, Gilbert said.  

“Technicians have full visibility to parts inventory. We have parts on the technician’s trucks, in local offices and over 40,000 SKUs available for next day shipping in our national parts distribution center,” he said. “Additionally, it’s critically important for us to focus on operational excellence through key metrics like response time, first time completion, and total time to complete.”

Hobart shares its information with its customers and develops joint initiatives to improve their equipment uptime. And, Gilbert added, Hobart is the only service provider in the industry that provides a variety of full coverage contract options including preventative maintenance. The company is also available for service 24/7/365 and provides customers with service order status notifications. 

“The local office staff commonly does customer visits,” Gilbert added. “We offer customer scheduled inspection services to regularly check on their equipment. These programs identify equipment issues early, preventing costly repairs and extended downtime.  Our customers find these programs valuable in keeping their equipment operational and working properly.”

Catching problems early

Hatco’s equipment maintenance actually begins before product even ships from the factory, Catarozoli said. Hatco tests its products in-house.

“People say, ‘Hey, there are crumbs in my toaster.’ It’s not because it’s used, it’s because we put bread through it before it shipped,” he said.  

Even before that, Hatco’s Demand Flow Technology (DFT) manufacturing process helps guarantee product excellence by requiring workers to check not just their own work on the assembly line but also that of the step before the product got to them.  

From sales standpoint, all of our manufacturer reps familiar with key maintenance issues, water filters, make sure cleaning filters, don’t put electronics in “hot zones.” A lot of our equipment doesn’t require a ton of maintenance. Don’t put next to fryer, where greasy vapor into controls. Reps will do demo, not only how to use, but also go over some key maintenance points make sure spelling out ahead of time.

Proper maintenance is critical, Hughes said — it’s much more efficient to produce high quality product on properly maintained equipment.

“I have joked in the past that efficient output and quality are a by-product of a good maintenance program, but I believe there is a kernel of truth there,” he said. “Production and maintenance are sides of the same coin. Both must operate at the highest level for maximum output and profit.”

Burford has always placed a priority on its service capability, Hughes said. The company believes that providing exemplary service is a major part of maintaining customer relations, and it has long tried to incorporate new modes of contact with its customers over the years.

Burford started with an “at ready” service department, in which the company tried to respond with immediate or next day travel. Burford then established a call-in line with a dedicated technician to help troubleshoot an issue.

But as anyone who has been even remotely associated with the bakery industry can attest, bakers keep odd hours, Hughes said. As a result, Burford provided its technician with pagers, when that was the cutting-edge technology.

Burford has evolved with the latest tech trends until the present day, where it is now considering using augmented or enhanced reality programs such as Microsoft’s Hololens for service.

“We fully believe we are second to none in regards to customer care,” Hughes said. “Burford has built a legacy of industry-leading customer service. We practice continuous improvement in all of our departments with an emphasis on upgrading our customer’s experience. And we require any third-party provider to come to Burford and receive training on our core equipment.”

In addition to looking into augmented and enhanced reality, Burford is currently working on creating more of the video tutorials the company has long provided customers. These are step by step “how to” videos concerning wear part replacement, timing and components settings and variety setup on equipment.

The company also has rolled out its BC1000 Burford Connect System, which helps improve efficiency by monitoring equipment and providing critical preventative maintenance feedback which can be tracked to help identify trends and thereby allow a facility to more accurately tune its P.M. schedule and procedures.

Burford also provides high-quality manuals and prints, and the company has developed several video tutorials for customers.

The new face of customer service

Businesses are dependent on their equipment running properly, Gilbert said.  Faulty or down equipment can be very costly, not only from a revenue perspective, but also in areas of customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, and potential safety issues.

The focus of customer service, meanwhile, has “completely changed” over the years, Gilbert said, with three main changes Hobart is adjusting to:

  • Safety has become a critical factor to avoid customer, employee and consumer incidents.
  • Technology has had a major impact on the business with field service management software, GPS tracking, diagnostic tools, facility management software integration, reporting tools, etc.
  • Developing customer partnerships to manage equipment assets, avoid costly repairs as equipment ages, operator training programs to improve equipment operations, and proactive services to avoid equipment downtime.

Hobart’s philosophy, Gilbert said, is to provide its customers exceptional service that will improve the life of the equipment, limit downtime and reduce unplanned maintenance costs.

The company does this by offering a variety of service plans and preventative maintenance options that meet its customers’ needs. Hobart also provides metrics to show how it’s performing and data that helps customers make the best decisions about their equipment.  

This story was featured in the August issue of Supermarket Perimeter. Check out the full issue here.