It goes without saying that a company needs a few basics to succeed: excellent products, delivered affordably and reliably.
But for food companies operating in today’s competitive environment, success requires far more than that.
The challenges facing the industry are significant. New food demographics, changing consumer trends, the political climate, the price of steel — these and many more factors have a big impact. And they aren’t things processors or their suppliers can control.
To adapt to this ever-changing environment and cope with these and other challenges, companies must be able to differentiate themselves from the competition.
According to Howard Fyock, Sales Manager at Top Line Process Equipment, that starts with approaching challenges as opportunities. He says: “Challenges are new opportunities to set yourself apart from your competition, by overcoming the challenges and using them to your advantage.”
Top Line was founded in the 1950s in Wisconsin, as a provider to the dairy industry. Today the company is a worldwide manufacturer of custom and standard equipment for industries ranging from food and beverage to pharma.
They’ve excelled by focusing on making sure customers have a top notch experience. That includes providing high-quality service that engages customers and builds lasting relationships. Fyock says: “Here at Top Line, we’re not only responsible to the ownership, but we’re responsible to our customers. We’re a service business, and our products are a medium to provide that service.”
In this article we’ll explore Fyock’s view on how companies can establish the relationships that keep customers coming back over time.
Comprehensive customer service must be both personal and convenient
Did you know?
- 78% of consumers have bailed on a transaction or not made an intended purchase because of a poor service experience.
- 59% would try a new brand or company for a better service experience
- Americans tell almost twice as many people about poor experiences as about good ones
Source: American Express Survey
In addition, an informal survey by customer experience guru Ian Golding found that people ranked customer service as the #2 thing they want from companies, right behind value and, notably, two spots ahead of quality.
It’s clear that great customer service is important. But what does that really mean?
For Howard Fyock and the team at Top Line, great customer service means service that’s both personal and convenient. In this section, we look at the impact of personal contact with experts who can help customers set up, improve, and maintain technically complex systems, as well as the importance of a comprehensive customer service environment includes the convenience of online ordering.
Personalized service builds the bonds that last
In today’s world, when communication tends toward email and texting, the personal touch can go missing.
But that personal touch is essential. A Genesys study found that U.S. enterprises lose more than $80 billion a year because of poor customer service. And when asked about the most important aspect of customer service, by and large, the respondents said they wanted service that is more human.
This fact isn’t news to Top Line. They’ve earned a reputation for excellent customer service exactly because they provide that human touch. “When you call someone at Top Line,” says Fyock, “you’re always going to speak to an individual. It’s one very important way we set ourselves apart from our competition. We’ve done many surveys, and over and over again, people call out our sales reps individually.”
Part of their success in this area is due to the company training policy, which emphasizes great service. “Our team is trained on a daily basis on how to respond promptly to our customers,” says Fyock.
Prompt responses are critical in the just-in-time processing industry. “Sometimes customers contact us and need the product on the job site as quickly as possible. For example, they may have welders in place waiting for the equipment to arrive.”
Personalized communication is also critical in ensuring that customers get exactly the parts and service they require. Many of our interviewees — suppliers, processors, and educators alike — have noted how important it is to, as Fyock puts it, “have a conversation with a specific person who understands who you are and your specific needs.”
Customer education is equally important. Suppliers need to educate processors about what’s available. “Often, it’s not just as simple as ordering a widget,” Fyock says. “Sometimes, there are ways of using that widget in other applications. Having a conversation with someone at the other end can help you explore all your options.”
Fyock cites an example. “We sell centrifugal pumps to breweries,” he says. “And oftentimes these are mom and pop operations that may not have a complete understanding of what they need. Our engineers as well as our sales team can walk them through the torque requirements and application data for moving the fluid through the lines and help them understand what specific pumps, valves, tubing, and fittings they need for their project.”
E-commerce provides the convenience customers crave
A lot has changed since Top Line came to the market more than 60 years ago. “There used to be a lot of stability,” says Fyock. “You’d see the same customers, and there was consistent growth in these products. But now everything’s changing constantly, faster and faster.”
One of the most obvious and fastest-moving changes today is the role of e-commerce. We first explored this topic in January of this year, in an interview with Kraft Foods’ Sheri Cole. At that time, the discussion was mainly speculative — not many food companies or suppliers had yet dipped their toes into the digital shopping realm.
And while online ordering still isn’t the industry norm, some forward-thinking suppliers are starting to take steps in that direction. For example, Unitherm Food Systems, whose main business is thermal processing solutions, recently launched the site CleanDrains.com, which sells hygiene products like drains, sinks, and boot washers online.
Top Line is also ahead of the curve in going digital. In the new year, the company will launch a brand new, fully functional website, complete with a knowledge base and online ordering.
For Fyock, moving into e-commerce is just common sense. “For Christmas, you and I will shop around and make a lot of our purchases online. Well, we’re hearing from our customers that they want to be able to go on our website and shop around. And when you listen to what customers want, you revise your business accordingly. The new website will allow our customers to go online and place orders at any hour of the day or night, which is a very important feature in this fast-moving world of technology.”
The ability to order online fits into the comprehensive customer service that Top Line aims to provide. Recall the statistic from earlier showing that almost 6 in 10 customers would try a new brand or company to get better service. As Fyock says, “we’re here to service our customers. If we don’t, they’ll find someone who will.”
A full line of products provides for one-stop shopping
One of the best ways to ensure continued success is to make sure your customers can get everything they need as easily as possible. That’s why many suppliers are moving to a one-stop shop model.
This model can take different forms. For example, dairy tank manufacturer Paul Mueller integrates equipment and services. They deliver, set up, and provide service and repair for the equipment they manufacture.
For Top Line, one-stop shopping means providing processing equipment across the board, from fittings and tubing, which are common to many applications, to pumps and valves, which must be custom-fit or specially designed to meet individual processors’ requirements.
“We are one of the few that has a complete catalog offering,” notes Fyock. “A lot of our competition might be specific to a valve, or a certain pump, or particular tubing. If our customers can come in and get an engineered product like a pump, and also get the tubing and fittings to go along with it, that’s a convenient purchase at the end of the day.”
A final note on trends and challenges
When asked about the effect of consumer trends on equipment design, Fyock notes that they definitely make an impact. “People are trying to live better, eat healthier, which can mean many product changes. And our engineers can help walk customers through what their equipment needs are regarding application changes, process equipment requirements, things like that.”
But he maintains that the biggest need in the industry is for consistent high quality, for both products and customer service.
“We’re always going to be facing new challenges,” he says. “And let’s face it: we all have choices every day, regardless of what we’re buying, whether it’s a carton of milk or a centrifugal pump. Our customers are no different from me or you. You’re going to go with the vendor you have the most confidence in — the one that provides you the right product at the right price and delivered when you need it. That’s never going to change.”