5 Things We Learned About Factory Tech Support During COVID-19

As the coronavirus took hold in North America and restaurant on-premise dining virtually ceased, many of our industry’s one million kitchens fell silent. Those that remained open scrambled to reduce costs and protect their employees.  Operators had to rethink… well, everything.

Like their customers, foodservice equipment manufacturers have experienced historic declines in sales of their products, both equipment and parts.  And, like their customers, our factories have raced to cut costs and protect employees.

At SWISSS Field Service Technologies we wondered how COVID-19’s impact on manufacturers compare to the industry they serve.  Specifically, we wanted to understand the impact of the pandemic on equipment makers’ service operations. 

To get some answers we surveyed technical support managers at select foodservice equipment manufacturers. Here are a few key insights from our survey:

  1. OEM parts sales dropped dramatically at most manufacturers

Demand for parts decreased almost instantaneously as kitchen equipment repairs became either not needed or delayed due to COVID-19.  The degree of the decline may shock you. 

  • More than 70% of our respondents reported that parts sales declined by 50% in just a few weeks!  
  • One respondent estimated that his company’s parts sales had dropped by 75%. 
  1. Factories’ technical support phone lines are mostly quiet

In normal times, equipment makers’ lean tech support teams struggle to stay ahead of calls from technicians in the field.  But now that frantic pace might be remembered as “the good old days”.  

  • 37% of respondents who estimate a 75% decrease in call volume.
  • In total, nearly 90% of respondents report that call volumes are down by at least 50%.
  1. Factories are changing the ways they support service providers

It seems the whole world has shifted to working remotely, and the support teams at our leading manufacturers are no different. Technical support managers were asked if they have moved call center staff to home offices or made changes in tech support travel. 

  • At a quarter of the factories represented, everyone in their call center(s) is now working remotely. 
  • 62.5% responded that at least some employees who had previously worked in an office are now working from home. 
  • Of the companies that do send support personnel on the road, about two-thirds have reduced travel and one-third have eliminated travel completely. 
  • 38% of respondents said that there was no change in travel for tech support because their support personnel did not routinely go into the field. 
  1. Manufacturers are making special efforts to support their service partners

Managers were asked to share some of the ways they are working with service providers during this crisis. We found several cases where, even as manufacturers race to address their own problems, they are working to provide extra support to their service partners. Examples include:

  • Catching up on past due service company invoices
  • Offering extended hours and expedited shipping
  • Continuing 24/7/365 support despite the much lower call volume
  • Watching for opportunities for service companies to perform work
  1. Tech support teams continue to perform well during the crisis

Technical support employees are just as important, needed, and under stress as service providers and customers. A bit of good news to emerge from all of this is that manufacturers’ tech support staff are performing well despite all the changes in their work, and their personal concerns. 

We asked managers to rate their teams’ performance during the pandemic by giving them anywhere from one to five stars. Every respondent gave his / her employees four or five stars. A picture containing drawing

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After considering these five patterns from our survey data, it is very clear to us that foodservice equipment manufacturers remain committed to supporting the service technicians who are still working in the field.  

The Future of Foodservice Tech Support During COVID-19

The coronavirus has taken a historic toll on businesses, and profoundly changed operations across our industry. We all understand that the past is gone forever and the “next normal” is still taking shape.  Even our strongest industry leaders will continue to struggle to provide great support to the field while cutting costs and protecting employees.

Looking forward, managers wanting to understand how the pandemic is impacting their own businesses might consider their own customer or industry survey to supplement our findings. We hope that any learnings will be shared.

In the meantime, communication among leading manufacturers, service providers and operators remains a common need and must continue to be our top priority. 

Managers involved in field services can best improve their performance and satisfy customers by staying current on the industry trends and the latest service-enabling technologies. Follow us on LinkedIn for more insights on the state of field service in the foodservice industry.  

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Dennis O’Toole is the founder of SWISSS Field Service Technologies, a company that improves the performance of field service technicians in the foodservice industry by providing technology for learning, libraries and live support.

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