Forward-thinking CLOs not only create learning and development opportunities to meet strategic business objectives, they also create offerings that will capitalize on potential opportunities to advance their organizations’ bottom-line interests. Everpure, a water treatment products and services company, took advantage of such an opportunity to train a non-traditional sales force using a Virtual Service Call sales training module for its third-party service technician network.
Everpure has a 70-year history of selling products through its various distribution channels to the end-user customer. These end-user customers are typically restaurateurs and convenience store operators in the food service industry. However, because some Everpure products, including water filtration cartridges, are non-serialized, small-ticket items sold through multiple distribution channels, it’s difficult to track where they end up. “We manufacture a consumable in that we sell a water filter system, and the vessel that catches debris in the water will eventually fill up and need to be replaced. That’s one of the only reoccurring revenue streams that we have. We’ve got over 2 million of our products installed in food service operations in the U.S., but we as a manufacturer do not know where they’re at. We depend on individuals that frequent the back of the house, as we call it in the food service industry, or the kitchens where our products are applied,” said Eddie Garmon, director, Total Water Management, Everpure. “The tens of thousands of service technicians in our marketplace are our best possible connection to that product. Realizing that, we looked at ways to communicate and connect to this large audience of service technicians.”
Service technicians offered Everpure the learning and development equivalent of a golden ticket, and three years ago the company developed the Everpure Water Authority and enrolled service technicians for blended education including classroom, online and CD-based training. Feedback from the community of 4,400 service technicians revealed that they needed help communicating with the customer, the restaurant managers, etc. “Keep in mind these are service technicians,” Garmon explained. “There’s a percentage of them who are not very outspoken. They view their job as ‘Go into a facility and repair a piece of mechanical equipment,’ and then they’re out the door. For us the opportunity is that while the service technician is in the restaurant, they probably walk within 10 feet of our product at some point in time and may not realize it. If they do, they may ignore it because it’s not part of their repair service order. We tried to help them be more conversational with customers and work with them on how to approach customers, and talk to them about this water filter, and that it needs to be serviced.”
In July, Centrax helped Everpure create a computer-animated training module on educating or communicating with the customer. The module offers multiple scenarios of food service operations and what the technicians should or should not say when approaching the customer. Garmon said they chose computer animation versus PowerPoint slides or a filmed role-play demo because the service technician community is of the age group that grew up with joysticks in their hands. Thus, they could easily make a connection to a more interactive training tool. “Secondly, one of the past challenges we’ve had with training materials is that as soon as we film, document or record them, they’re out of date by the time we release them. This gives us the ability to update things overnight if we choose and always be current.”
Everpure tracks who has taken the module and whether they actually completed the training through a built-in quiz. Garmon said although technicians almost always pass the module, the company has been a little disappointed in the low number of technicians who have actually taken the training. This, he stresses, does not mean Everpure regrets the investment. “It’s just that we haven’t done a good job as a company of communicating that it’s out there yet. We’ve had a lot of positive comments from the food-service industry where we live. A lot of our channel partners see us as really taking a leadership position with this service technician community. These 4,400 technicians are actually employed by about 1,300 companies,” he explained. “The owners of those 1,300 companies have been extremely positive on the investment that we’ve made because if we teach a technician how to better communicate with customers, the technician not only gets the benefit when they’re talking about Everpure but any other product or service that the service company may be trying to promote. It’s got a sponge approach, if you will, that coattail effect that service companies are appreciative of, and because of that we’ve seen an increase in loyalty to our product from this service segment.”
So taking advantage of a non-traditional learning and development opportunity has increased revenue on the front end because technicians are offering up new services, and on the back end the technicians’ employers are more loyal. “That has actually been a larger benefit than that of the technician,” Garmon said, noting increased sales on the distribution side. “Because we sell through multiple steps of distribution, we don’t have good tracking of how many cartridges a technician changes out or how many dollars a dealer buys. As a manufacturer we make our product, we sell through master distributors who then sell to the service companies. We don’t have good details, but one of the tools we use to track technician activity is in addition to the training tools we have a rewards and incentives program. We track redemptions, and redemptions are up about 15 to 18 percent since we released this. That tells us that we’re getting the technicians’ attention.”
Underneath the shrink wrap of Everpure products, there are proof-of-purchase coupons called Everpure bucks. When a technician changes one of these filter cartridges, they keep the proof of purchase. If they’re enrolled in the Water Authority program and have completed the Virtual Service Call training module, they’re allowed to spend the Everpure bucks for prizes from Bass Pro Shop. Last year Everpure gave out about $100,000 in prizes. “We’ve found that with the service technician community it’s about a 70/30, 80/20 game,” Garmon said. “Twenty or 30 percent of those technicians are going to deliver 70 or 80 percent of the results. By utilizing these tools we can broaden that base and get those customers on the curve who may be conversational and may be looking for an Everpure product. I wish I knew exactly how much. I don’t. The only way we’ve got to measure it is actual positive sales results, and they’ve certainly been there for us.”