Mars Drinks is one of the world’s biggest and most successful vending machine companies and a part of Mars Incorporated. It operates globally, supplying and maintaining machines in workplaces such as offices and manufacturing sites in North America, Europe and a growing business in China and Japan. Although the sector is in decline in the UK, Mars Drinks is beating the market trends by knowing their customers and playing to their strengths, and has now been keeping us all going with our favourite hot drinks for 45 years.
Ashley Weller took over as UK Service Director in 2015, with 20 years experience in the service industry, a degree in History of Art and a passionate but empathetic leadership style. He came in as the business was starting to see intense competition from coffee shop chains embedded in offices as well as on the high street. Ashley took the visionary decision to challenge his people to elevate their role, transforming themselves into Brand Ambassadors and adding even more value to great customer relationships. Now, the staff are energised, their customer satisfaction is way up and the company is supplying a much wider range of products than ever before.
moreMomentum believes, as a result of our research, that successful long-term managers and companies have established ‘Momentum’, starting with 4 Winning Habits – Direction, Dialogue, Decision-making and Discovery. In this series of Momentum Case Studies, Jan van Veen, co-founder of moreMomentum, interviews proven managers across the globe who are successfully implementing the 4 Winning Habits to lead innovative, energised and engaged teams.
The challenges facing Mars Drinks UK Customer Service
Apart from the general food industry trend to coffee shops, the UK Service Department also had its own challenges for Ashley. After many years, the service engineers had become somewhat disengaged with the role they were playing within the company, and although they were highly engaged with their regular clients and maintained great relationships there, their role was solely to fix broken machines. Furthermore, the company had been focusing its investment on sales and marketing, leaving the service department, with its good customer feedback, to continue operating with minimal investment. There was a feeling that that their impact wasn’t as valued as other departments and that the great work they’d been doing wasn’t getting the recognition it should.
Ashley wanted to bring the Service division back into the fold of the company and use the engineers’ knowledge and excellent client relationships as a USP to build more business. To do this, in a 3-year plan, he created a supportive, safe environment free from blame that enabled the engineers to be the drivers of that change, supporting them all the way along their journey to become Brand Ambassadors. The service leadership team would be vital to the process, being the first to experience the new environment, supporting it from day one and learning first-hand how the new dialogue would work, so they could pass on their experiences to the teams.
Here we will show how Mars Drinks demonstrated each of the 4 Winning Habits in the implementation of its plan, creating Momentum for long-term sustainable success in its UK Service division. The strategy shows that Momentum can start anywhere when the 4 Winning Habits are employed. They soon spread to other departments when they see the positive impact.
Direction – the common cause that everyone can get behind
The main aim was to build the engineers up to be brand ambassadors, strengthening their strong client relationships even more but in a way that added value. Up to that point, the engineers were the customers’ white knights, fixing problems but not always recognised for the full value they could bring to the company.
The engineers feared they were being asked to sell and that this might harm their existing, genuine relationships, but in fact found customers love it when they talk to them and tell them about new products, and also then provide more feedback. It’s a win/win when the customer feels valued and provides information that improves the business.
AW: “At the kick off conference, named ‘Stepping Out of the Shadows’, we created a platform of 3-S’s for our future vision: Service, Strengthen and Stimulate. They were built upon leveraging our service strengths by improving and standardising our operating practices, learning from the best in class to strengthen all aspects of our customer relationships, and then using these relationships built on trust and performance to then stimulate the conversation to create the ‘wow’ for our customers by being able to help them gain more from Mars Drinks.”
Now, it’s very important that new joiners are brought into the service culture so it can continue. The level of success achieved can only be maintained by ensuring new people can work in this type of environment so the onboarding process is very thorough.
Dialogue – open discussion at and between all levels to encourage new ideas
The team began by recognising they had to remove the fear of failure for suggesting or trying ideas and then include the engineers in the solution planning process. The message was “You want to be part of business and the business wants you”. It takes years to earn this level of trust however.
Ashley started by playing a video which the engineers had made about their work at a company conference. Suddenly, the engineers were given a stage – people around the company started talking about service and the engineers felt pride that the business was noticing them and their contribution.
The next step was to ask them their opinions. Throughout the 3-year plan, it was anticipated that there would be mistakes and course corrections needed, so the engineers were encouraged to say what was working and what wasn’t. The senior management team also bought in to the process and gave their support. The engineers had great relationships with their clients, but how could they add more value to the customer and the company? This led to a long series of suggestions, one of which resulted in the creation of an iPad app to enable easier maintenance. The feedback was “You’ve given me IT that I can use!” while also enabling them to provide better service.
Of course, there were early adopters and laggards. With support and attention from the company comes accountability, meaning some couldn’t hide any more. Strong people managers helped staff on that journey and some became exemplars for the new role. The proof is in the practice: “people need to see it delivered to understand that this is now the norm.”
Personal objectives are an effective way to include people, and in Mars Drinks they waterfall down from higher company goals, helping people to see why they matter. People aren’t only measured on targets, but also on trying new ideas, adding value and learning from other colleagues or learning from failure. Of course, this also means you can’t give bad reviews if an experiment fails.
Decision-making – local decision-making empowerment
Engineers saw things on a day to day basis that they wanted to improve and many, it turns out, had already started working on small improvement projects in their own time. These hadn’t been shared due to a fear of failure. Once more trust had been established, implementing some of these ideas across the UK saved thousands of pounds and many hundreds of working hours. Now, the engineers are keen to make more suggestions and so far, 30% have been implemented.
Another approach was to get the engineers to compare working methods between teams and analyse the differences. As a result, standardising some processes has led to improved machine reliability. They also moved from 30 to 90-day reliability targets and started seeing new trends in the data about certain parts that then enabled new processes and product improvements.
The company is supporting the engineers in their new role, including training them to spot opportunities for new machines on site. Customers are more likely to engage with them as they have a high level of trust, and the conversion rates for leads originating this way is higher than from the sales team.
Discovery – Looking for new external trends, opportunities and threats
Everyone in the Service Department is now keenly involved in looking for new innovation opportunities that will benefit customers, but more than that, they are open to new ideas and ways of working, because very often they have been suggested by one of their own.
AW: “If we kept the customer at the very heart of what we were trying to achieve, the person the engineers wanted to serve the best, then we’d always have a central pivot point to navigate by. That’s been critical.”
As a result of the team’s work over several years, the new processes are now a living, breathing animal and are running smoothly under the control of the regional managers. The new brand ambassadors are a true USP for the company and are loved by their customers. The engineers are proud that they’ve achieved all this – it’s what their customers wanted.
The new culture has translated into more machine orders and wider ranges of drinks being supplied that customers want to consume. Comparing 2016 to 2017, there’s been a 33% increase in new products added to machines and a 150% increase in leads for new machines compared to inbound or outbound sales, with higher conversion rates too.
Next, there is going to be a stronger focus on building discovery capabilities to enable the service team to connect more with customers and back with the business, putting them in control of demand, not the other way around. Learning from other industries, technology such as Internet of Things and cashless payments generate rich streams of data to provide much deeper understanding and help predict requirements. The engineers will be highly involved too, being given the ability, for instance, to offer contract renewals on site within their trusted relationship. The future is looking bright for the Mars Drinks Service team.