Building Your Business On Service
Offering exceptional customer service, including a 24-hour help desk and on-site repairs, transformed Pinnacle Hospitality Systems from a struggling startup to one of Florida's top VARs.
Ten years ago, Pinnacle Hospitality Systems' (Fort Lauderdale, FL) goal was to sell PC-based, touch screen point of sale (POS) systems to the hospitality market in southern Florida. When Business Solutions first profiled Pinnacle (February, 1994), the company was already building on its word of mouth reputation. "We realized early on that we couldn't grow or expand the company unless we also made a commitment to service and support all of our customers," says Lee Ward, vice president of sales for the company.
To do so required opening branch offices throughout the state. Pinnacle added sales and service offices in Pensacola, Tampa, Fort Myers, and Orlando. It also operates a sales office in Jacksonville. The focus on customer service has proven successful, says Ward. Today, Pinnacle has over 70 employees and installations at more than 1,000 customer sites.
Can You Service A Chain Account?
Most of Pinnacle's installations are in fine dining, sports-themed and several Florida-based chain restaurants. The company also installs POS systems in country club, hotel and cruise ship restaurants. "Independent restaurants are the bread and butter of our business," says Ward. "For many VARs, landing a chain account gets them ‘over a hurdle' in terms of growing their business," says Ward. "Signing up a chain of 30 restaurants can easily double some VAR businesses. A lot of resellers want to sign up chain accounts, but they don't have the resources to provide adequate support," says Ward.
Despite Florida's high tourism rate, chain restaurants have not come into Florida in large numbers. That's because there are few chains headquartered within the state, explains Ward. Many large chains are headquartered in California, Texas and New York, he says.
Keys To Successful Service
According to Ward, Pinnacle won't sell in an area nless it can also support it. "Our goal is to respond by phone within 30 minutes and on-site within four hours," says Ward. "We often compete against VARs who sell in our areas but don't provide service to these areas. It works to our advantage."
Pinnacle's service and support includes:
24 x 7 help desk - Even in its early days, Pinnacle offered 24-hour support. "It wasn't a 24 x 7 help desk, but our customers could reach us at any time by phone," explains Ward. Today, Pinnacle offers a centralized 24 x 7 help desk for all of its locations. The help desk is manned by trained support staff. Ward says he doesn't know of many VARs who offer round-the-clock help desk support. "The majority of our requests for service, about 90%, are resolved over the phone," says Ward.
Trained staff - Pinnacle's support employees only work in one facet of the company. "We have installers who only do installations and service technicians who only do field service," explains Ward. Installations and service are handled out of Pinnacle's regional offices, eliminating the need to fly employees from site to site.
Pinnacle also offers training at three of its locations. These sites are used to train employees for new restaurants still under construction. Like the installers and service technicians, the trainers only do training. "We offer our customers the advantage of working with a local office and local service and support employees who get to know their business," says Ward.
Spare program - Another service that Ward says sets Pinnacle apart is its Pinnacle spare program. "Years ago, we began offering one spare printer to each of our customers under a warranty or a service plan," says Ward. He says offering this type of service is important in the hospitality market. "On a Friday night at 10 p.m., if a kitchen printer fails, the restaurant owner or manager can swap it with the on-site spare," says Ward.
- Out-of-warranty hardware repair - Pinnacle also does computerboard-level repairs on POS hardware, such as touch screens and receipt printers, that is no longer covered by a manufacturer's warranty. According to Ward, not many VARs are willing to offer this service. "We have technicians on staff trained to do these kind of repairs," says Ward. He adds that this enables Pinnacle to turn equipment around much more quickly.
Customizing Interfaces To Offer A Complete Solution
Customizing interfaces has also set Pinnacle apart from its competition, says Ward. "We have attracted chain restaurants due to our ability to customize software," he says.
Pinnacle has developed interfaces to several popular accounting packages, including Peachtree and Great Plains. Ward says this enables Pinnacle to offer a more complete POS solution. "We tie the POS software (PosiTouch) to our customers' accounting and payroll service, such as ADP," he explains. The result is a solution that includes POS, inventory control, time and attendance and accounting.
VARs Must Offer Value To Stay Ahead
With shrinking hardware margins, it's becoming increasingly important for VARs to concentrate on the service aspect of their business, says Ward. "Resellers won't stay in business without the value-add of service," he says. Ward sees his customers buying their own hardware from distributors or over the Internet. "These customers don't realize the importance of service until the equipment they've purchased is two or three years old," notes Ward. "They may have saved money up front, but these customers will pay more for service or replacement hardware."
What Does The Future Hold?
Ward says Pinnacle has no plans to move into other markets, such as retail or grocery. "We are expanding into hotel/property management with POS," says Ward. Pinnacle continues to offer a turnkey POS solution with full service and support. Ideal customers for Pinnacle are independent and chain restaurants which don't want to have an information system department. "We are not the VAR for customers who want to put together a POS system piecemeal," says Ward.