Paul ToukatlyWe used to receive a service call, visit the foodservice operator's location to fix the equipment and get paid. Sure, you got to know your customers but you were not as involved with them or the supply chain as we are today.

In my opinion, three developments have significantly impacted our business: how dealers and reps sell equipment today, the roll of chains in the marketplace and the increasing complexity of equipment.

Because of the way the dealer and rep relationship has changed our involvement is different. For example, when I first started most service agents probably did not know many factory reps and we certainly did not know what they did. Now we go out with them and talk with customers before equipment gets specified. This means service agents have to know more about equipment specifications, including utilities, to make sure you know what will work in a customer's location. As a result, service agents are more involved in the infancy of large jobs more than ever before.

Now when factories rollout new equipment to chains, service agents do more than install the equipment. We also help train staff and report back to manufacturers, providing an update on the rollout. In addition, today it is very common for the manufacturer to negotiate planned maintenance as part of the rollout and we handle that for them. In the past, planned maintenance was handled by individual locations, not on a national basis. As a result, we are now invited to attend chains' regional meetings to explain training to them, what to do with equipment and more — something service agents were never asked to do before.

And today's foodservice equipment can do more than ever before and includes electronic components that help make complex tasks simpler for culinary staff. It used to be that anyone who was good with their hands could do the job but that's no longer the case. Today's technicians have to be even more educated than before and be able to look at equipment and not be afraid of the circuitry that is in there.

The technology that's available to us now in the form of smart phones, tablets and more is what will enable service agents to make the next jump forward. Our techs are in close contact with the factories and our office, which speeds up the service and repair process. I would not be surprised if we got to a day where a tech will be able to plug their smart phone into a piece of equipment to access a diagnostic report that details what needs attention, much like when you have your car serviced. For these reasons and more, service agents will need to remain nimble to be able to go where the technology takes us.

One thing has not changed, though. You have to know the people you are dealing with and have the boots on the ground to deal with issues when they arise. It is really about the small things. It is not about the big things.