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The Curious Connection between Waffle House and your MES Vendor

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Waffle House has turned its commitment to customers into an enduring brand. What commitment has your MES supplier made to you?

Have you heard of the Waffle House Index? It’s a metric used by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to track the severity of a storm… and a metric that can give you key insight into the level of service your MES supplier provides.

Waffle House offers quality American breakfast food all day long, every day, and the company prides itself on serving customers no matter the weather. This has become a hallmark of the Waffle House brand – the website even promises “Each restaurant is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and quality is constant location to location.”

On May 22, 2011, a tornado struck Joplin, Missouri. The storm was rated an EF5, with 158 deaths and more than 1,000 injured. EF, which stands for Enhanced Fujita, rates the estimated wind speed and storm damage, and an EF5 represents the worst storm damage possible. With winds estimated at more than 200 miles per hour (320 kilometers per hour), buildings can be decimated in seconds. In Joplin, the 2 Waffle Houses stayed open during the storm, and continued serving food – tasty waffles and delicious southern cooking – throughout the storm and recovery. As FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate explained to the Wall Street Journal, “If you get there (to a disaster area) and the Waffle House is closed? That’s really bad. That’s where you go to work.”

Following the Joplin storm, FEMA added the Waffle House index to its disaster dashboard. With the index, FEMA tracks Waffle Houses open in the area of storm damage. Where a Waffle House is closed, FEMA prioritizes the area for disaster recovery service.

Can you imagine the branding power available to a business so reliable emergency authorities use it to track disaster response? The Waffle House commitment to the customer can be summed up simply – “The Lights Are Always on at Waffle House.” While it may be a fantastic boon to marketing, it also represents a business with tight business processes and an effective planning model. Storms aren’t predictable. They build quickly and strike even faster. When considering effective disaster recovery, you need to be prepared for everything and anything, and have a plan in place to respond to a situation accurately and efficiently, to ensure reliable service in the most difficult situations.

Waffles and your MES

Which led me to the thought – how will a software supplier index you when it comes time for a service call? Where do you rate on their list of priorities? Do they have a “customer” index, or even a plan for serving their customers in a disaster like Waffle House does? Most manufacturing software suppliers offer a yearly “service plan” to customers, but what does this mean? Are those suppliers making a commitment to you and your business?

You see, at CIMx, our goal with our service plan is to deliver effective solutions and service to our customers as quickly as possible, with minimal (or even no) service disruption and no unnecessary service costs. Get effective software expertise when and where it needs to be. This starts with our Application Engineers. Every one of our customers has an engineer dedicated to their account. The engineer is the project leader for the software implementation, and conducts all training and service for the customer. Supporting the Application Engineer, we have plans in place designed to deliver scalable support when and where our customers need it.

With the Application Engineer, we’ve eliminated the “middle man” – those horrible call centers and help desks that normally handle customer calls – to ensure our customers speak directly to the person best positioned to answer customer questions and lead the response. For the Application Engineer, the customer is the highest priority. It’s a standard level of service for CIMx, and it’s become our “the light’s always on” commitment to our customers. For our customers, the Application Engineer is a trusted partner ready at a moment’s notice to work with them to get their production up and running as quickly as possible, no matter what the problem is (because it is a point of pride here at CIMx that our software is, first and foremost, stable and adaptable, and NEVER prone to failure).

A Commitment to Customer-Centric Paperless Manufacturing

Most importantly, we’ve seen first-hand the positive impact our customer support plans have. I recently had a conversation with a customer upgrading our software at multiple sites. Most customers can do this on their own, but when the customer upgrades through several versions or has multiple platforms to support, as this customer was potentially doing at the sites, they often ask for advisory help (which brings up the point – does your MES supplier allow you to upgrade without a service contract or the vendor’s help?) We were writing a contract for the engineering services and had applied the standard response time to the proposal, when the customer told me our response time was “faster than I need on this project.” I was floored. We respond more quickly than he needed?

For me, this was verification our processes and planning were paying off. We provided a level of service that was more than was necessary, which I should think is rare among manufacturing software suppliers. So, I’m curious, what level of service do you receive from your vendors? What is their commitment to you once you’ve purchased the software? Is it enough? Do you have a plan in place for when the unexpected happens? What are your support dollars doing for you?

Where does your software supplier fit in the Waffle House index?