The big debate: How important are first-time fix rates?

Serviceline engineer

We live in a society that no longer tolerates having to wait for things but if there is one place where impatience is justified it is in a hot, busy kitchen when an item of equipment packs up. Chefs want the kit fixed, and they want it fixed immediately. FEJ explores the holy grail of the first-time fix and asks how much it really matters.

A failed piece of kit can bring a foodservice business to its knees, and its profits with it. So when a piece of kitchen equipment goes down or stops working properly, operators understandably want it up and running again as quickly as possible. The first-time fix rate of service providers has therefore become an important barometer for end-users looking at which partner is best suited to getting them out of any spots of bother that might arise when they least need it.

In theory, a high stated first-time fix rate (one that is typically around 90% or upwards) suggests to most operators that a company possesses the necessary experience to identify the issue in the first place, the expertise to know how to correct it and the resources — namely stock to hand — to carry out the surgery without having to go anywhere first.

While the perception of what constitutes a ‘first-time fix’ is generally exactly as it sounds — a service provider resolving the problem on his first visit to a site so that he doesn’t need to return — there are some grey areas that tend to cloud the topic.

“From our experience of the industry, first-time fix means different things to different service providers and is something that varies dramatically depending on the provider,” says Neill Pearson, service director at Jestic Foodservice Equipment, parent company of Jestic Technical Services, which sets itself a target of a 90% first-time fix result.

“We know of examples of other service providers basing their first-time fix results on their ability to get an appliance up and running again, even if it is only on a temporary basis while they wait for the correct part or component. Although this does reduce downtime in the short term, it means further inconvenience for the customer when an engineer is required to revisit a kitchen. In certain circumstances, when requested by the customer, when safe to do so and when not contravening any regulations, we may provide a temporary fix to ensure the appliance is working, however this would not be common practice as we would always aim for a complete first-time fix.”

SERVICELINE ENGINEER chef combi logo 2250Darren Edwards, service manager at microwave and cooking equipment repair firm Marren, concurs. He says: “We believe that there may be different definitions of a first-time fix between service providers, in our case we could carry out a temporary repair on a machine to get the customer up and running but we may have to return with parts, so this would not be classed as a first-time fix in our eyes but could be in other organisations.”

Graham Skinner, sales director at nationwide kitchen maintenance firm Serviceline, argues that there is no common definition of what constitutes a ‘fix’. “What operators generally want is to get the equipment up and running and safe to use — ‘left working’ is often considered industry parlance, even if it still requires some new parts to be fitted at a later date to ensure reliability over the longer term,” he says.

The chances of a service provider achieving a first-time fix are also influenced by other factors not entirely within their control. Some customer IT systems measure it differently to enable them to put cost control limits in place and this is where alternative definitions may arise to meet the customer’s requirements. “One of the problems is the customers wanting any repair quoted first, therefore you are prevented from achieving a first-fix due to cost control,” notes Peter Baulch, service manager at Gratte Brothers Catering Equipment.

First-time fix means different things to different service providers and is something that varies dramatically depending on the provider”

A service provider’s ability to achieve an above-average first-time fix rate will come down to numerous factors: their understanding of the equipment type, the extent to which manufacturer training has taken place, the experience of the engineer, and the strategic choice of which parts to carry on vans to name just a few.

Some service providers offering refrigeration and kitchen equipment maintenance and breakdown support to large national chains and public sector caterers deliberately tailor their van stocks and engineer training to suit the equipment portfolio of key account customers. The strength of the relationship of the customer also plays a part in this and, if it is supported by a quality service management system that provides a detailed history of the equipment and site, companies can prioritise their van stock accordingly.

However, as Chris Craggs, managing director at Maidenhead-based McFarlane Telfer points out: “You simply cannot overlook that parts may be required and with the best will in the world you cannot hope to carry every conceivable spare part on your van. And even if we could, ‘end user’ clients need to be consulted before a purchase order can be raised, often slowing down the process. Interestingly, one major OEM has, in the recent past, removed significant stocks from their own vans — a clear indication it’s not really as important as made out.”

Kevin Davis, managing director of Birmingham-based Professional Kitchen Service (PKS), and the new chairman of industry trade body CEDA, considers first-time fix rates an issue that foodservice operators need to take seriously.

He thinks it shines a bright light on just how proficient a service provider is. “It is a very important barometer,” he says. “It measures the engineer’s knowledge and the correct level of spares held on a vehicle if parts are required for the repair. These are the two main variables that the service provider can influence to really impact on the first-time fix rate.”

Jestic Technical Services van -MidSpeed to site and overall reliability count for just as much as a high first-time fix rate, according to Mark Reid, MD at Hull-based Nationwide Catering Engineers, but he admits it is a measurement of its performance that it pays close attention to.

“Achieving a first-time fix saves time and money for our customers and makes our business more efficient. We are extremely statistical and analytical at Nationwide and it’s of paramount importance to understand how we are performing on a daily basis. This is how we continuously improve our service levels.”

First-time fix rates are a good benchmark, but in the long run an operator needs to ensure its service provider has sustainable systems capable of maintaining these fix rates, according to Darryl Pannell, commercial director at Dunstable-based Advance Group.

“For example, we achieved the ISO 9001:2015 certification around Quality Management back in March, which saw our bespoke service platform and processes rigorously tested by an external moderator. We take quality and efficiency seriously and this can be seen through our long relationships with some of the leading operators.”

Most service providers agree that a high first-time fix rate isn’t achievable without considerable investment on their part. Some believe it would help if there was more recognition of this at user level. “There should be great emphasis put on first-time fix rate, however there is also a cost that comes with this,” says Baulch at Gratte Brothers. “To achieve a high first-fix the engineer needs to carry parts that will allow this to happen, this will incur a large investment in stock which companies are reluctant to do. Customers do not want to pay higher contract costs; they want to see cost being reduced.”

One major OEM has, in the recent past, removed significant stocks from their own vans — a clear indication it’s not really as important as made out”

There are things that operators themselves can do to increase the chances of a first-time fix, particularly if they run large estates and have an agreement with one provider that covers multiple sites. “We do advise our customers to practice consistency in their chosen make of equipment when purchasing — ideally to be repetitive in their choice of combi ovens, dishwashing and prime cooking, which will assist in first-time fix and help to minimise cost,” says Serviceline’s Skinner.

Chris Craggs at McFarlane Telfer suggests that operators committing to holding key parts on-site and embracing planned preventative maintenance (PPM) strategies would also positively impact the chances of a service provider achieving a first-time fix.

With regards to holding parts for their equipment on site, he says operators would need to discuss and agree the terms with their service provider; such that when they change provider, they keep the stock — and when they change kit they bin the parts — rather than the provider being left with an item they don’t need. “Parts suppliers are also now far better placed to deliver virtually all parts required within 24 hours, rendering the need for contractors and indeed customers to carry independent stock less necessary. There are of course exceptions, in terms of certain manufacturers and obsolete models.”

And in terms of PPM, Craggs notes that if you look after the equipment, it is a simple fact that it breaks down less: “If you’re checking over stuff and reporting on condition, you can catch issues before they hit.”

Myriad factors determine the ability of an engineer to fix a kitchen problem at the first attempt, but the good news for operators is that service providers are coming up with robust methods to ensure that the high fix rates they aspire to are maintained. In return, operators can continue doing what they do best — running their businesses.

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