Engage customers in a learning and sharing dialogue by embracing systems and networks in your dealership.

A long time ago, when I was first starting in this industry, I was excited and surprised to learn how little was known or understood about computers or computer systems. I had an advantage: I had just come out of university and had all the knowledge about computers that a minor in computer science obtains. You know, unit record equipment and punch cards. As antiquated as that sounds now, I confess I am feeling today the way management did back in 1969. The world has changed. It has really changed. And I have a lot to learn.

A couple of months ago my daughter yanked me screaming and kicking into the 21st Century by getting me on Twitter and into a blog. Imagine the vocabulary I have to learn, and the learning curve is rather steep at times. It’s all second nature for Caroline, and she seemed amused that her father didn’t know as much as she did and that gave her the same comfort I had at the dealership in 1969.

For some time now, I have advocated that each dealership launch a “Voice of the Customer” program one week of every month. Everyone in the dealership, yes everyone who talks to customers or suppliers, ask a question – the same question – and records the response. At the end of each day or at the end of the week, the responses are organized and grouped together. Some of the people who gave their opinion are then called and asked to rank the top 10 answers. Then this list needs to be reviewed by management. This is the “Customer” portion of the Balanced Scorecard you have heard about from me for some time – the needs and wants of the customer are identified. This leads you to determine what “Internal Excellence” is required to satisfy this need.

Now let’s return to the current tools available to us. Imagine the opportunity you have to communicate to your customers through various networks such as LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Foursquare. Or you can use Twitter to communicate and a Blog to have an e-discussion. (I don’t mean to exclude Facebook – for some of you that will be a good vehicle.) I am beginning to understand how much these tools are changing the world of customer service and marketing.

So here we are today. @RonSlee is my Twitter name. You can send me tweets or follow me at that name. The major item is our blog – learningwithoutscars.com. We will be posting to the blog on a daily basis a point of interest for anyone in the industry. I am trying to drive a forum for debate and discussion on issues of the day. Sometimes there will be several subject-specific pages; sometimes it will be me ranting. But there should be something there for all of you to provide a comment or two. I believe that this vehicle could lead us to a higher level of performance for everyone in the industry.

Going back a few decades, one of the advantages to being a dealer was the information barrier to entry for competitors. You had the information from your manufacturers and your competitors did not. It was that simple. And he who has the information is truly creating a barrier of control. Competition was limited in what information they had available, and as a result they were not quite as capable as the “authorized” dealer. Today, information is much more broadly available. The Internet has smashed the information barrier. The barrier to entry for your competition is much lower now.

Although many of you will view this as a threat, I think this is a huge opportunity for dealers. We can once and for all be recognized for what we do that provides value to the customer. Don’t forget, we are the only ones in the marketplace who have total responsibility for all the parts and all the service for your brands. But it also presents a challenge.

It means that we have to be much better at what we do to continue to stay ahead. Our customers are going to be passing judgment as to whether or not we provide value. And the results might not be very flattering. There is another truth out: As the years pass, more and more of the equipment in the field is equipped with GPS. This leads to the ability to calculate market potential, and with that we can calculate market share. I look forward to actual factual determination of market share for parts and service.

The new tools will help us communicate to our customers and hopefully develop better customer relations and systems tools to provide the highest value service in product support. The time is now.

by Ron Slee
April, 2012
CED Magazine

About CED Magazine

Construction Equipment Distribution is published by Associated Equipment Distributors, a nonprofit trade association founded in 1919, whose membership is primarily comprised of the leading equipment dealerships and rental companies in the U.S. and Canada.

With CED, content is king. No fluff, no advertorials – CED just gives AED members what they want to read: business information, industry and association news, plus fresh, original and useful feature articles that they share with their management teams. Our subjects range from rental, product support, sales strategy and customer service to technology, construction markets and legislation – and much more.