Our service writers are trained to quickly determine if the call will take 5 minutes or less. If the call will likely be less than 5 minutes, the service writer provides the information or immediately passes the call to the shop foreman to gather the information and relay it to the customer. If the call is likely to take more than 5 minutes, we politely explain that all personnel who are capable of answering the questions are currently working on other customers’ equipment and will break between 11:00 and noon, then again from 3:00-4:00 to return calls. 

In addition, our business system allows us to take a quick look at the customer’s purchase history and make an immediate decision on whether to stay with our procedure as planned, or drop everything and put a technician on the phone to take care of that customer immediately. 

We currently are not charging customers for brief (5 minutes or less) technical advice or schematics. If the process gets more involved, then the service manager decides on a case by case basis on what to charge for the advice or diagrams.” 

— Zach Marsh, Middletown Tractor, Fairmont, W.Va.

We will try and determine in a few short seconds whether the customer is competent enough to do a repair (in most cases they are not). We will then advise them that the repair they are trying to do, if not done properly, could cause more problems and additional expense when they do bring it to the shop. We encourage the customer to bring it in. The conversation should be completed within a minute.”

— J.W. Walker, New Virginia Tractor, Manassas, Va.

We do our best to help our customers over the phone with whatever we can. If it is something too complicated to diagnose, we suggest they let one of our techs come out or bring it in to the shop. If it is not, we give them the best advice and instruction we can. If it is something we would do for a friend, we should probably do it for a customer. That is the kind of service that our business is built on. There is no doubt that we have created a monster in this regard. It often makes it difficult enough on our service manager that we have thought about creating a special position just to help customers on the phone. However, we will not sacrifice customer service and risk losing customers over a phone call.” 

— Shawn Skaggs, Livingston Machinery Co., Chickasha, Okla.

We had the problem with customers frequently calling looking for information — sometimes to repair their own equipment and sometimes legitimately needing support on GPS equipment, etc. This took up valuable time from our service managers. A couple of years ago, we implemented a customer support center and encouraged our customers to call this number instead. Receptionists have also been trained to screen calls and if they are simply technical in nature, they can transfer the call to the customer support center as well. The center is staffed with individuals who have either previously been technicians or service managers, so their technical abilities are high. 

“We also make this number available to our sales staff and our technicians so they can call in when they are on the road and need just a little more support. We don’t charge for this service at this point, but it is quite expensive to operate so we’ll have to evaluate that again in the future. The customer support agents are also trained to determine if a customer is ‘over their head’ in the repair, and quickly direct the work back to our shops if they deem it necessary. It has actually helped reduce peak demand on our service departments and has been a benefit overall.” 

— Sheldon Gellner, Cervus Equipment, Calgary, Alberta

We will troubleshoot, make sure it’s something simple they can do themselves — did you check this or check that? But we won’t walk them through a repair. And then there’s the point where you say, ‘I’m going to have to send someone out there or you’ll have to bring it in.’” 

— Patricia Ericksen, Miller Sellner, Sleepy Eye, Minn.

We have found that customers’ first action is to call the dealership. Their second action is their owner’s manual, which is often just as close as their cell phone. We have tried to ‘pre-qualify’ the calls by having the service writer, who takes all the service calls, ask more questions initially. We then take a message and have a service tech return the call. This has helped lower the amount of calls, as customers are starting to use their manuals because their own time is more valuable than waiting for us to call. We’ve turned the tables to some degree. They don’t have time to wait for an answer, but we should have all the time in the world to pull away from a paying service job to answer a question for free. We have a standard of returning those calls at the convenience of the service tech. When that service tech gets to a stopping point, they can return the call.

“We also make sure they have purchased the parts from us. When they do, we give them as many specs as we can at the time they purchase the parts. Then when they call in because they have further questions/concerns, we can give them some of our time, again at our convenience. Then, we offer them the opportunity for us to come out on a service call, thus reminding them we are available to assist them for a fee.”

— Mitch Merz, Merz Farm Equipment, Falls City, Neb.

This is an on-going problem for us and at this point we don’t charge, but we are thinking we need to implement some type of program. We would not charge our good customer as we would do most of their work anyway. The people who call for the most information are people we do very little work for, so we are thinking of going to a prorated shop labor rate for consultation with a non-regular customer with a minimum of $25 for the first time and increase after that.” 

— John Smith, Kuhns Equipment, Gibson City, Ill.

This is a big thing that usually takes up a lot of time for my employees and sometimes for techs. We are customer service driven and we have a grocery store, fence department and landscaping department, so we need to be careful about how we handle those requests for fear that we could lose a customer from any of our departments. Our first step is always to listen to the customers. Then, we’ll remind them that diagnosing over the phone is like calling up your doctor and asking them why you are sick. We always tell the customer that it’s best to let qualified, professionally trained service personnel handle the task to expedite the repair, because more times than not, there is a bigger reason for the failure than the failure itself. We then will give them a few things to look for but tell them to check everything on their way to that point. When it comes to electrical, we tell them that anything related to that field is the hardest to figure out and we offer no returns on electrical equipment.”

— Joe Conte, Adams Power Equipment, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

We have battled this for years. In cases where the customer does purchase his wholegoods and parts from us, we will generally provide assistance without charging so long as it is not too frequent or too involved. For customers who do not fit these criteria, we are much more stingy about giving free advice and often suggest that we should send a trained technician to assist in performing the job. We will provide guidance for a fee if requested.” 

— Brian Carpenter, Champlain Valley Equipment, Middlebury, Vt.

Having been in this industry for some 35 years, I wish I had the spot-on answer to eliminate this time consuming frustration. You can’t just be rude! 

“Is the individual working on his own equipment or is someone else making a buck on it and taking business from you? This is a fine line. Upset the do-it-yourselfer and you may lose any future service, parts or sales business. Most of these folks truly appreciate the phone help and in a lot of cases they’ll bring their equipment in if they feel a repair is over their head. Also, depending on what the question is, you can give them just enough information to convince them it ‘needs’ to come in … we are sales people, afterall. 

“As for the guy trying to make a buck, if the question is easily known off the top of your head, then don’t be that person … Give him the answer. When the second call comes in from the same person for the same equipment … let your conscience be your guide. Tell them you don’t know the answer off the top of your head, get their number and explain you’re helping your customers at hand and you’ll get back to them. Most of the time they’ll burn the phone up calling the countryside and never call you back. If they do call back, repeat or offer to transfer them to your parts department to purchase a manual.

“The bottom line is we’re in business to make money, pay our bills and have a little fun along the way. Common sense and good judgment goes a long way.”

— Steve Irey, Lansdowne-Moody Tractor & Equipment, Houston, Texas

Customers calling for service advice is a necessary evil. You hope you end up with at least the parts business on their repairs. I feel it is necessary to keep the customers happy, so they don’t regret buying a piece of machinery you sell. You don’t want them sour on your particular brand.” 

— Ken Jordan, Sundown Equipment, Bevington, Iowa

As equipment becomes more technical, dealerships have to be more careful about the info (technical information) they distribute. Sometimes it can become a safety issue. We give general information that is easily understood. We try to talk them into letting us come to their farm or bring their equipment to the store to handle technical problems because one adjustment could endanger another area of the machine. We try to be customer friendly and not insult them or talk down to them in the process. We let them know we spend a lot of money sending techs to special factory training.”

— Randy Elium, James River Equipment, Ashland, Va.

We are all about customer satisfaction, so if one of our customers’ needs repair specs or minor information, our service managers will look up that information. We will not diagnose a problem over the phone because that can create more problems. We will let a customer talk with a technician for minor questions, but if they need detailed repair information we try to get them to let us perform the repairs. Our service managers remind the technicians that they need to limit the calls to 5 minutes or less. We will also let a customer come into the dealership and look at our repair manual.

“We know that we cannot service every piece of equipment that every farmer owns, so we try to get any part of the business we can. We hope they will at least buy their parts from us. That gives us the to opportunity to sell them the next piece of equipment that they need.” 

— Mike Smith, Smith Implements, Greensburg, Ind.

I usually will help them out as long as the work they are doing is something that they can handle. I always figure if I help them with a smaller problem on the phone, they are more likely to bring a bigger problem into our service department later.” 

— Dave Vanek Jr., Billings Farmhand Inc., Billings, Mont.

Non-customers calling our service department wanting free advice on ‘how to fix’ their own equipment is a tremendous time waster. If the caller is our customer who’s equipment is down in the field during season, I don’t have a problem with our service management team trying to solve an issue over the phone — within a reasonable amount of time. What drives me nuts are non-customers calling about an old 8N or NAA Ford tractor or an old Cub Cadet mower they bought used and are now asking our service management team to provide them with specs or ‘how to’ information. We spend thousands of dollars every year training our service team so that they have the knowledge required to make timely repairs to the equipment we sell, and telling someone what the torque specs or spark plug gap is on an 8N Ford tractor is not what we train for and it certainly does not help pay my overhead.

“I am tempted to call a local car dealership and ask for the service manager and if by chance I am allowed to talk to him/her, I will tell them I recently bought a 1956 Thunderbird and I am overhauling the engine in my garage and I need torque specs for the engine head assembly. This would probably provide me with some good responses I could use to train my service management team on how not to waste time giving out free advice. I can’t imagine any car dealership in our city that would allow me to waste the service manager’s or technician’s time, and I can’t imagine too many people calling a car dealership and asking for free advice. When it comes to equipment dealerships, people’s perception is that we are here to keep ancient equipment running by providing a wealth of free advice.

“I have tried everything I can think of to get my service management team to stop giving free repair advice — except in the case of our customers (and in the case of customers, keep the call brief) — all to no avail. I have come to the conclusion that the only way to prevent these calls is to screen them before they get to service.”

— Mike McCrate, Tulsa New Holland Inc., Tulsa, Okla.

Service is king and remains our main focus above anything else. Service, service, service are our three rules. Service comes in many ways and forms. Service starts with answering the phone a certain way. If our customer needs help fixing something themselves and we can walk them through it on the phone, we do our best to help. Even if it’s stopping a mechanic to come and talk on the phone to help the customer out. People who call us come back to us when they can’t fix someting themselves. We believe being the best dealership starts with being over and above in service than everyone else.” 

— Tom Barnet, Franklin Equipment, Groveport, Ohio

We are probably too ‘free’ with our advice and information to customers over the phone. However, our dealership is in an area of the world where fewer and fewer people work on their own equipment so we don’t lose the large repairs. It seems like there are pockets of the state that farmers still work on their own equipment and perform large repairs on combines and tractors. If we were in that area, we would probably see more work lost due to our free advice. So we continue to be as helpful as possible to our customers in hopes they will return the favor and remember who helped them when they needed it the most.” 

— Nathan Gannaway, Birkey’s Farm Store Inc., Oakland, Ill.

We will assist customers and answer their questions, but we do not stop what we are doing to answer the question. The majority of the time we call them back at our convenience and the customer understands our situation. We have found over the years that the customer will cause more damage trying to do repairs himself, thus we will make more money in the long run. We never loan or rent any tool to any type of customer farmer or ‘shade tree mechanic.’” 

— Brian Potter, Quality Machinery Center, Tulare, Calif.

It all depends on the customer. If things are busy and the caller is a known customer who deals with us on a regular basis, I will provide as much information and help as possible to try and keep the customer going. I believe this is good customer service and most customers appreciate the help during the busy season and understand we can’t be everywhere all the time. 

“If it is an unknown customer, more information is needed. I attempt to find out where they are and what type of equipment they have and where they have been dealing in the past. I offer some basic information to satisfy them, but also try instill trust that we know what we are doing and have knowledgeable staff. This usually helps to build a relationship that may eventually lead to equipment sales and service sales. Sometimes the customer is attempting to fix their own equipment due to a bad experience with another dealer. With backyard technicians, we will give some information but make sure we get the parts sales to repair the equipment. Most of the time, that type of customer is not likely to come to the dealership.” 

— Tom Snyder, Jr., Oneida Truck and Trailer, Caledonia, Ontario

We take their calls and help them. This usually leads to us selling parts and very often, convincing them to bring the machine in. On rare occasions, we charge for consultation time.” 

— Randy Sparks, Hurst Farm Supply, Lorenzo, Texas

We usually don’t have too big of a problem with this. If a call comes in on a new piece of equipment that was just sold, we will try to work through it in a short phone call. Also, if the customer is a few hours away, we will try to be more helpful on the phone. I tell the technician that when they are helping a customer on the phone, if they can’t get them through it in 15 minutes, it probably isn’t going to get done over the phone and we either have to go out to the unit or have them bring it in. For phone calls we have had that are longer than 15 minutes, the customer is billed our regular shop rate for the information.” 

— Paul Schaeffer, Mettler Implement, Menno, S.D.

The calls are considered a part of doing business. If they start to take up too much time, you can say no.” 

— Chuck Johnson, Pelican Tractor, Klamath Falls, Ore.

We try to be very tactful when taking those calls. If it’s a good, loyal customer with just a spec question and it is a product we carry, we do give them the help we can over the phone. If it’s what we call the ‘shade tree mechanic,’ the so-called mechanic down the road fixing someone’s equipment or the person trying to do his own, wanting all kinds of detailed information, we tell them to bring it in and we will repair it for them. It is sort of a fine-line judgment call.”

— Denny Baumann, Swiderski Equipment, Mosinee, Wis.

We are apt to help a customer who bought the unit from us, but are reluctant to give any valuable advice to someone who bought the equipment elsewhere.” 

— Don McNulty, Peru Farm Center, Peru, N.Y.

We will try and determine in a few short seconds whether the customer is competent enough to do a repair (in most cases they are not). We will then advise them that the repair they are trying to do, if not done properly, could cause more problems and additional expense when they do bring it to the shop. We encourage the customer to bring it in. The conversation should be completed within a minute.”

— J.W. Walker, New Virginia Tractor, Manassas, Va.

We have found we are perhaps too sensitive sometimes when a customer calls and asks if he can visit with a tech our service manager and will try to take the call if the customer will explain what he needs to us. We are finding we can schedule a tech for a service call to verify the real situation with the equipment and what the real need of the customer is. This has happened more than we expected. The customer will pay for help if you can get the tech he wants to him right away. 

“We are as guilty as any dealership. If a customer calls and the service department is really busy, we try to tell the customer how to fix his own machinery assuming that we may not be able to meet his time expectation so we act like we would to coach him in completing his own repairs. So again, we are not asking if next week can work. We think about meeting the customer’s real expectation when he made the call to us. The smart choice would be to always assume when they call that they need our help and they are willing to pay for it. 

“If a customer shows up at the dealership and asks if he can talk to a tech, we try to not let this happen, but too often we cave in and give the customer exactly what we think he wants. The tech perhaps is the best one to say, ‘Wait a minute here, I’m working on Joe’s tractor and it isn’t right that I’m talking to you for free and he is paying me. Let me punch off the clock and I’ll give you 5 minuets this time, no charge, if you don’t make a habit of this. If you need more time, we’ll make a work order. Maybe the best thing to do is for you to bring the machine in, then I can talk to you about the problem while we check it out. By the way, we have an electrical diagnosis check. It should nail down your problem. It only costs $150 dollars. That’s better than putting up with your frustration.’ The tech they trust could do this better than anyone.” 

— Robert Buttars, Buttars Tractor, Tremonton, Utah

We give free advice to a point. If the customer deals with us in any way, we generally give free advice. We have thought about charging for it, but have not at this point. Customers generally will come and purchase parts if they ask for advice, but obviously not always.” 

— Andy Svetec, Bob Mark New Holland, Lindsay, Ontario

When we get these calls, we offer free information to the customer. When they don’t succeed in repairing the equipment themselves, they will bring their equipment into our shop to have it repaired.” 

— Henry George, Parkland Farm Equipment, Stony Plain, Ala.

I field most of the service related calls in order to control my service people. I mean, my people are generally working on clocked-in jobs. Even my service manager is generally tied up. If it is a problem on our new retailed units, I let service handle it. However, I try to control junk calls. I do wish there was a way to get paid for the information we give out. I just have not figured it out yet.”

— Glen Seden, Sweeden Inc., Murfreesboro, Ark.

If we are covered up and it is something small, I don’t mind as much. But you have those people who come in on everything. They take up our mechanics time, so they get billed. We have spent money and training on these mechanics. The mechanics have finally realized that it was taking money out of their pockets and they were upset at first, but decided they either needed to do the work or charge for the services.” 

— Chris Timms, Ray Lee Equipment, Muleshoe, Texas

Customers who call for free advice can be trained, the trick is to be kind and courteous and give as little information as possible while soliciting the customer’s business. Sometimes there is value in sharing some information while helping the customer understand the value you can be if allowed to be more hands-on. There are some farms in today’s markets that are going to do the major part of their own work, but will buy parts and wholegoods from you. Be patient with this customer and as the work becomes more technical, more of it will come to you. Remember that there is a payday, just not always today. The customer who shops the world and is loyal to no one, I would offer service to, but would not share information due to the liability involved if misused and or misunderstood. Know your customers. We do sell technicians’ time on the phone and have customers who understand the value and are willing to pay for it.” 

— Max Smith, Washington Tractor, Lynden, Wash.

We do not support these requests other than on serial numbers, years, etc. If customers have a question, we share possibilities with them and then suggest we send out a technician or schedule it to be brought in for further inspection.” 

— Don Van Houweling, Van Wall Equipment, Perry, Iowa

We will try to help a little. If it is a simple fix, we help and hope they come to us for the parts. But, that said, if it gets into technical issues or warranty issues, we tell them they need to bring it in. We cannot fix it over the phone.” 

— Jerry Beretz, Lay of the Land Inc., Concord, N.C.

This is a real problem at our dealership. An automobile shop foreman listens to the problem and states he will fix it at a certain time. The customer replies, ‘I just want to know what to fix.’ Reply, ‘I put biscuits on the table by fixing you car and will fix it at a certain time.’

“I have always thought there will be a time when customers will be billed for information, especially with the increasingly technical repairs that are required. How do you bill or tell the customer without making them mad? Our shop foreman gives away several hours a day to the phone.”

— Name withheld by request

Other dealers can look at me funny if they want, but I help customers over the phone. They appreciate the savings and remember you when the repair is bigger than their ability. We have sold many tractors to customers referred to us from some neighbor who dealt with us on repairs over the phone. They come to trust our dealership as one that is not a money grab. I would say we get several hundred calls a year like ‘My tractor won’t start’ and we talk the majority of them through the limit and safety switches and most of the time it resolves the starting problem. If the tractor customer is requesting engine specs, we offer to sell them a book or suggest the tractor come into the dealership.” 

— Allen Berry, ACM Tractor Sales, San Marchos, Texas

We usually handle ‘free information’ calls in one or two quick phone calls (less than 5 minutes). A good customer might get a little more of our time. Once the time exceeds 10-12 minutes, we make a service ticket and bill the customer for the time talking and researching.” 

— Mark Friedrichs, Hawke & Company Ag, Alton, Iowa

This has always been a issue and something we have struggled with for years. No matter how good your service is, there are always people who think they can do it better or cheaper. We have noticed over the years that most customers do not have the expertise to complete the task, the proper tools or the time. Many of the ones who try fail and end up using the dealership anyway and now have to pay more because they have done something improperly. We do give advice and allow our techs to talk to the customer and we try and use that time to help the customer understand he should bring it to us and let us do it. The few that insist on doing it themselves do start to use up the tech’s time and interfere with his efficiency. This is when the CSR or service manager is brought back in, sometimes telling the customer we will need to charge him for the information, or once again try and get the customer to bring the machine in or let us go to him and complete the repair. Most of the time this does turn into an opportunity for revenue and not just a waste of time for the service department. Each situation is different and a standard policy is hard to write up if you are trying to make life easier for your customer.

“Over the last few years of a great ag economy most of our customer have upgraded into newer machines. Newer machines are harder to work on with all the technology that is involved and all the special tools that are needed.”

— Cody Behrend, Stotz Equipment, Nephi, Utah

The service issue is hard to define. Many of the pieces of farm machinery that we sell are very large and difficult to transport, and potentially very expensive to transport. We do offer road service, but some times that service is not available, or all of our trucks/technicians are already out on other service calls. In the interest of providing the best possible service to our customers after the sale, we do our best to provide support to keep their machinery (hopefully purchased from us) running with the hope that the next purchase will be from one of our stores. Fifteen minutes on the phone to get a combine harvesting again makes for good farmer relations. It could take an hour or two just to get to many of the units out in the field.”

— Gene Saville, Lamb & Webster, West Valley, N.Y. 

We would like to have a 900 toll line for these freeloaders. As of today, we do give away some time and information but always ask for the customer to bring the unit in for us to give an estimate upon further investigation. In the automotive or construction world, it is not an issue as you can’t get to anybody who will answer technical questions for free. We also have issues with insurance appraisers who have no idea what they are looking at in the ag world who ask us to do the estimate and then use our figures to fill in the insurance claim. We do all that for free, and if we get the job that is OK. If we don’t, we can be out of pocket a significant amount of time and money.” 

— Bob Richards, Richards Equipmnet Inc., Barrier, Ontario

This is another one of those age old questions. Where do you draw the line between good customer service and being taken advantage of? We get field calls from all over North America from people looking for information on Flexi-Coil products because we are one of the few Flexi-Coil dealers still in existence that have sold that equipment from the beginning and we have lots of knowledge about it. With the forums that are on the Internet, our name comes up quite often as the place to call for those hard-to-fix problems. This is great, but it leads to a lot of calls that are hours away and there is no way the caller is going to bring the unit to us for repairs. I had one customer send me a check for what he thought it was worth, which was better than a poke in the eye. We have thought about setting up a donation spot on our website where customers like that can make a donation to 4H or CWEDA or something like that.

“As far as customers who are closer to the dealership, we hope that by helping them out for free they will remember the service we gave them when it comes time to purchase their new unit. That is always the chance you take, but it certainly gives them a bad taste for your dealership if you nickel and dime them to death.” 

— Roy McArthur, George’s Farm Center Ltd., Penhold, Alberta

It all depends on who the customer is first and foremost. A regular customer I would help regardless. A complete unknown would get enough information to get them into trouble and that would be about it. Bear in mind, if you give out information you must litter the information with safety procedures and protocol always.” 

— Pual Hepworth, Hepson Equipment Inc., Brandon, Manitoba

Being that we are very small dealership, we have to tend to our customers’ needs. I usually let the customer talk by phone or in person to our main tech for 5-10 minutes at no charge. This builds trust and friendships within our farming community. I would hope when the customer purchases his repair parts he would buy them from me. We do have some farmers who ask us for all the answers, then go to another dealership and purchase parts. I do not believe this happens too often, but when it does we can get very dumb. We also will not lend out any manuals or tools. You can get them where you buy your parts.” 

— Dick Burmeister, Burmeister Farm Equipment Inc., Warren, Ill.

We have not found a solution for this problem. We have contemplated charging shop hourly rates. I am sure customers would not like this approach. However, it’s probably better for them to be unhappy than for us to be.” 

— Ken Sweet, Sweet Farm Equipment, Canmer, Ky.

I can usually offer advice from actual experience or from the most common general or common sense solutions. Or I offer my thoughts on the first or simplest thing to look for or to check. I never want to recommend something as fact, without telling them to check your owner’s manual or to check with your local dealer to be sure, and that my suggestion is my opinion, but it should not override any manufacturer’s recommendation.” 

— Rick Rinehardt, Corriher Implement Company, Newton, N.C.

If they are looking for ‘specs,’ we offer to order an operators manual through the parts department that they can purchase. If it is a basic question that merits a pretty quick answer, we will go ahead and answer that if it is a return customer we are familiar with from any department — parts, sales, service. If it is a question that requires more digging into, we will advise that we need to open a work order for our time and they would have to then pay for that.”

— Name withheld by request

Currently we grade the calls out. If the caller is a current customer, we offer a reasonable amount of assistance at no charge. We understand that this costs the company, but feel, in the end, we will benefit. If the caller is someone who is not a current customer, we offer to send a tech out to help diagnose the problem. 

“This is a big problem in dealerships, and it is does not have a simple solution. Our business is family owned and operated and we have always believed that if you help someone, it will come back around to benefit you in the future.” 

— Eddie Chesson, Mark Chesson & Sons, Williamston, N.C.

Sometimes you just have to be a little vague. Talk in general terms and limit the time spent on the phone. I had one guy call and ask if we knew of someone who did air conditioning work on the side. I said we did air conditioning work. He said, no, someone cheaper. They have really got balls the size of a dump truck sometimes.” 

— Jeff Sucomski, Suchomski Implement, Pinckneyville, Ill.

It is very much an ongoing challenge. If the customer does do business with us, we try and offer our help and information to them. If it is someone we do not know, our people try to be courteous and answer general questions that do not require an employee’s time for very long. If they require specific and detailed information, we do our best to tell them to bring it to us for service. We do not loan or rent special tools to the public.” 

— Bud Lowe, Bob Lowe Inc., Chickasha, Okla.

This is mostly happening today for older equipment. The later model equipment requires more technical diagnostics than the customer is able to do. We try not to diagnose over the phone or across the counter. Most symptoms could have one of several causes and that is what we tell the customer. It is hard to give them a part until we can see the symptoms in different situations. As for technical specs, we will give them out or try to sell the customer a tech publication that has that information in it. Ultimately, our goal is to have them let us work on the equipment, even if the only thing we get is the diagnostic time.” 

— Robert Hendrix, Hendrix Tractor Co., Atmore, Ala.

As of right now, we still allow customers to call and ask questions. We have been looking at the possibility of charging something for the time the techs are on the phone and not in the shop.” 

— T.J. Hurkes, Hurkes Implement, Watertown, S.D.

I give information on point of sale. The customer needs to get his information from whoever he is buying parts from.” 

— Jorgen Scheuer, Verona Tractor Inc., Verona, Mass.

If they are our customer and have purchased the piece from us, we may spend about 15 minutes on the phone. After that, we either bring it in or setup a service call to their farm. If we know that the piece is at a ‘shade tree’ mechanic’s shop, we don’t waste our time helping. We try to get them to bring the machine in stating dealer installed parts have a warranty, etc.” 

— Ruth Bode, Gellings Implement, Campbellsport, Wis.

We try to give them the information that they request. I wouldn’t say we do it with a great deal of enthusiasm. Some of them are good customers and we don’t have a problem with that. A lot of them we would like to tell, ‘Next time you are feeling sick, try calling the doctor and see if he’ll try to cure you over the phone.’ I guess we are lucky that it doesn’t happen that often. We should send them a bill for the time spent on the phone.” 

— Donald Lund, Lund Implement, Madison, Minn.

Depends on if it is a regular customer or not. If it is a regular customer, we will help for 10 minutes before we charge for time. If it is not a regular customer, we offer to sell them a service manual or tell them that they will be charged and we need a credit card number.” 

— James Sommer, Service Motor Company, Dale, Wis.

We do our best to answer the questions and sell parts while offering professional techs if needed.” 

— Kenny Bergmann, S&H Farm Supply Inc., Lockwood, Mo.

I came from the service side of this business. I started in service with 14 years at a Ford tractor dealership and started with this dealership 28 years ago. I started Tractor Care as a service only shop. I found the more I helped people the more they patronized my business. We now sell Vermeer, McCormick and just signed with LS Tractor. Five years ago we started an EBay store in hopes of moving dead, non-returnable inventory. It turned into a parts store for classic tractors and restoration projects with over 800 active items. We still provide all that ‘free’ info across the country and business has grown because of that. I realize the new tractors and equipment of today are different and laptops are the norm for diagnostics. No, the customer can’t fix that but, when they send a picture of an old tractor or baler part from their smart phone and you give guidance, they remember that and that’s how I make that loyal customer.

“My favorite quote: ‘You reap what you sow.’”

— Kevin Wittig, Tractor Care Inc., Harrisonburg, Va.

We try to help people with information because giving them the correct information will usually get customers to purchase parts and may lead to a new or used sale when they know we are here to give service and help after the sale or even before. I can usually tell when someone is just using us for free info.” 

— Don Hook, Sloop Sales & Hook’s Repair, Lyndon, Kan.

Right or wrong, I believe we currently would just go ahead and get them the information and help them out.” 

— Tom Hanson, Gooseneck Implement, Minot, N.D.

They get what they pay for. I handle these calls, but I am the owner and store manager, not a mechanic. I try to be pleasant (which can be tough sometimes). I know my customers and a lot of the time I have never met the people wanting assistance. I will send them to a dealership that sells the brand they are working on. I suggest they buy a book and make a few general suggestions. I tell them that is about all that can be done over the phone. Often these are people whose local dealer won’t help them, so they call around seeking a miracle worker. A larger problem for us is when the customer asks for parts and then ties up our number one man to solve their mechanical problems. We don’t have a solution for this.”

—Robert Yemington, Sundance Equipment, Sundance, Wyo.

This has been a very hot topic of discussion in our dealership, and I am really glad that we are not the only dealer concerned with this subject. Our dealership’s service department is primarily focused on the self-propelled sprayer market. Those sprayers have very smart controllers that regulate speed, pressure and gallons per acre. Not only do all the calibrations have to be correct, but so do nozzle sizes according to gallons per acre and pressure to drift. A simple press of the wrong button can render one useless.

“In the last 10 years, we have delivered approximately 1,000 new and used sprayers. During peak spraying times my head service tech may easily take 50 calls a day, ranging from 2-30 minutes a call. And then you have more calls after hours because a lot of spraying is done after dark when the wind has settled. When a tech is drawing $95 an hour and spends that much time on the phone, it can really add up.

“Now this is the way I look at it, right or wrong. Because of the knowledge my head tech has of the controllers in these sprayers, as well as guidance installed in them, we can charge a premium for a sprayer up front, and when you can save a customer a service call by a little guidance over the phone, the customers don’t mind paying a premium for a machine when they know they can depend on us to keep them running. When it comes to spraying in our area, wind as well as heat can shut one down for long periods of time. So, when you can repair a machine in 5 minutes with a phone call instead of 4-5 hours for a service call, it gives the customer more spraying time, which keeps them coming back to buy sprayers, as well as other equipment from us. Anybody can sell equipment, not everyone can service it.” 

— Douglas Melcher, Terry County Tractor Inc., Brownfield, Texas

We started the bad habit of ‘fixing machines over the phone’ years ago and have continued. Since electronics are so complex now and you need a factory only computer to troubleshoot, we are doing somewhat better getting machines into our shop.” 

— Robert “Bubba” Jump, Central Georgia Equipment, Byron, Ga.

There is no hard rule one can apply to this age-old topic. One can only trust experience as to what kind and how much information to provide to the public for free. We have customers who by parts from us and do not ‘shop around’ because we do provide technical information. On the other hand, we had a customer call and ask how to ‘move the water pump to tighten the fan belt because it was not turning.’ After realizing he was serious, I could not help but ask, ‘Have you noticed that you have an adjustment bracket on the alternator?’ to which he replied after moving to the other side of the tractor, ‘Well, I’m glad you pointed that out because the alternator is not turning either. I will fix it next!’ Some folks do not need to own wrenches.” 

— Tim Brannon, B&G Equip Inc., Paris, Tenn.

Our shop is busy enough at this time that we are more than willing to give out info and suggestions to customers. We also have an inspection program on equipment and give the customer a list of things that we highly recommend repairing and things that might need attention in the future. We can either do the work at our store, on the farm or give the list to the customer and let them do the repairs that are required themselves. Maybe things will change in the future, but at this time it helps all of us.” 

— Tim Engebretson, Arnold’s of Alden, Alden, Minn.