2016 Precision Farming Dealer Summit — Roundtable #7
A Precision Farming Dealer Staff Report
The topic of managing precision workflow was perhaps more aptly described as the shouldering of the burden across multiple departments in this roundtable. It’s no small matter in a world of pressure, burnout and round-the-clock on-call service during peak times of the year.
Jason Pennycook, precision farming specialist at Johnson Tractor in Janesville, Wis., shared the challenges he faces during planting. “I learned last spring that the iPhone stopped listing missed calls after 99 in a 24-hour period.”
One of the solutions is for the dealership to be willing to let go of its “hero” status. “We’ve got to spread the workload to our customers when we have so many visits and phone calls to take in a day,” says one precision ag specialist. “It’s in our best interest to teach and train them so we can move the workload onto them.”
Severaldealers have created call centers to field the sheer volume of questions in the spring and fall. PrairieLand Partners, based in Hutchinson, Kan., is one company that evolved from a traditional AMS department to a call center arrangement, and places a sticker on every display with the 800 number so farmers know to contact the call center first — not the service tech or salesperson.
PrairieLand’s Paul du Toit also says that using the Handle CRM (available through CustomerTrax) has helped workload and response times.
Blow Up the Precision Farming Department
Many other dealers say the best thing they’ve done to spread out precision workflow was to integrate precision farming into the service department. Cross-training service techs to handle the routine or simple precision farming jobs and questions cuts down on the amount of time the precision specialists spend on these tasks.
Several dealers exclaimed that the salespeople need to be able to do some of the simple stuff that will make the customer happy, and not overwhelm the precision specialists at peak times. “There are simple things like setting the A-B line and the tractor’s end-of-row function that should not be landing with the precision tech.”
Jed Bengston, vice president of sales and marketing at Torgerson’s in Great Falls, Mont., says that while dealers are going to have to raise their headcount to support precision, his company, which has two dedicated specialists, is instead investing in extensive training for service shop individuals.
Getting Away from Free Service
Many dealers say the best thing they’ve done is weaving precision farming into the service department. “The farmer is used to paying for labor through the service department,” says one dealer. “They weren’t accustomed to seeing AFS or AMS invoices.”
In several dealerships, the call to the salesperson — the relationship call —is free. If a higher level of support is needed from the specialists, it’ll be passed over and gets billed in quarter-hour increments. These services are also woven into package arrangements.
“If the question and answer is going to take more than 15 minutes, we tell them we have to open a work order,” says Bengston. “The farmer can decide then and there if he ought to read the manual first before the billable time starts. Doing this can take a 100-call load down to 4-5 calls, and 60-70% of that time becomes billable.”
Another advantage of centralizing precision through the shop is warranty recovery. One dealer says that prior to assigning it to the service department, the number of lost warranties were staggering due to the chaos and lack of systems.
Dealers who do a lot of business with co-ops are reluctant to encroach on their business, but other dealerships are finding agronomist services to be an important part of the offering depending on the region they serve. But having agronomists on staff brings additional personnel requirements. Agrivision has 7 precision ag specialists working across 10 locations and have 75,000 acres under contract. One of the seven is an agronomist and he personally oversees 30,000 acres. “He’s maxed out, but works hard because he believes in the science and what it can do the same way some salesmen feel about equipment.”
Scheduling Visits, Not Asking
Another important step dealers have taken in spreading out precision workflow has been to schedule appointments with customers through service packages in an effort to minimalize the amount of windshield time and last minute stops precision specialists make.
Indiana-based Smith Implements uses the Call Reminder system through their CDK management software, which is overseen by an office administrator. Keeping track of the task, the system calls the tech and makes sure they know what service jobs are needed during that month. “And if they can’t do it we say, ‘OK, here’s our next two available dates.’ If they’re going to be on vacation, we ask where to find the key to the shed,” says Smith Implements’ Matt Eldridge, director of aftermarket sales.
Another dealer adds, “We’ve got to train the customer that this is when we can do it, not necessarily on their schedule.” A few dealers talked about how farmers asked why their tech had to be out in the barn at 11 a.m. The answer, they say, is to tell the customer, “The only place your name is on my schedule is today, and if I don’t get you in today, I can’t tell you exactly when I’ll be back over this way.”
Precision Service Packages
Dealers are having good results with the bundled packages that include agreed-upon phone time and on-farm visits, which get much of the button-pushing type stuff out of the way. Renewal rates are high, with some dealers citing 70% renewal.
In practice, the on-package subscribers are generally first in line while others are told the reason for their wait. Yet a common complaint is the farmer who bought the package, but still has to wait a day or two at peak times — they don’t understand that.
Something to note, though, about moving to a package system, says one dealer, is to make sure it’s tracked with a tagging number. That way, the system can track each dollar in time and determine at the end of the year whether the package was priced correctly or not.
Tugs of War
In this “wild west” of precision farming, there are still internal battles within dealerships over where precision farming “lands.” In the dealerships where precision is an appendage of the sales department, there’ll be comments about overhead and dead weight. But on the other hand, as one dealer asked, “How do you get a sales department used to selling high-ticket items excited about $5,000 displays?”
Several dealers have dealt with some of this by mandating the techs’ involvement in start-up and pre-delivery packages at the time of sale. That pre-delivery includes time for programming and monitor issues and there was some pushback, but it’s resolved by clearly stating that the service department was responsible and that it was part of the transaction.
Read full coverage of the Precision Farming Dealer Summit presentations, from how to recruit and retain precision employees, to developing a standalone precision business, to managing customers’ data, in the March 2016 issue of Farm Equipment.
Roundtable Discussion Topics
1. Keeping Precision Employees Productive Year Round
2. Troubleshooting Technology: Conquering Compatibility Problems
3. Putting on a Successful Precision Ag Field Day
4. How to Structure Your Precision Internships
5. Strategies for Selling Used Precision Equipment
6. Making the Most of Online Sales Opportunities
7. Spreading Precision Workflow Across Departments (currently viewing)
8. UAVs: Practical Precision Tools or Toys?
9. Tech Support: Where Can Manufacturers Improve?
10. Marketing: Where Will I Get the Most Bang for My Buck?