By Barry Weis, Marketing Manager — Ag Division, Great Plains Manufacturing, Salina, Kan.
1. Product Quality — Product quality has always been a point of differentiation for us at Great Plains. We consider quality to be a strong suit that certainly defines our brand. Over the past few years, we’ve concentrated on quality improvement through the formalization of our new product development systems, structure and team. We’ve also placed an emphasis on communication between sales, service, quality assurance and engineering to ensure feedback from our dealers and end-user customers is heard and addressed.
2. Parts Availability — After-market sales and service have always been important to Great Plains because we know it’s important to the success of our customers. Recently, we placed a more critical eye on parts inventory levels and availability, particularly during the changing ag market we are experiencing. We anticipated the shift from wholegoods demand to parts and service demand.
3. Parts Quality — Great Plains has a strong understanding of the needs of our dealers and know that quality parts are key to their satisfaction. To maintain dealer satisfaction, we conduct periodic inspections to assure our high standards are never jeopardized. Providing “quality” parts has always been — and remains — a top priority on our list.
4. Product Technical Support — Over the past few years, staff has been added in the service department to better serve the needs of our dealer customers. In addition to the growth in the department, our dealers asked for our service specialists to have more hands-on field experience. In response to that request, our specialists now spend more time in the field with both current equipment and new products before they are introduced to the market. Our service specialists also serve on newly-formed product improvement councils. One of our staff additions was a technical writer. This has resulted in higher-quality technical information for dealers that is published in a timelier manner. More emphasis has been put on educating dealer technicians on GP equipment. From all of the positive feedback we have received, we feel we have an excellent handle on curriculum and programs.
5. Responsiveness to the Dealer — As a short-line manufacturer, we cannot succeed without a strong and supportive dealer network. We’ve worked hard to develop our Gold Medallion Certification Program where dealers can attend training at our Salina, Kan., corporate offices at no cost to them. The program has evolved over the years, but during the training, dealership personnel are taught the key principles of selling and servicing our products. We find this to be a very effective way to train dealership staff while giving them a first-hand look into the Great Plains culture and the broad range of products we manufacture. These events also provide face-to-face interaction with management, where dealership personnel can give direct feedback on a number of issues. We take their feedback very seriously and try to adapt and make appropriate changes. Over the past 3 years, we have conducted more dealer-feedback studies, prioritizing the Top 5 issues addressed in the studies. After prioritizing the key issues, we develop three-step action plans and present the plan to our dealer network. Six to twelve months later, we report our progress and ask dealers to rate their satisfaction level on our progress. This open collaboration has resulted in improvements in some critical areas, including communication methods and product availability. The GP service department answers and returns phone calls directly, rather than directing dealers to an electronic response system. If all technicians are busy, dealers leave a voice mail and calls are returned promptly. Even during busy times, calls are typically returned within 15 minutes. The service staff is also available via direct e-mail and by other electronic communication methods.
6. Recent Changes Impacting Dealer Network — Our sales department is taking a more proactive business development approach with our dealers by getting more involved in providing well-rounded dealer support that includes marketing, service, product development and strategic planning.
7. Key Initiatives for Coming Year — Our lean manufacturing initiatives have been developed to streamline the production process while eliminating waste, which has allowed us to shorten the lead time from order placement to delivery. In addition, we are doing several system upgrades that include the formalization of our customer relationship management system. The new CRM system will allow us to better manage our dealership and end-user marketing communications both on new sales promotions and warranty responsiveness. Another significant program upgrade is a new Online University Training Program on our products. While not new to the industry, it’s a significant advancement for a shortline manufacturer such as ourselves. The online university will allow us to remotely train dealership personnel on sales, parts, and service of Great Plains products and long-term will allow us to create an educational portal for the end-user of our products. All of these initiatives allow us to differentiate ourselves from like-size competitors by creating better products with reduced waste while better managing our loyal customer base.