I love what I do. Every day I work with leading farm and construction equipment dealers all across the continent as they strive to get better. I continue to learn much from these progressive dealers who are constantly working to better serve a customer base with rapidly rising expectations. And many are adopting cutting edge technology in their quest to meet and exceed these growing expectations.

They also recognize that what is new today will be the “new normal” of tomorrow.

This month’s article is the first of two companion articles about using technology to meet and exceed customer expectations. The genesis of this and the next installment for the “Technology for Profit” column was 5 specific and different dealership experiences I’ve had over the past 6 months. From these experiences, and with some borrowed insights from other industries, I’ll present ideas designed to stimulate your thinking about how to use technology to make your business better.

This month, we’ll discuss the specific experiences and the reasons behind these emerging trends. In the next issue, we’ll discuss the future; where these trends indicate the use of technology in your dealership is heading, and what you should be doing.

Here are the 5 recent experiences and the results from utilizing available technology.

1. Texting for Parts Availability. A parts manager in the Mississippi Delta revealed that his customers prefer to contact him about parts availability by texting from their phones. They text him from their pickup or tractor cab asking if a part is available. He responds to them in the same way, including notifying them when a back-ordered part arrives. Instead of playing phone tag or taking a call when they are busy doing something else, the communication is done based on the customer’s needs.

Not all dealers or customer may agree with this approach, but I’m hearing that texting is used more and more, especially for younger customers and dealer people.

Result: Using the communication tools that customers prefer.

2. Live Chat Website Monitoring. A farm and construction equipment dealership in Alberta recently installed software that works with its website and monitors when a visitor to its site checks out a piece of equipment. For example, if a farmer clicks on the page for a used piece of equipment, the software starts an on-line chat so the farmer can communicate directly with a salesman about that specific piece of equipment.

The communication is optional for the customer, but most of them take advantage and engage in an on-line dialogue. At night or when a person is not available to respond, the live chat is turned off.

Result: A 20% increase in sales of used equipment, additional income and higher close rates for inside salespeople.

3. 5-Minute Email Response Time: A branch of a large, multi-store dealership in California’s Central Valley instituted a company policy that every email from a customer must receive a response within 5 minutes! The person who received the email owns the response and if they must re-direct to another person, the 5-minute limit still applies.

This dealership’s intent is to reduce phone tag and the unproductive time searching out the right person or information to answer a customer’s question. They wanted to improve overall response time as well as accuracy of information. The biggest challenge was to train customers to use the same system that is used by the dealership, i.e. emails, as well as to make sure that everyone in the dealership adheres to the policy.

Because of the use of smart phones and the size of many of the large growers, who also use email regularly, they have been successful in moving much of their customer communication from phone to email.

Result: Improved customer satisfaction, improved dealership productivity, as well as positioning the dealership as being progressive and highly responsive.

4. Live and GPS-Based Job Scheduling. An Iowa dealer implemented an online, GPS-based scheduling system for technicians and their road trucks. In the first 10 days of installation, a farmer called the service manager to request a technician ASAP to do an on-farm repair. While on the phone, the service manager was able to tell the farmer that a technician would be in his yard in 15 minutes!

By looking at his screen, he knew instantly the location of the closest field technician and that he was available after clocking off a prior job.

Result: Happy customer, high labor productivity.

5. Remote Diagnostics. An Indiana dealer is final testing for their major line of a remote diagnostics system that links machines to a central location. The remote telemetry monitors all of the key functions of big tractors and combines by tying into the vehicle’s on-board electronics. With a cell phone-based communication and GPS hardware, the service department of the dealership can monitor the operation of the farmer’s machines, often times with more knowledge of the overall operation of the machine than does the operator.

Where this technology has been in use for some time in other industries, what frequently happens is the service department of the dealership will inform the customer there is a problem with their machine before the user realizes there is a problem! The software monitors many machines and provides an alarm to the service manager as well as to the operator.

Result: Higher machine productivity due to reduced downtime, good image and performance of the dealership in providing proactive repair and maintenance.

What is the common thread with these 5 anecdotes? What can you learn from them to apply to your dealership?

Each one of them illustrates a different technology that is being used today and will be used more widely in the future. Although you may not use them yet, they represent a larger lesson about the current trends in applying technology.

Observation #1. In each case, a newly adopted technology is used to provide a high level of customer service and to do so quickly.

In this information and consumer age, we are used to getting things done NOW. We search on-line for information or for products. We send texts and expect answers right back. We can order an incredible number of items on-line and receive them, often, the next day.

The rising expectations for responsiveness by our farmer customers is greater than for a non-farmer because of the pressures of the seasonal nature of our business and because of what farmers are using in other areas of their life.

Observation #2. Speedy response is not free.

Getting answers or products more quickly may cost more and that is another thing to learn from these examples. An expectation of getting answers NOW, or products or services MORE QUICKLY, places a premium on availability and not necessarily on lower price.

Although the Internet may encourage shopping and price comparison, this is only true for those who have the time and inclination to shop around. Most professional farmers and contractors want the part or answers NOW, and they’re willing to pay your price for the service. Amid the stress of planting or harvesting season, or in the middle of a project, they need what they need now. Price, although important, is not the driver in most cases.

In the next issue, this column will project these technologies and their use into the future. We’ll take a look into the crystal ball and see where the rising use of technology is leading your dealership. We’ll continue speaking with leading suppliers of technology and other

In The Next Issue...

Part 2 of this column on using technology to exceed customer expectations will appear in the January 2014 issue.

businesses to learn how they’re adapting these technologies. And, of course, we continue to listen to progressive dealers like you.

To this last point, between now and the next issue in January 2014, tell us how you are adopting new technologies in your business. Use the Farm Equipment website to record both your reactions to this article and to tell us what technologies that you are using (or thinking of using) which may help other dealers.

If you want the names of the 5 dealers mentioned here and/or of the vendors for the technologies they use, email me at GRussell@CurrieMangement.com.