Has Anyone Been Thanked Too Much?

Has Anyone Been Thanked Too Much?

This week, guest writer Ross Atkinson brings up an excellent question about gratitude and the ways in which we interact with others: Has Anyone Been Thanked Too Much?

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Why is it so difficult for people to say these two words? This is one of many phrases that someone can use to express their gratitude and make the customer feel appreciated.  This can be the difference between them doing future business with you or not.

“Thank you for your business.  Appreciate you!”

With such an important phrase at one’s disposal, why don’t we hear it said more?

Since retiring, one of my main focuses has been leading a local trails organization.  We maintain ~40 kilometers or 25 miles of trails and rely on volunteers to get all the work accomplished.  These are people who give freely of their time and ask nothing in return.  Having accumulated more the 3,000 volunteer hours in the last 5 years, I have said “thank you” a lot.  Without them and their unselfish act of kindness, we would not exist.

In your business, without your customers, you wouldn’t exist either.  The customer came to you with an expectation that you could meet their needs.  You too have an expectation that the customer should be willing to trust you to take care of their needs and ultimately relinquish their hard-earned money to get what they are looking for.  And, of course, the expectation is that you will do this in the most professional manner and with the skill of a well-trained, seasoned veteran. 

So why is it so difficult to finish the “transaction” by saying those two words?  And say it with the sincerity that lets them know their business is greatly appreciated and that you are here to help them with their future needs?

As in John Andersen’s recent blog “How is your customer service….Meh?”, a simple phrase like “Come back again soon.” and leaving a ‘gesture of appreciation’ has a lasting impression and is a wonderful way of saying thank you and showing that you care.

Wouldn’t you like to receive this kind of appreciation? And when you make that follow up call to ensure that everything worked out okay, thank your customer again and make sure to ask if there is anything that you can do next time to make their experience better.

When you get comfortable saying this to your customers, try it with your employees and coworkers.  You might be surprised at what will come of it.

Thank you!

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Target Marketing

Target Marketing

In his guest post for this week, Ross Atkinson highlights the critical importance of technology when it comes to target marketing.

It is truly amazing how times have changed in the last 20 years! Dealerships have gotten larger through consolidation and spread further apart. The dealer is servicing more customers with less staff. Welcome to the world of running “lean and mean.”

The customers aren’t staying small either as they continue to expand in order to survive in this ultra-competitive world. As customers get larger, the likelihood is that someone other than the owner will be the one picking up or dropping off. The days of the customer grabbing a coffee, sitting down for a personal discussion and allowing you to get to know them better, is a faded memory of the good old days.

Technological advances can also be partly to blame for the lack of face-to-face interactions. It’s commonplace today for many transactions to be done without the need of talking to a salesperson by utilizing internet-based ordering systems. Let’s not forget, even if you do visit a bricks & mortar store, you may still have limited verbal communication with a human being considering the availability of digital lookup and self-checkout kiosks. And if the goods aren’t being delivered to your customer’s home or business, the conversation at pickup is trivial at best.

Even if we did have a need for human interaction, we have the next generation of workers who have grown up in an era of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It’s bad enough they don’t teach cursive writing or spelling in schools anymore, but with today’s youth spending countless hours in front of screens growing up, they are missing out on the opportunity to learn social skills with other people like their friends.

So as dealerships lose personal contact with their customers, they look to other means of communication and one of the few things available is technology. Using an automated, self-controlled method of recognizing certain conditions, a notification can be sent to the customer electronically or interactively. I call this “Target Marketing”. It is a term I use for targeting a single customer based on triggers or events that happen every day. Call it what you will, these kinds of systems are available today and can reach out to your customer through some form of digital communication like a text or email. It can let them know that their parts order has arrived or notify them when their machine is due for service. No more manually calling, no more busy signals, no more answering machines, and no more forgetting.

There are an endless number of “triggers or alerts” that can facilitate a communication to your customer. Words of warning though, do not go overboard. Ensure that the most important, time sensitive notifications take precedence. The last thing you want to do is alienate your customer by sending them 15 emails or texts a day.

Having this information sent to your customer’s fingertips can be very beneficial. The immediacy of the message sent to their phone or device allows them to take action right away. For the dealership, it eliminates the need for staff to take time away from their busy day to chase down the customer.

At the same time, the trigger and alert concept can also be used within the dealership to benefit the customer. When a work order is opened for a customer’s machine, wouldn’t it be important to know there is an outstanding recall?

Although the interactions between the dealership and the customer isn’t what it used to be, when you do get an opportunity to be face-to-face, take full advantage of the time to know your customer better. Wish them a Happy Birthday or thank them for their purchase. Ask them how they are doing and what’s happening in their business or personal lives. Your customers will appreciate the attention and interaction; you may actually learn something about them that will improve your relationship.

We should also consider what else computer systems can do to better understand and help the customers. With the collection and analysis of customer transactional data, you can get an understanding of specific patterns which may result in some form of target marketing for things such as bulk purchasing.

This same data analysis can also be significant for your dealership. It can help identify patterns such as peak order times so that you can staff accordingly or ensure that you have the appropriate stocking levels. It may even facilitate changes to your day-to-day business processes.

As you know, Ron’s podcast tagline is “The Time Is Now.” Well folks, if you want to keep in touch with your customers today, you better get on the technology bandwagon! The Time Is Now!

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Empowering the Technician

Empowering The Technician

In his guest post for this week, Ross Atkinson brings us into the loop of empowering the technician in your business.

Your technicians are valuable, skilled workers and many of them use highly sophisticated equipment beyond the traditional toolbox wrenches. Many manufacturers have mandated diagnostic monitoring systems plugged directly into the engine from a laptop to check the machine for issues. There is no doubt that the technical requirements of the service technician have changed dramatically in the last 20 years! Yes, they still need to take the machine apart and put it back together, however, considering the sophistication of today’s equipment, any assistance diagnosing the problems is welcomed – most certainly a process improvement!

Now let’s talk about another opportunity to save your technician time – business system integration. This multifaceted topic begins with how your technicians record the time they work on equipment. Are they still using punch cards, writing the time manually, or even barcode scanning at a central scanning station? Or do they have access to the business system through a computer to clock in/out of repair orders? It should be obvious that having the technician clock directly into the business system saves time. No need to have a service writer spending hours the next morning keypunching every technician’s time into the respective repair orders.

Beyond the improvement in recording technician time, have you ever taken a moment to analyze your technicians’ footsteps in a day? Everyone knows how important it is to keep the technician in the work bay, otherwise, the time away negatively affects the technician’s efficiency and reduces the amount of throughput you can handle in your shop.

This analysis can help you identify why they left their bay and shed some light on where gains could possibly be recognized by eliminating the footsteps and replacing them with some form of system integration. You can do a similar analysis of the post-repair tasks and determine if it can be done by the technician at the time of repair using the same system integration being offered. Let’s look at some ideas:

  1. Clocking time at their bay eliminates the need to walk to a central punch clock system.
  2. Access to machine history eliminates the need to stand at the shop foreman’s door to ask questions about the service or rental history of the machine.
  3. Visibility to the dealership parts inventory to know whether parts are in stock or need to be ordered eliminates the need to walk to the requisition counter.
  4. Seeing the machine’s configuration including serial numbers with a direct tie into manufacturer systems to check for outstanding product improvements/recalls and parts availability.  Again, eliminates the need to go and ask someone else to do the research.
  5. Allow the technician to update the machine hours immediately so that it doesn’t get forgotten about. As we know from my previous blog on Service Agreements, hours are such a critical component so why chance having someone else do it many days later.
  6. Ability to upload before and after images directly to the repair order for historical and warranty purposes. The payback on this could be huge if the customer questions the repair or you get into a warranty audit.
  7. Visibility to job code hours so the technician knows what the expectation is for job completion and the repair time remaining. An updated benchmark helps the technician stay focused so that the job gets done on time.
  8. Having a tracking system for technician breaks whether the company or the customer is paying for it. Keeping your technician honest and eliminating the “water cooler effect” is important in time management.
  9. Ability to key technician stories and comments for the customer or for historical purposes and eliminate the need for another dealership employee to decipher and rekey what has been written by hand.
  10. The ability to electronically request parts from the parts department eliminates the need to walk to the requisition counter.  The parts can be delivered directly to the bay.

These are just some ideas on where gains could be obtained by empowering your technicians via business system integration. Maybe you already have some or all of these in place or maybe you can add to this list.

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Preventative Maintenance and the Service Agreement, Part 2

Preventative Maintenance and the Service Agreement, Part 2


In this Part 2 of the series on Preventative Maintenance and the Service Agreement, guest blogger Ross Atkinson walks us through the benefits and homework necessary before offering preventative maintenance.

As with rentals, the idea is to perform regular maintenance on your customer’s equipment so that they reduce the risk of a major breakdown. The costs of this scheduled maintenance will be cheaper than the breakdown in the long run. Your reputation and your manufacturer’s reputation can avoid taking a beating because you took a proactive approach to offer them a way to avoid that costly, major breakdown.


Before you get too excited and all revved up, you need to do your homework. What services are you going to offer and on which equipment? How much will these agreements cost and how is the customer going to pay for them? Who is going to manage the agreements and schedule the technicians/trucks accordingly? Can all the services be done in the field or will it require the equipment to come into your shop? Do you have the necessary resources to get this off the ground and running? Do you have the software to support this entire effort? I’ve always told people, “95% of service agreements is in the planning”.


So, how exactly does a customer pay for the service agreement? There are a number of ways you can go about doing it. The services can be offered as a set fee, whether that is billed up front or on a predefined schedule. It could also be included with the sale of the equipment. There is always the option for the customer to pay per repair order as the work is performed. With this in mind, you could simply use the scheduling system as a marketing tool to enhance your service department workload by drumming up business and increasing your repairs orders.


You should also think about the possibility of servicing your customer’s other off-brand equipment. You’re making the trip to the customer’s site, so why not take advantage of the travel time. Why can’t you be the Jiffy Lube of the equipment industry in your area? Anyone can do an oil change, even the customer. So why not perform at least the simple oil changes for the rest of the equipment your customer owns? Even if you can’t get the repair business, you can offer to supply the parts required to do it themselves. There’s an opportunity waiting, you just need to make a point of going after it. Remember, your service technicians are trained professionals; you adhere to OSHA standards and the environmental requirements of performing work in the field.


When setting up a schedule of intervals, there are a number of considerations. In the heavy equipment market space, common manufacturer service intervals include a 250, 500, 750 and 1000 hour service. However, intervals can be set up for as long as you like. You need to analyze what services need to be performed and when. In some cases, the service interval step may simply be a visual check of a component, not requiring a lot of time or even a repair order; just a notation that it was checked for historical purposes.


When your technician performs the maintenance, take advantage of the time with the equipment and do an inspection (a topic for another blog). This is an easy way to make the customer aware of any suggested repairs which can be done the next time a scheduled service is performed. What an excellent opportunity to increase your service revenues and show the customer you care about their equipment. Think outside the box…. maybe even offer a small commission to your technician for any revenue generating work that comes out of their inspection.


Some final words of advice…


Once you set up contracts, the system should be smart enough to project the date when the next service is to be performed. This allows you to plan your workload accordingly. You can also then ensure that parts inventory levels are sufficient to perform the maintenance and that the service truck is stocked accordingly.


If the customer trades in the equipment, take advantage of any outstanding, pre-paid intervals as a way to upsell the used equipment on your lot. What a great incentive for someone to purchase it knowing that some services are already included!


The service agreement concept can work for all types of equipment, depending on your business. You could even apply it to other assets you own like service trucks and company vehicles.


Lastly, although the service agreement process may seem to be a daunting task, don’t forget that you can always start small and grow over time. There’s no need to offer everyone everything right out of the gates!


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Preventative Maintenance and the Service Agreement, Part 1

Preventative Maintenance and the Service Agreement, Part 1

In Part 1 of a two-part blog, guest blogger Ross Atkinson talks to us about preventative maintenance and the service agreement.


There is a phrase you may have heard of before: it’s called preventative maintenance. If you are in the rental business, you are fully aware of the importance of keeping your equipment up and running as much as possible, generating revenue for your business. To ensure that this happens and to avoid those costly breakdowns, you need to spend time doing scheduled maintenance.  


Just about every manufacturer has a recommended maintenance schedule. They offer defined job codes with the time necessary to perform preventative maintenance steps at scheduled intervals. These codes not only tell you the time required to perform the maintenance, they can also include detailed descriptions of the repair task and sometimes a list of the required parts. These schedules not only cover the primary equipment but also sub-components like an undercarriage. Many of the schedules are based on hours of usage whereas others are time based.


For rental equipment, it’s pretty easy to keep track of and know the timing of the maintenance needed because you are always in physical contact with the equipment when it comes back in off rent. Even if the equipment is out on long-term rentals or leases, factory installed GPS transponders are pretty common nowadays or can be installed by your dealership. Knowing the current hour meter or mileage reading is the key to estimating the timing of the next service interval and allows you to plan your service workload accordingly.


But let’s look beyond rentals. What about your customer’s equipment? As Ron has mentioned in his classes, it is your goal to give the customer the best service possible and to reduce the repair costs for the equipment they own. Why not use these same principals of maintaining a rental fleet to upsell and offer your customers the same service? 


You see, I’m pretty passionate about this subject. I believe that dealers are leaving money on the table and missing an opportunity to offer exceptional service. Too many dealers have not even considered going down the customer preventative maintenance path. I was introduced to the concept of service agreements many years ago by a gentleman by the name of Mark Caldwell. The knowledge he had and how he went about selling service agreements to customers was truly amazing.


Mark created his own manual on the entire process, a good 3 inches thick. It covered everything from what was being offered to the customer cost savings formula to how it was to be implemented and managed. He used to say how so many service managers would convince management to buy a service truck and then try to figure out how they were going to utilize it. Mark managed to correlate the number of service contracts to a truck. Boy, did that make for an easy conversation with management to justify the purchase of a new service truck after signing the required number of contracts!


We will continue next week.

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Room for Improvement

Room for Improvement

Room for Improvement

This week’s guest blog from Ross Atkinson covers all of the ways in which we can still find room for improvement in our processes. 

In my last blog, I entertained the concept of reviewing processes. The idea was that a dealership should look at their processes on a regular basis to validate that what and how things are being done is still relevant and to avoid that dreaded word complacency. Just because you’ve always done something a certain way, even successfully, doesn’t mean that improvements are not possible. Most everything is in constant flux – people change, customers change, systems change, businesses change and technologies change; so why would you believe your processes should remain the same?

A good example is customer statements. Do you still print and mail them out each month? Have you considered emailing them and saving a lot of time and money? Even better, why not give your customers access to their statements and invoices through an internet portal along with a lot of other important information? Are you stuck in the “we have always done it this way” or the “our customers won’t accept this” rut? Or maybe you simply haven’t reviewed the process to ask yourself if there is a better way? If you are not leading the process improvement wave, you’ll always be playing second fiddle to those who are leading the way.

In my experiences in the heavy equipment software industry, dealers were always coming up with an improvement, workflow change or system modification that would make their processes better, saving time or filling a business need.  However, it was never a single dealer coming up with all the ideas.  It usually went hand in hand with how progressive a dealer and in a particular area they routinely focused on.

So, if you are struggling to come up with a process improvement idea, look to your industry peers.  There’s no shortage of dealer meetings or group software training sessions or picking up the telephone and asking other dealers how they do it. There’s no shame in taking advantage of their knowledge and experiences so you don’t have to. It doesn’t mean you need to do it exactly the same way but if it inspires you to think outside the box, it’s worth it!

You also need to know that an improvement doesn’t have to be huge; even a subtle change can have a positive impact on your business. Have you ever thought about analyzing what it takes your staff to process a parts invoice? You might be surprised with what you discover. It might be lack of constancy amongst your staff or a lack of knowledge requiring some education. Maybe your staff can improve their interaction with the system, reduce the number of steps and speed up the transaction time. Imagine if you could eliminate just 10 seconds for each invoice; do the math and realize how much extra time your counter staff will have to better service your customers!

So, are you up for the challenge? There’s always room for improvement. The onus is on you to make the commitment of reviewing, identifying and implementing process changes.

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Tonight’s guest blog on Complacency is from Ross Atkinson. Ross spent his entire 33+ year career in the Heavy Equipment software marketplace with PFW/ADP/CDK. He was the architect and software designer for most of the applications in the rewrite of the core Dealer Management System called IntelliDealer. Having been in many roles with the Company from installation to ownership, he has first-hand knowledge of the system requirements of dealerships and the people who use it. His specialty is the ability to design and create solutions to ensure the best user software experience possible.


Even for the most computer savvy person, the rate of software change can be overwhelming. In many cases, your staff is too busy and is not given the time to understand what the changes are before yet another iteration has been introduced. I guess that could be the subconscious excuse for never venturing beyond the basic functionality and just using what they know to get through the day. Simply said, complacency!

From my many years in the heavy equipment software industry, I learned that there are few exceptions to this statement, however, the dealers that do overcome this self-inflicted shortcoming are very successful, not only in the utilization of their business system but also financially.

How do you make time?  Well, it starts from the top down: a commitment from management to the ongoing education of those who use the software every day. You educate your technicians so why not the rest of your staff who use their “tool”, your business system software?

I can also guarantee you that there is functionality that your business system has today that you are not using or are even aware of. You need to understand what’s available at your fingertips. This is followed by the opportunity to test the features and functionality first hand. It’s one thing to sit in a classroom or virtually listening to trainers, it’s another to try it yourself and see it in action; using your data.

Through this learning process, your staff can determine how these capabilities can benefit your day-to-day processes. The goal is to improve efficiency but also the opportunity to gain a better understanding of your customers and the services you offer.

Once you have mastered the commitment to education, challenge yourself and your employees to understand how you can “tweak” or change your business processes to take advantage of functionally and systems you previously deemed unusable.

I recall doing some classroom education many years ago when the dealership principal stood up, interrupted my session, and made the following statement to his staff, “Not changing is not an option!” Imagine if that was your dealership motto?

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