Glorified parts runners
Last month, we spoke about the differences between equipment salespeople (ES), and customer service representatives (CSR’s). I explained that your equipment sales staff is akin to a group of hunters, that seek singular targets and specific results. CSR’s in contrast, look to establish and cultivate ongoing, long-term relationships with end-users. The customer’s connection to the dealership may have been initiated by the ES, but their most frequent touchpoint on an ongoing basis should be with the CSR (and your field service personnel). Done successfully, the CSR’s will establish themselves as an integral part of the dealership’s value proposition to the customer. Once established, and properly cared for, it will be difficult for your competitors to infiltrate these customers when it comes time for renewal.
We hire CSR salespeople to represent our aftermarket department. I like to call them “customer care” representatives because their key role is the ongoing development of these high-value relationships. The CSR should be the center point of our customer experience, and they should be the initial responder when customer interaction is needed.
Many dealerships however fail to define the role of the CSR role or manage its activity and processes properly. What is the job of a CSR? What should a CSR spend their day doing? What does the dealership expect from a CSR? How does the CSR measure his own success?
CSR highest and best purpose
It’s harder to define the role and expectations for a CSR than it is for an ES. The ES is engaged in selling products that can be easily quantified. Customer service is much more fluid and dynamic. Because of this hard sales targets may be surrendered for the more nebulous goal of “keeping the customer happy”.
When this happens, the activity of the CSR can devolve into a range of tasks that are neither productive nor profitable. In these dealerships, the CSR’s spends the majority of their day engaged in one of three tasks.
- Delivering parts to customers that service their own fleet of equipment
- Delivery (and possible review) of service invoices as well as mediating service department invoice disputes.
- Preparing and delivering quotes for suggested service found on PM’s
These tasks may be necessary based on your policies, practices, and routines. They are not however the highest and best purpose for a CSR. This is what I feel should be the mission statement of every CSR:
“To establish and maintain valuable partnerships with customers that manage expectations, and result in prudent and value-added management of their equipment fleet”.
If the activity of the CSR is not supporting this mission statement, then we need to rethink their role. Their call planning, daily tasks, and customer interactions should all be supporting this value-centric partnership.
So, are your CSR’s doing that, or are they simply glorified parts delivery people?
No doubt you have some customers that promise to buy parts from you because the CSR is willing to deliver them personally. Before we offer this service to the customer however, let’s do a little math. How much parts business are these customers actually giving you? What is the actual cost of making these deliveries? Are you getting ANY service billing in addition to the parts?
If you take the time to drill down, many times you will find that these visits are not worth the investment of time, energy, and dollars. If all we are doing is showing up to delivery parts (which are routinely discounted) and the customer visit is not designed to actively pursue additional business, we may be wasting our most precious resource…. time.
Let’s say a capable CSR is paid an average salary and commission $60,000. He visits a parts customer 40 miles away, twice a month, and delivers parts. It takes him 30 minutes to confirm the order, print and organize the paperwork, and box up parts from the parts department. He loads his truck and invests 40 minutes to drive to the customer location. He delivers those parts and spends 20 minutes in conversation with the customer. These conversations may be about service or technical items, but mostly it’s just idle chatter. Rarely are any other proposals offered. Accessories and allied products are normally not discussed. The CSR delivers the parts and makes some friends. End of story.
The CSR invests 3 hours a month for this one customer doing a task that in every measure can only be described as “goodwill”. At a rate of $250 per day for the CSR, this is the cost to the dealership:
3 hours at $31.25 = $93.75
80 miles at 0.55 = $ 44.00
Net Cost = $137.75
At this rate, this CSR has to deliver $400 in parts every month just to break even. You could hire a private courier service for less money, and at least make a profit! At a minimum, hire a parts runner at minimum wage.
The point I am trying to make here is that the “face time” a CSR has available in the field is valuable, and we routinely waste it doing valueless things. I don’t mind the occasional parts delivery, but ONLY if the trip to the customer site was to propose other products, programs, or value-driven services. Delivery of parts should be an adjunct function, not a primary task.
Many customers, especially the ones with large fleets, want the CSR to print, collate, deliver, and review service invoices on a periodic basis. This can be a valuable visit. At least the face time dedicated to these visits is with a decision-maker.
The problem with these visits is that many times the CSR is simply there to “explain the price”. The customer sifts through the invoices, and questions the CSR on the validity of the labor allowances and parts markups, and the CSR posts a defense of why these charges are appropriate. In these situations, the goal of the CSR is survival. The focus is to get out of there without cutting any discounts, or making any apologies.
If this is what we are doing, we are missing an enormous opportunity. This encounter does not have to be adversarial. In fact, it should be exactly the opposite. The CSR should use these encounters to purposefully assist the customer in “managing the fleet”. The conversation should START with the CSR reviewing the hours, duty cycle, condition, and service history of all or a portion of the fleet. Conversations and suggestions should be pointed at the following objectives:
- Which units are nearing the end of their economic life?
- Which units need to come in for major service?
- Which units can be rotated between departments to maximize utilization?
- Provide a cost per hour analysis and forecast for each unit
- Warranty review (and possible sale of extended warranties)
To be sure, within the context of this broader discussion you can certainly include a review and defense of your individual invoices. The visit however now has a different purpose and a much more meaningful goal.
This is actually what customers want from us. Our industry has evolved. Customers once engaged us to simply buy equipment. In the age of data, however, they no longer want us to simply sell machines. They want us to help them pay for it. They want our expertise in fleet management so that they can squeeze out every dollar of value they can get. Then they want us to help them develop a plan to replace the machinery before the costs rise to an unrecoverable level.
If the CSR crew is not providing that service, you will never own that customer. They will forever be a free agent, available to the lowest bidder. If however, we can leverage telematics data and service records and demonstrate to the customer how he can lower his costs with our help, we will deepen the relationship to the point that we actually insulate ourselves from our competition.
Next month I will focus on CSR involvement in the service quotation process. I will also suggest some best practices that not only serve the mission statement but do so profitably.
About the Author:
Dave Baiocchi is the president of Resonant Dealer Services LLC. He has spent 37 years in the equipment business as a sales manager, aftermarket director, and dealer principal. Dave now consults with dealerships nationwide to establish and enhance best practices, especially in the area of aftermarket development and performance. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to contact Dave.