It's often said that customers are not as upset by a purchase being faulty as they are by their complaint being poorly handled. In the current climate aftersales service and support takes on even greater importance. It is an useful revenue stream and less affected by the market downturn; it helps companies keep communication open between themselves and their customer and, when things start to look better, businesses will remember the companies to whom they were a "valued customer".
So you can't really afford to mess it up.
Large manufacturers such as JLG and Terex AWP have additional challenges: they sell direct to large key customers and use a network of distributors to reach smaller rental companies and end users. Nevertheless every user has to have access to parts; service, maintenance and repair support and training.
JLG's Ground Support is an umbrella brand for all types of customer support, David Baxter, JLG's director of marketing, aftermarket products and services says, "JLG's direct customers are big rental companies and dealers, Ground Support is a good vehicle and brand for our customers to carry to the end users."
Speaking to Access International at the Rental Show in Atlanta earlier in the year, Terex AWP president Tim Ford said that the new Genie 360 customer support programme would help customers through the current difficult market conditions."
Terex AWP has recently been reorganising its parts distribution activities: the European parts and machine distribution activities have been consolidated at a new facility in the Netherlands through a five year partnership with global logistics specialist CEVA Logistics. An existing CEVA warehouse in Roosendaal took over European parts distribution from Genie's UK headquarters on 2 June taking over from the regional distribution centres in the UK, Spain, France, Germany and Sweden.
In the US Terex AWP has recently moved to a 150000 sq ft parts facility in North Bend Washington. "We are making sure customers feel no impact during the move," said Siva Balakrishna, Terex AWP's vice president of aftermarket services. The new facility is larger and has differentiated zones for easier "pick, pack and ship."
As part of the new ‘Genie 360' customer support programme, Terex AWP has signed up to the SmartEquip online parts ordering system, the same system employed by JLG. SmartEquip provides a single portal for companies to source parts from all manufacturers who are signed up to the system. Major benefits of the system are accuracy of ordering and time saving.
Alex Schuessler, SmartEquip's chairman and chief executive officer, said the company had seen a rapid upturn in parts transactions through its system in the past year; "We believe this growth was in part driven by the severe economic downturn and the imperative for manufacturers, dealers, and fleet owners alike to capture immediate cost savings."
JLG's parts operations are also centralised in Europe (Belgium) and the US (Ohio), "We hold the industry's most comprehensive range of parts, not only for JLG machines, but for competitive machines, making it a one-stop-shop for customers," says Mr Baxter. "We also carry tools and common items such as fluids degreasers and analysers, anything you might need in the workshop of a rental operation."
Terex AWP also broke with tradition to expand its parts offering to include 300 parts from competitive manufacturers JLG, Snorkel and Skyjack. "It's a recognition that customers in most cases carry more than one brand - we believe we can service customers more broadly...we've undertaken this with great care and caution," said Tim Ford.
The extended parts offering is currently available in North America, by the end of the year it will be offered in Europe as well and the inventory will increase to over 1500 parts.
JLG and Genie customers can also order over the telephone, by fax, or by whatever means is the most convenient.
Sometimes customers need more than parts, they need some back-up with maintaining and repairing their machines. At JLG this support is given through the sales service organisations around the world and at JLG service centres in the US.
"Our big national account customers tend to have their own teams,"says Mr Balakrishna of Terex AWP, "But we have a team of technical experts: 50 based in the US and 30 in Europe. Some of them are available over the telephone the others will go out to site if necessary. Last year there were 210000 calls to the technical team."
Extended warranties are also a useful option for some customers, offered by both Terex AWP and JLG in some markets. "It is attractive for rental companies," says Mr Baxter of JLG, "and dealers can market it on to the end user.
"There have been varying kinds of uptake: some rental companies find it useful as a way of controlling the cost of their rental equipment, others get only on certain products. The extended warranty remains valid even if customers sell on the equipment."
Another of JLG's initiatives to help control the lifecycle of equipment is its telematics system, Clear Sky. Equipment fitted with Clear Sky can be remotely monitored for diagnostics and fault finding. If there's a problem, the service engineer can either talk the user through the resolution or knows which part to bring to the repair. The machine can be re-set remotely or even disabled.
"Clear Sky is part of JLG's programme to help our customers manage equipment and manage costs," says Mr Baxter," we have done a lot of field testing now and will have a full launch in Autumn 2009."
The other major pillar holding up good service and support is training. Mr Balakrishna of Terex AWP emphasises the importance of training dealers and key accounts to a high standard so that they can "downstream" the training.
Terex AWP has recently provided two new sites for service training at Terex facilities in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and Southaven, Mississippi. Bob Bartley, Terex AWP's director of technical services said, "We recognise that service training on-site in our Redmond, facility can be more of a time and financial commitment than some customers are able to make in the current economic environment. As part of our Genie 360° efforts, these additional locations provide customers with training options."
JLG offers two primary types of training: Safety and Train the Trainer, which trains distributors and rental operators to train their customers. JLG's customers can then choose to include training in the package they offer or charge for it as an extra.
Service training from the basics up to complex electronics and hydraulics is also offered with the basic modules available on-line to save participants travel time and expense.
JLG can also provide parts manager training and warranty management courses which are about sharing best practice.
With so much resource going in to aftermarket care what are the returns? "The value of the aftermarket has been growing steadily at around 8 to 15 % a year," says Mr Baxter. "It has fallen off a little this year due to the reduction in demand for spares etc because of low usage and poor market conditions."
"The value of service takes on a larger percentage of your total turnover," says Mr Balakrishna, "because it does not decline like new sales.
"Its importance should always be high and our intent is to grow - Tim Ford [president Terex AWP] is passionate about customer care."
Mr Baxter says that at JLG aftermarket and service are key elements of the strategic plan. "We are committed to providing the lowest cost of ownership and the highest commitment to the life of the equipment," he says.
"Good service and support will make a company more profitable when we come out of recession."