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Customer service is essential in providing dairy equipment

Bev Berens for Progressive Dairyman Published on 11 September 2017

From consumable supplies, capital investment, parts and field equipment, customer service is an essential element for businesses that successfully supply dairy farms. Some businesses have learned customer service is more than just a reminder hanging on the wall in a break room.

It is a culture that permeates the business from ownership to newest employee; over time, these businesses have built the reputation for providing service for both current and future needs producers can count on as the dairy industry changes.

“People buy from people, and that’s how we operate,” Roger Kaminski says. Kaminski and his wife, Dawn, are co-owners of Central Ag Supply in Juneau and Baraboo, Wisconsin, providing everything from parts, repairs and supplies to full-line capital investments in new facilities.

“Today’s dairy producers expect and respect a professional relationship,” Kaminski adds. “You can also have a friendly relationship outside of the business with your customers, but when it comes to business, they want to deal professionally, and we always want to have a professional, service-oriented business.”

It also means staying away from the good-ole-boy mentality of special pricing and service for close friends – because let’s face it, word travels quickly in the dairy community. Bad reviews travel even faster.

Sometimes creating a solution when none exists is the only option, a service CIDEC of Auburn, New York, has embraced. “When our dairies come to us with a challenge, we first work with our vendors to find the best solution,” says Scott Brown, CIDEC LLC director of operations.

“If a market solution is not offered to meet their requirements, we will provide a custom design and automation solution. We take our customers’ ideas and turn them into real product solutions. It takes more time than just ordering off the shelf, but the farm gets a solution that meets their needs and exceeds their expectations.”

Josh Bare, general manager at Fisher and Thompson of Leola, Pennsylvania, says he believes one essence to outstanding customer service is simply stocking every part, including parts from competitor brands. “We will service every brand of equipment our customers use,” he says. “Our philosophy is: You are going to have problems; we want to make it as simple and pain-free as it possibly can be.”

Aggressive pricing and understanding the financial peaks and valleys dairy farmers experience is another way Fisher and Thompson puts its best foot forward in its business transactions. “We want our customers to know we empathize, we are with you, we support you and will go as far as we can in flexibility with bill payments,” Bare adds.

While technology in agriculture is changing at a frantic pace, suppliers to the dairy farmer are challenged to not only stay on top of but ahead of tech trends, looking to future client needs both in the barn and field.

Lowe and Young, Wooster, Ohio, is an equipment dealer specializing in horsepower, tillage, planting and forage series. Precision ag technology provides tools to better use resources and the management team at Lowe and Young recognized their customers would adapt and benefit from using precision ag technology.

To that end, they hired a full-time specialist who works with clients on the farm and trains employees throughout the organization. Service, parts and sales employees benefit from his knowledge and the trainings he attends.

Craig Forrer, service manager and part-owner of Lowe and Young, says their dealership is striving to stay ahead of changes in the dairy industry by stocking items producers are requesting.

“We want to grab hold of that technology and get trained so we can better serve our customers,” he says. “We are always training, getting up-to-date, training the rest of the dealership, especially in precision ag. It is part of the growing demand in the industry.”

Agri-Service, headquartered in Twin Falls, Idaho, with 10 surrounding dealerships, initiated a dairy-focused equipment program just 18 months ago that has been welcomed by the area’s numerous large dairies. Their holistic approach isn’t just about selling iron but includes listening and tailoring equipment to each operation’s needs.

“We realize machinery is a secondary function on a dairy that is used to provide for the health and well-being of the cows,” says Clint Schnoor, Agri-Service president. “The Strategic Segment Solutions program looks at the entire operation. We approach it from the aspect to provide as much uptime to the equipment as we possibly can.”

To achieve that, Agri-Service provides regular preventative maintenance scheduled during the equipment’s downtime, often during night hours. “We focus on putting machinery on the dairy that has a high degree of reliability, making sure it is dairy-proof and can withstand the conditions it will operate in.”

The needs for product, service and supplies are as varied as the farms producing the milk. Both Kaminski and Bare say the spectrum of farms they service range from progressive robotics use to bucket milking and every stage in between.

Fisher and Thompson services hundreds of dairy farmers in the conservative Amish and Mennonite communities still utilizing bucket milking systems. The wide range of needs presents both challenges and opportunities for the companies; they strive to have the right part and the right experience for each type of farm on their client lists.

About 10 years ago, Central Ag Supply started a pre-sale service which, according to Kaminski, acts as a type of consulting service for their clients. The representative and farmer together analyze production records, pinpointing changes before they become cow problems.

Supplies needed to correct the situation are delivered the following week. A twice-per-month interaction between the herd manager and consultant using real-time data is more precise than the monthly visit by the route truck, which traditionally is part traveling retail store, part traveling warehouse and part social occasion.

As robotic equipment is quickly finding a home in U.S. dairies, service providers such as Central Ag Supply and Fisher and Thompson are investing in the training service technicians will need to provide repairs and maintenance.

“In the past, most technicians learned by watching over someone’s shoulder, then bringing what they learned into practice,” Bare says. “The robotic piece is different and requires a level of investment on the training side.”

Both companies agree that to invest capital and effort into the sale and marketing of new robotic technology, an upfront investment in training is required on the service side.

Central Ag Supply is also trying to raise the bar when it comes to dairy construction projects, providing all-inclusive in-house design service and consulting for building and improvement projects. “We do more than just sell you dairy equipment,” Kaminski says.

“We design, create CAD drawings, design ventilation systems and more. I’ve seen too many million-dollar projects being drawn with a Sharpie on the back of a box, and we are trying to turn these projects into more of a commercial standard.”

When it comes to the culture of service within a company, Dawn Kaminski says starting the business 25 years ago with a satisfaction guarantee goal was difficult. But once the concept was embraced, it was enjoyable to see the idea grow and manifest throughout the organization.

“We are a team, and everyone talks the same philosophy,” she says. “Employees feel good about working here and what we do for our customers.” A family atmosphere celebrates achievements together, including five-year work anniversary breakfasts for employees, several of whom have hit and surpassed the 25-year mark.

Finding the right people to fill positions in the dairy service industry remains challenging. “We are always talking the message,” Dawn Kaminski says. “When we hire, we’re looking for the personality; the independent person is about I – and we probably won’t hire that person no matter how skilled they are.”

According to Brown, there is no company without employees. Technical training using multiple presentation styles and learning formats keeps employees knowledgeable. They also train employees how to interact with each other, believing that supporting one another gives each employee the confidence and knowledge that an entire company backs them around the clock.

“It becomes very important when it’s snowing late on a Saturday night and they are called out to work on an emergency call to know the entire company supports you,” he says.  end mark

Bev Berens is a freelance writer based in Michigan.

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