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Service after the sale

03/05/2012 @ 1:32pm

It's the first year you've run GS3 2630 on your combine along with an iTC receiver. You get a crash course on how it works when the technician installs it. As you're harvesting corn, the monitor reads 4,000 bushels and 30% moisture. Although you would love to think you're bringing in that many bushels per acre, you snap back to reality and know something is obviously haywire. It's past regular business hours and the dealership has long since closed. Whom do you call?

If you live in the Lenox, Iowa, area, you call Nick Custer, a customer support technician for Barker Implement. He's the person you want on speed dial 24-7.

A 2010 Iowa State University graduate, Custer began his career with the dealership while still in high school. “I started at Barker between my junior and senior year washing combines and tractors,” he says. “When I went off to college, I still worked at Barker during the summer as a technician in the shop.”

Back then, he realized precision ag technology was gaining momentum and even talked with the dealership's owner, Todd Barker, about a position doing exactly what he's doing today.

After he graduated from college, the dealership wasn't quite ready to invest in a position dedicated completely to servicing the technology. So Custer continued to work in the shop that summer.

“In the fall of 2010, Barker needed a parts guy,” he says. “I went out on the road selling parts and took service calls.”

When the 2011 planting season rolled around, Custer's focus changed to handling calls related entirely to precision ag technology. On average, he fielded 20 to 50 calls and covered 20 to 200 miles a day.

“There were times I would have calls stacked up all day and be on the phone the entire day,” he says. “We have lots of people in our area investing in precision agriculture, and the use continues to grow. In fact, we can't even hold on to used equipment like displays and receivers. They are out the door before they touch the shelf.”

At the end of the season, Custer became one of four people who would cover eight stores to service the technology.

New breed of employee

Custer is among the new breed of employee that dealerships are looking to hire. These positions are evolving and are continuing to be in demand as more and more farmers adopt this technology.

In the beginning, as dealerships added precision farming tools to their lineups, they supported customers with existing staff.

But to keep customers happy and to prevent them from going elsewhere, equipment manufacturers now challenge dealers to ramp up their service-after-the-sale strategies and to capitalize on a potential profit center.

“John Deere wants us to do some sort of value-added service beyond our usual parts, sales, and service for the AMS line,” says Custer. “The goal is to get people more comfortable with precision ag and to help them be as efficient as they can be.”

In order to do that, the dealership developed the Equipment Optimization Program, which is based on a concept created by a Canadian dealership.

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