This year’s CONEXPO-CON/AGG is one we will never forget. Not only did the show see strong attendee numbers and buyer attendance improvement of 5%, it was also a show of new experiences. I don’t think we realized at the time that some of these experiences would still be with us two months later and setting the foundation for how our business might change.
When I think back on CONEXPO, old friends greeted each other without a handshake, instead offering elbow bumps, which probably looked odd at best. Some top manufacturers booths had equipment but no people. Hand sanitizer was abundant and available across the exhibit halls. Some days it seemed we talked more about a virus than the equipment. And the show closed a day early as a safety precaution to the concern of early COVID-19 spreading.
Since then, change has been our constant companion, impacting the way we live and work, socialize and spend our free time. These changes have also been a reminder to dealers of the need to continue to adapt to customer needs, and a catalyst for innovation to meet them.
This time has reminded dealers like us that there are different ways construction companies like yours need and choose to do business with us. Your work isn’t one-size-fits-all and neither should our equipment sales, parts, service and support be – it’s not even one-size-fits-most. Your unique needs are the animating force behind the ways in which we deliver our services.
Most in construction have been deemed as essential businesses and the need to have equipment and keep it running has remained essential, as well. In speaking with customers, observing what others are doing, and based on what we’ve been doing in our RDO Equipment Co. stores, here are the key ways dealers are shifting focus and continuing to support essential businesses, safely and efficiently.
Kicking the Tires from a Socially Safe Distance
Perhaps nothing has been impacted more by COVID-19 than the equipment buying and selling process. No longer are customers stopping by a store and walking the lot with a salesperson. Some showrooms are roped off, have limited access points or are closed altogether. The once normal practice of salespeople stopping by jobsites to see how machines are working or conduct a new equipment demo is now challenging or, in some areas, has stopped altogether. Even the simple act of contractors and dealers getting together to talk about new projects and opportunities aren’t easily happening.
However, dealers are getting creative to keep those face-to-face relationships with customers, using tools like Microsoft Teams to schedule video check-in and catch-up calls. We’re also seeing equipment walkarounds, previously done as general overview videos, get a more personal touch with contractors and dealers connecting via Facetime or Google Duo for more one-on-one walkarounds.
On-demand Ordering and Getting Parts
The act of ordering and receiving parts is another crucial piece to the dealer and contractor puzzle that has been altered by COVID-19. While some dealerships that have remained open are still staffing parts counters, social distancing has created a barrier – both literally and figuratively – to that usual, important person-to-person connection between staff and customers.
For most dealers, online, email and phone parts ordering has always been offered, but now the push to conduct parts business in a contact-free way has been one of the biggest for dealers. In addition to pushing these options vs. encouraging customers to stop by the parts counter, there have also been new efforts for parts pickup and delivery, too.
RDO Equipment Co., for example, is offering outdoor or curbside pickup, delivery in certain areas and shipping, giving customers numerous choices to get their parts – however it works best for them – with many other dealers offering similar options.
Contact-Free Equipment Service
Not to be forgotten, equipment service remains crucial as many infrastructure projects, deemed essential work, continue with deadlines and benchmarks to be met.
Thinking about the idea of contact-free service, the phrase itself is an oxymoron. How do you get service for your machine without interacting with the service technician? A machine throwing a code may just need a simple software update, but how does that happen without a dealership employee stopping by with the flash drive that has the update?
While regular service requests, either in a dealership’s shop or in the field, are still going to come with some level of interaction, most dealers offer the option to request online or over the phone, offering one less point of contact.
For service requests on machines down in the field, RDO implemented an extra step to ask the customer a few questions and help gauge the risk of exposure to the field service technician. Many dealerships are equipping field service technicians with masks and cleaning equipment and protocols to ensure they properly disinfect the machine and cab before getting close.
On the truly virtual side, many dealers offer phone and email support for technology on GPS, GNSS or survey equipment, as well as machine troubleshooting and basic repairs, often with the ability to send software updates directly to the machine with the proper customer access. Again, tools like Microsoft Teams and video calls are further enhancing the service experience by offering a safe face-to-face opportunity.
As with most options discussed so far, this level of remote support, machine monitoring and virtual repairs have been offered by many dealers for quite some time; however, they’ve now become more important than ever.
At this point, we still don’t know the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on our industry and our daily lives in general. If there’s one thing we can agree on, it’s that there’s only one way to look – forward. As companies continue to move dirt, build and repair roads and keep people and businesses connected, dealer partners will be here and continue to adapt as needed to keep serving.