BOULDER, Col. – Navistar International says it has left survival mode, and is now in growth mode. And it has an ambitious plan to return to its glory years as a leader in the commercial vehicle space, dubbed Vision 2025.
The plan entails smoothing relations between the manufacturer and its dealers, and putting the customer first. It’s already being executed, with more than 7,500 participants taking part in the program since January. Of these, 3,520 are Navistar employees and another 2,990 work for International dealers. Members of the truck press were put through the program here Aug. 6.
“We are pretty excited that the movement is continuing,” said Mark Belisle, vice-president, distribution, with Navistar. “When I say Vision 2025, whether at the office or a dealership, people know what I’m talking about.”
Vision 2025 began with the formation of an eight-person committee split between OEM and dealer representatives. The first meeting was somewhat adversarial in nature, with both sides airing grievances, recalled Terry Minor of Cumberland International Trucks in Nashville, Tenn.
“The customer may have gotten mentioned one time throughout the entire day,” he said of that first meeting. “After we went through that exercise and realized we had an issue, number one on how to better work with one another, we also figured out we had forgotten about the most valuable asset in the entire equation, which was the customer…Today, and over the last year, when we run into differences of opinions we are struggling to get past, we typically fall back to how does it affect the customer and we look at it from the customer’s eyes. From there, what do we both have to give and take in order to get to a solution that is going to benefit the customer?”
Navistar aims to become the easiest OEM and dealer network to do business with. It wants to grow its market share, put past mistakes behind it, and improve profitability for itself and its dealers. Belisle said this will be achieved through “shared goals, trust, transparency, and cooperation.”
He acknowledged this approach is “something kind of new from what we’ve historically done.”
Transparency was on full display during a press event here this week. Navistar acknowledged its troubled past and laid out in detail its Vision 2025 plan to restore faith in the company.
“We are operating in a different paradigm now in how we interact with our dealers,” Belisle said. Dealer advisory boards used to act in silos, and if you didn’t have a seat at the table, you weren’t a part of the discussion between dealers and the manufacturer, Belisle admitted. Now, within 48 hours of a dealer advisory meeting, a newsletter summarizing the discussion is sent to every International dealer principal to keep them in the loop.
When dealers raise issues, Navistar is committed to listening and taking action, Belisle continued. It is sending out surveys to 20,000 dealer employees four times a year to solicit feedback. It is hiring mystery shoppers to call International dealers and see how they compare to competitors. Another area being addressed is the lack of response to customer emails submitted through dealer websites. Navistar found these emails are responded to within 24 hours less than 40% of the time, right across the industry.
“We have a long way to go to be customer-centric in dealing with customers in the way they want to communicate with us,” Belisle said. But action is being taken to change that, and the company wants 100% of email inquiries responded to in 24 hours or less.
“There is no reason why systems can’t be set up at the dealership so that emails are responded to, heck, within eight hours,” he said.
Navistar is also setting dealership standards, dubbed Prestige Standards. They will provide a consistent experience for customers across the entire dealer network.
“It doesn’t matter where the customer goes to end up with a positive experience,” Belisle said.
The company also has put into place ways to share data between the OEM, dealer, and customer.
“Historically the dealer network has been pretty protective of customer data and Navistar has been protective of their data,” said Belisle, adding the sharing of data is essential if it’s to benefit the customer.
Friedrich Baumann, president of aftersales with Navistar, is one of the main drivers behind Vision 2025.
“The intent is moving our International brand from this survival mode and quarter-to-quarter thinking, to being much more customer-centric,” he said.
Dealers have responded positively to the changed mindset.
“Everything about Vision 2025 can be summed up by, we are making it easier to do business with us, be more efficient and more productive,” Minor said. He added dealers are placing a greater emphasis on aftersales support, and evolving their role to become solutions providers. This will ideally build customer loyalty and fuel conquest sales.
“It’s really hard to get rid of something if it serves a big service role within your organization,” he noted.
“It’s been very refreshing from a dealer’s perspective to see the change,” added Justin Fink of Summit Truck Group in Lewisville, Texas.
“We are not just sitting there being talked to (by the OEM). They are asking questions and listening and responding,” Minor added.
Baumann said “I believe we are in a position where we can prove we can take care of customers in a different way. We have the capacity in our network. I know we have the capabilities in our network we can build upon.”
Of course, the best way to ensure customer satisfaction is to maximize uptime, and Chintan Sopariwala, vice-president of uptime, said steps are being taken in that area as well. It has geofenced all its dealerships and using OnCommand Connection has tracked repair times. It has seen a 73% improvement in repairs done within 24 hours since the first quarter of 2018, Sopariwala noted. This compares well to industry averages monitored through non-International trucks equipped with OnCommand Connection.
But work remains to be done; the company aims to finish 80% of repairs within 24 hours.
Other measures taken to improve uptime include: predictive parts stocking; opening of a new Memphis, Tenn., distribution center; and implementing lean business cultures at dealerships.
“Navistar has made significant investments in uptime and the results are showing,” Sopariwala said.
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