Dealing with dealers

by Eric Berard

A truck dealer can be a fleet or maintenance manager’s best friend when things go sour in operations. Even with its own top-notch maintenance department, a fleet might need a dealer’s help for an emergency service call, a genuine brand part that can’t be found anywhere, or a complicated diagnostic issue.

Yet, your dealer dealings should be just like any transaction: they’re worth shopping around for before committing.

General assessment
No matter which dealer is taking care of your trucks, you want that facility to be professional and organized. Tidiness can be a clue right from the moment you step in.

“Well-maintained, clean locations are valued,” says Paul Kudla, Volvo Trucks North America (VTNA) regional vice-president for Canada.

A dealership where everything is in order and clean is a good indicator of seriousness, concurs Daniel Descoste, general manager of Remorquage PDR, a Laval, Que.-based towing and recovery company that also hauls general freight throughout Canada. Descoste also thinks that dealership employees’ attitudes can be a major incentive or turn-off.

“People in the trucking business are always in a rush and feeling ignored by members of the staff who don’t even look at you is one of the worst experiences,” he says.
That’s one of the reasons why Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) insists on customer feedback follow-up, according to Ray Addison, aftermarket marketing communications manager at DTNA.

“Characteristics like attentiveness to your needs, responsiveness, and clear communication are important,” agrees Kevin Baney, Kenworth assistant general manager for sales and marketing.

Vice-president and global product manager for rental at Ryder, Rich Mohr, advises to take the time to have a chat with the manager and tell him or her about your fleet and see if the person asks questions about your own company. This can be a sign of genuine interest in working as a partnership, he says. Also ask for a preventive maintenance (PM) sheet sample to have an idea of how comprehensive it is.

“The vast majority of breakdowns that occur are because something on the vehicle failed in between PMs,” he points out.

Obviously, geographical proximity is an asset, but your trucks won’t necessarily always break down in your neighborhood. That’s why a wide, reliable, and consistent network of dealers is something to look for, even if you have the best relationship with the local dealer.

As a customer, Descoste feels there are limits to dealer networks’ consistency, no matter how much goodwill. “Dealers are having a real hard time finding good technicians and keeping them,” he says.

The competition
Remember that you are the customer and that dealerships are independent businesses. Not only do you have the right to take advantage of this competition, it’s sound business to ask questions while “dealer shopping.”

“Dealerships know it’s a very competitive market and assume that customers are getting a variety of quotes,” Kenworth’s Baney confirms.

“What processes are in place to communicate with customers? What is the dealer’s service throughput? What key performance indicators do they measure? It is more effective to have a clear list of priorities that are specific for the success of a fleet’s business. Evaluate if the dealer is the best fit based on that framework,” DTNA’s Addison advises.

Upping uptime
Getting a good price is pleasant but maximizing uptime with your trucks on the road generating revenue is even more important, says Descoste, for whom price does not always top his list of criteria. He benefits from exclusivity deals on some Quebec provincial highways but the police and Ministry of Transport expect him to be on the scene with no delay when an accident happens.

“I can’t afford that a truck remains idle in a shop for six or seven days because the tech can’t find out what’s wrong with it. It just can’t happen. It must not happen or I would go out of business,” he says.

Manufacturers are aware that uptime is such a critical profitability factor for any carrier and that’s why they work to achieve the quickest and most accurate diagnoses possible. For instance, DTNA has a rule for its Elite Support dealers that’s referred to as “Express Assessment.” The dealers that are certified as Elite Support agree to provide a clear state of the situation to the customer in a two-hour timeframe.

Most truck manufacturers have similar premium dealership programs for which diagnostic and repair time and accuracy are among the metrics that are measured and assessed on a regular basis to maintain such a special status.

Service sells trucks
No matter how cruel it may sound to fans of a certain brand, uptime and quality of service can be a deciding factor when the time comes to purchase new power units. Remorquage PDR has different truck brands among its fleet, but Internationals are becoming more prevalent since Descoste is doing business with dealer International Rive-Nord, also from Laval, Que.

While he used to have only a few trucks of the diamond brand, he’s now planning to buy more of them. “All makes have good trucks. What matters isn’t the place where you buy them but what happens after,” he says.

Truck manufacturers are aware that customer loyalty to a brand is less pronounced than it once was and that service often sells trucks. On the other hand, owners of a given brand tend to patronize the same network for maintenance and repairs.

So, no matter the size of your fleet, if a manufacturer loses you, it can mean he loses both new truck sales and parts and service business. Don’t hesitate to use this as a negotiation lever with your dealer for better pricing or service conditions.

Parts, tools, knowledge
Whether you perform your own maintenance and repairs or have them done by a third party, you can’t go anywhere without the appropriate spare parts and parts availability. Don’t be shy to ask your dealer how it ranks in that department.

“Fill rate is a great key performance indicator (KPI) to assess parts availability. The national average fill rate is 98.2% for the Kenworth dealer network,” says Baney.

DTNA’s Addison goes beyond statistics and uses common sense: “A good measure of parts availability is the results it produces,” he says. Addison refers to the company’s supply chain as a whole “ecosystem” that includes “data-driven stocking and strategically placed parts distribution centers that ensures that we have parts available when our customers need them.”

Enquire whether your potential dealer partner uses the right tools, too. Today, it’s not so much about wrenches but rather software and its related updates and diagnostic capabilities. Technician training is also a crucial topic to discuss with your dealer. Is it done online only? In class? A mix of both? At what frequency and following what standards?

Ryder’s Mohr suggests asking the dealer directly how many technicians on premises are actually trained to work on different types of components and systems. This, he says, will give you a good idea of the expertise level of the shop you’re dealing with.

Driver amenities
Though it’s a dirty word in a performance-driven industry, downtime does happen and drivers can get stuck in a remote area waiting for their truck to be fixed.

Check if the dealership you’re considering offers them more than a peanut machine and coffee. Modern dealerships pamper truckers with driver lounges, often outfitted with TVs, WiFi, work and relaxation stations, showers, and even laundry facilities in some instances. Some dealerships will go the extra mile in arranging a cab for drivers so they can get some rest at a hotel instead of being stuck in a waiting room.

That kind of attention to detail can really be appreciated. “When you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, it’s good to have a little coaching about the surroundings,” says Descostes.

When asked about the basics that should be offered to drivers while they wait, Ryder’s Mohr’s response is: “Get’em home.”

They’re not focusing on their job, nor productive when their vehicle is down, he adds. This philosophy is among the factors that led Ryder to seal a deal with Uber

Central to organize a centralized cab ride service system for its customers. Besides, outsourcing staff and customer transportation allows
the frontline people to focus on the task at hand instead of having to spend time dealing with credit card approvals and cab companies.

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